I was first introduced to mountain biking when I was a sophomore in high school. And I fell in love with it immediately. The thought that you could pretty much go anywhere you wanted under your own power was a huge draw. And being a new driver, I strangely found myself more interested in riding my bike from place-to-place rather than using my truck.
By no means was I one of those crazoids that would launch their bikes off of insanely high drops or bomb down off-road trails at Mach speeds. But with that said, I’d like to believe I was still rather adventurous and spent my fair share of time in the saddle.
I remember there was one mountain biking trip in particular where my longtime friend and I went up to Crystal Mountain, a local ski area about two-hours southeast of Seattle. In the summer months, Crystal used to let you take your bike on the chairlifts so you only had to ride down. Needless to say, my friend and I took full advantage.
On a summer day in 1996, we rode all over the place soaking up the beauty the National Forest had to offer. I remember we did three loops—each time taking a different route back to the base. And each route became progressively more challenging. On the last ride, I remember we were traversing across a black diamond run. The singletrack was very technical, not to mention intimidating with large boulders protruding into the path. I remember gingerly taking my time through the most precarious section, at least I tried to, until I crashed…hard. Sticking my front wheel into something immovable, I went over the handlebars, planted my head in the dirt, and started tumbling down the run bringing my bike with me. Coming to a stop about ten feet from the launch point, I had scratches all over my body and my knee was oozing red. My handlebars were twisted and dirt was covering everything. On the trail above me was my buddy doing what friends do best—be concerned for a bro’s well-being but finding enjoyment at their expense. With him grinning ear to ear and in a bit of a chuckle, I heard him call out, “That was awesome! Are you okay?”
I was okay, just a little banged up. The funny thing, looking back on it, is I crashed because I was being cautious. One would think that by riding at a slower pace you would be better protected, but that is not always the case. If I was carrying speed through that challenging section, I would have blasted over the obstacles and would have fared much better. But in slowing down, I lost momentum, which caused me to crash.
Newtonian mechanics tells us that the linear momentum of an object is the product of its mass and velocity. For example, if a heavy truck is moving rapidly down the road, it has a large momentum. And to gain that momentum, it took a significant or prolonged force to get that truck up to speed.
Momentum is often conceptualized as increasing forward motion, such as a boulder rolling down a hill. As the boulder moves forward and picks up speed, the boulder gains momentum. The same concept applies to moving forward on a great idea, encountering personal success, or a team on a winning streak.
I heard a great example recently of a train moving down a track. As one would expect, when the train is in motion, it takes a tremendous amount of force and distance to stop it. Colliding with a parked car or even a hypothetical reinforced concrete wall is not a problem for the momentum of a moving train is astounding. But on the flipside, which blows my mind, a train at rest cannot get started if a small stone is blocking a wheel. How amazing! Simply put, it takes a lot of energy to get the train moving. But once in motion, it becomes a rather unstoppable force.
Applying this momentum concept to our daily living, I think we can agree that gaining momentum is much harder than sustaining it. Think of a baseball team in a slump. After losing a bunch of games in a row, the thought of stringing together a bunch of wins can feel far-fetched. But by focusing on only one game at a time, a series of wins can come together and then momentum is built before you know it.
I remember the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. New York led the series 3-0 and was only three outs away from clinching Game 4 and the pennant. Boston was down 4-3 going into the 9th inning, but with a walk, stolen base, and single up the middle, Boston came back to tie. And then in the bottom of the 12th inning, a walk-off homer brought the series to 3-1. A similar come-from-behind win occurred the following night. And then by Game 6 and Game 7, Boston was rolling. Boston then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, never once allowing St. Louis to even have the lead in any of the four games. Behold the power of momentum.
So how do we build momentum in ourselves? Well, it takes patience, perseverance, and pluck. We need to motivate our spirit over and over again and not just daily, but multiple times a day. It takes time. And it is easy to get discouraged. But once we get going, momentum builds momentum. Think of a snowball—as it rolls down a slope, it gains speed and size. And the amount of effort needed to get that ball rolling pales in comparison to what the momentum will ultimately produce in the end.
Taking positive steps one day at a time is the secret. We should not judge each day by the harvest we reap but the seeds we sow. And instead of allowing our mistakes to slow us down, we need to embrace our errors as learning opportunities. We need to keep forging forward. Action creates momentum. And starting is the best remedy for self-doubt.
So how does this all tie back to my original story? Well, when you find yourself alarmed while navigating through the uncertain paths of life, remember momentum is your friend and will help carry you through. But if you do end up finding your head in the dirt, be sure to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle.