People Get So Hung Up on Specifics

“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” ~Miller, noted philosopher, Repo Man

As of today, I’m officially done with several year-long projects. Reports, summaries, and a book chapter all in the can. And I tell you what, little readers, this kitten is spent. Cooked. Done. Exhausted. Finished. Burned out. Clocking out. Over and out with the jobby job. I desperately need to think about other things. Other interests.

It’s summer in this hemisphere and all I can think about is riding my bike, my vacation plans, writing, and random stupid thoughts. Clocking Out: A Memoir

Since I have a blog descriptor to write about books and bikes, it’s time I take up the bike again. It’s been awhile since I’ve written about that two-wheeled wonder machine that I love so much. I’ve been doing solo rides mainly because my horrid jobby job commute puts me on different/nonexistent workout schedule than most folks I play in the woods with.

My main riding partner is also training for running race that I am also doing, but I can’t bring myself to train for it yet. It’s in two weeks, so you know, I’m really taking the mature route. Whatever, it’s a suffer fest on a Saturday and I know for a fact that I won’t beat my time from last year. If I do, then, pleasant surprise; let’s go drink beer.

If I don’t, I’ll still have run a half-marathon this summer. Let’s go drink beer.

I just can’t give up my time on the bike, and because I’m all by myself, I’m finding that my thoughts and pattern of thinking is taking me to bizarre connections. Hold onto your helmets, readers, I’m going to tease out some ideas that I hope to improve into something meaningful. Bring on the dancing the horses! Bring on the blather!

I’ve been working on this idea of connecting a pedagogical theory–mastery learning–with my experience learning how to mountain bike.

Before you accuse me of hoping on the bus with the personalized learning craze, let me clarify, I have the distinct of honor of being involved with two super and amazingly cool projects with a very lovely company. This is one part of my jobby job that I truly love. This also puts me in a position to explain A] why they are different than other businesses in higher education, B] why I trust them, and C] how their values align with mine as an educator/administrator/citizen of the world.

This is not always easy because people–specifically academics–get so hung up on specifics.

I need a way to explain how these two projects are moving in a better direction for student learning, and because I’m so burned out on the educator-speak, I’m going to take on mountain biker mastery learning.

Riders ready? Watch the gate. Beep-beep-beep.

First, let’s hang out with Miller. He’s dropping some serious knowledge about the universe. Take note of the book he is burning. Take note of what he says about people getting so hung up on specifics. Take note on what he says about the point of looking for answers.

And he ends his mind-blowing lecture with my epigraph above, and let me tell all y’all, that’s the truth. The more I drive the dumber I feel, and for somebody who commutes over 12 hours a week, that’s quite the confession right? My commute is making me dumber and I hope to change that within the next year come hell or high water. Either that or you’ll find me hanging out with Miller. Or working as a repo woman. Something.

Let’s say on a good week, I get to spend 3-5 hours on the bike (and that sucks, btw).  Those hours on two wheels are more productive for my brain and body than those hours behind the wheel of a car.

One pays the bills, and well, the other does not. So I drive. But when I get to click-click into my bike pedals, magic happens. Joy abounds. My brain starts working. The gears in my mind start to move. For some reason the more I suffer pedaling uphill, the more my mind clears.

But it wasn’t always this way. Learning how to mountain bike on some of the sweetest terrain in North America was not easy. It’s still not easy.  When I started, I was always stressed out so there was no room for thinking or even much joy. Roots, tricky switch backs, exposed rocks, steep descents, hard ascents, and ever changing conditions made learning how to pedal a bike in the woods very difficult. Very. Very. Difficult.

It took me years to figure out how to pedal, steer, brake, and balance my bike on dirt trails. Until I could figure out how to do all four at once, I rode slowly. Carefully. Painfully slow. Sometimes I was brave. Sometimes I wasn’t. But I kept trying. Again and again. It was my choice to learn and I really wanted to master–so to speak–the skill and grace of mountain biking. I wanted that feeling of being a mountain biker. That feeling.

Every time I crashed, I made a note of the spot in the trail. Every scar on my legs and arms was like a note of what I did wrong. Every time I had to get off my bike because I couldn’t ride something, I made a note. Next time, I thought. Next time.

I asked better riders than me how they do it. I asked them to demonstrate so I could watch. I watched videos. Read magazines. Blogs. Books. You name it, I tried to improve by reading. Trying. Failing. Getting feedback. Improving. Practicing. Thinking. Reflecting.

And let me be honest, I’m not that great.

I’ll never be a serious competitor. I’ll never be nationally ranked. I’ll never be anything to anyone anywhere as a mountain biker. I’ll never be the mountain biker I wish I was.

And I don’t care. It’s just plain old fun. And my motivation to improve is supported by my learning and my accomplishments at my own pace. My own individual goals. 

Recently I road this one trail that I’ve never been able to ride without getting off my bike. There is this ridiculously hard stretch where there are “baby heads,” or bowling ball sized half buried rocks that bounce your front wheel. It’s really hard to steer and pedal uphill at the same time. My wheel gets bounced between two baby heads (a memoir) and the next thing you know, I’m crashing. Every time. And it hurts. Damn you, little boulders. Damn.

So I gave up. For years, I’ve gotten off my bike because I know I can’t ride this section. I don’t have the upper body strength and the skill to navigate it. So I walk it.

Then I rode with a rider who showed me a line I’ve never seen in the baby heads. He got out of the saddle, pedaled quickly a few times, and rode diagonal whereas I had been trying to go straight. Suddenly I saw it! Holy Duh! He showed me a line that I could not teach myself to see.

I was like those people that Miller is talking about. I got so hung up on the specifics (the baby heads), I didn’t see the big picture (the line in the trail through the baby heads). Maybe I was too busy thinking about a plate. Or a plate of shrimp.

This past weekend, I rode the entire trail. I gave a woohoo to the forest! In the parlance of the mountain biker: I was fully stoked, brah.

And here’s the thing.

If you saw me ride that section, you may have thought I’ve been doing it for years. Like it was easy for me. Like I mastered it a long time ago. No big deal. Pedal pedal. Easily mastered.

But I failed a lot before I got it. And that’s a good thing. I can now teach somebody else because I understand what I didn’t know. It just took me time.

And man, it felt so great. Like a major accomplishment. Got a PR, baby. Felt like a QoM. Like I moved up a level. Got a badge. Like I mastered that trail. Finally. I mastered how to ride through the baby heads. You don’t ride over them. You find line through them. 

While I was on that same ride, I started thinking about Repo Man. Miller’s words of wisdom about cosmic consciousness came into my mind, and I laughed. I thought about how some people look at me like the way Otto looks at Miller in the scene above when I talk about some of my ideas about education. The way we teach. The way we learn. The way.

But you know, Miller might do his best thinking on the bus. I do mine on the bike.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in All The Things and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to People Get So Hung Up on Specifics

  1. Lisa Chamberlin says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Two wheels clear the mind. The soul. Recharge. And you not only learn to master the hill or the baby heads (omg that term is hilarious…clearly I need to hang out with my knobby tire friends more), but you learn determination in the face of adversity, failure at an attpt is not an endpoint, and practice makes improvement. All are pieces of the learning puzzle.

    I am following your line, chikadee. Ride On.


    • Some folks call them boulder gardens, but baby heads is way more descriptive. “Charging the gnar through the baby heads” is also a personal favorite. As in, we totally charge the gnar daily in eLearning. Stay cool over there:)


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