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Update: The Pleasure of a Perfect Match

Uhh! Uhh. It's been so long since the wind was knocked out of me that I forgot how scary it was. The first couple seconds were precious because I felt no sharp pain -- and didn't that prove that no bones were broken?
After about ten "uhhs" I started breathing normally and pushed myself off the dirt trail. I was going down a single track trail built for "downhill" mountain bikers.  Naturally I was only willing to test a baby jump or two. After jumping one small log on the steep slope I must have taken my hand off the brakes momentarily because the bike shot forward and downward like a rocket; I flew over the handle bars, mercifully landing on a rock-free ramp up to the next -- and larger -- "ski jump."
Ski jump for bikes in the background -- ouch!

Long-suffering readers know that the foolishness of technical mountain biking and trails is one of my standard stump speeches, so we'll skip that. Suffice it to say that I walked down the rest of the downhill mountain bike "trail", and returned to camp unharmed, but chastened.

Was I really supposed to bicycle over this log by using the ladder?

This day's results were just the opposite of an earlier and happier one. The trail developed in a way that I wasn't quite prepared for. Perhaps the reader has experienced something similar, long ago. Maybe you were playing a racquet sport (tennis, racquetball, etc.) or team volleyball with a well-matched opponent. After a rather ordinary game, you somehow got a volley that went on and on! You started to think you would just drop to the ground out of exhaustion before someone finally missed the ball. Even if you lost the point, you felt utterly joyful.

Both you and your opponent knew that you had experienced something so rare and so remarkable that it might be years before it happened again.
For a human, there'll be years of waiting. But even an animal as ebullient as a dog will have to go to the dog-park many times before they have a perfect tussle with another dog that is the right size, age, and temperament. When it happens, their owners will be almost as happy as the dogs.

That's the way this earlier ride was working out: a perfect match between difficulties and abilities. It wasn't just ten seconds of perfect match-up either; it went on and on, for maybe an hour. That has never happened to me before.

The perfect match-up must be an underrated pleasure and beauty, and not just for outdoor activities. Recall your Bertie Russell:
Pleasures of achievement demand difficulties such that beforehand success seems doubtful although in the end it is usually achieved.
Let's move away from the subject of outdoor activities and ask how universal this principle is. For instance how many times have you had a perfect match-up in conversation? Isn't it possible that this could be an exquisite -- but underrated -- pleasure? And we could get better at this as we age. So why doesn't it happen?


Anonymous said…
Glad to find you're free of injury from your tumble. Gravity is relentless and holds no favoritism. I too know the consequences of it's unyielding grasp.

Except for one time and one time only, similar to your experience of everything being right for enough time to be a memorable event. I couldn't have been more than 12 or 13. My friends and I were playing, as we often did, down the street in the woods and swamps of suburban New Orleans. On this particular day I began to run back to the neighborhood along the paths worn through the woods. I experienced a sort of oneness with my body and surroundings. I ran and knew exactly where each step had to be on the uneven ground. I had no difficulty in breathing. I felt no stress, no strain, no gravity; I just ran. Even my buddies commented on how effortless my actions seemed as they couldn't keep up.

I'll always remember that prolonged feeling of euphoria. I'm 56 now and have measured every similar experience since against that day. None have equaled it.

As to conversation I can't say there's an equivalent
frame of reference. My guess is that the older we get we ask better questions and hence gain a more nuanced response that might be unexpected or enlightening. Personally the types of conversations you speak of have happened to me when I'm engaging someone who has seen the world through a wholly different frame of reference.

An example. My cube mate at the engineering firm we worked at was an English schooled Nigerian national. Mike (Americanized name) loved to argue. He would instigate conflict where none existed to get reaction. I believe it was his hobby. We became good friends and came close to several of the conversations defined mostly because we knew to ask the right question at the right time. I noticed your last 3 sentences are questions, more importantly, the right questions.

I have another example, but this is getting long winded. Suffice to say it involved an exotic dancer that I became close to. Talk about a different life experience. She was a 1% biker club old lady and I was (am) a goober mechanical engineer. What great conversations we had. Didn't hurt that sexual tension is every bit as relentless as gravity.

Thanks Carl for your stories. Most of us remember only a few conversations over the course of a lifetime. I'm not sure if those conversations fit in the "perfect match-up" category, or whether they are remembered for some other reason.