Pathways to Adventure

Redemption Ride – Finding Flow

Tahoe Day 6 (8/14/18): Decided to roll back up to Hoot trail in the AM before heading home, partly to redeem myself from the equipment-induced underwhelming run I had on it the day before, but mostly just because it’s a really good trail, and second time thru is always going to be a big improvement. Got there, parking next to Harmony Ridge Market, and was pretty much the only car in the lot at 8:30 in the morning:

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Well, let’s get right to the video, but with a quick mention that this one hit a previously-unreached Dopamine Rating of 9.5. I’ll let you watch the video to see why, but stick around for the narration on the uphill after Hoot Trail to see the effects of a strong norepinephrine and endorphin cocktail from the sustained down, followed by a bit of serotonin overload on the up from being surrounded by the lush greenery. Things were starting to feel a bit… surreal.

 

Post-ride, was fortunate to meet back up with my cousin and her kids for breakfast in Nevada City, and she surprised me with this care package to bring back home with me!

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All homegrown veggies from Jennifer’s garden, with so much flavor that is sadly lacking from the non-homegrown variety we see in our local chain stores. Needless to say, during the long drive home, it was very difficult to save many of the cherry/grape/pear tomatos and baby cucumbers for Donna, but I did manage to bring her a few of each to sample. Definitely added to the dopamine levels.

Now, throwing in a few gratuitous shots from the drive, starting with when I ran across a bunch of the overly-aggro squirrels at one of the rest stops:

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Feeding them cashews probably kept them from devouring me alive, but wild creatures that tame always sketch me out a little…

Had to feed myself, too, once reaching In-N-Out territory, which kind of puts a good ending onto any sort of road trip out of SoCal.

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Here’s the face of a content traveler, satieted with tasty trails, veggies, burgers and fries.

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Also, not a “good-bye,” but more of a “see you later,” I wanted to let people know this will be my last post on NeuroAdventures, at least for a while. Not going away, just pivoting a little! I’ve kind of said what I want to say by now about how incredible it is to participate in adventures that activate the pathways designed by nature for enhanced, sometimes sublime, occasionally transcendent experiences. And the best way to do that is outside, in nature!

So where is the pivot? The fork in the road, or whatever? Nothing too exciting, really. Just a re-branding. I’m going to start posting the videos from my travels under a different YouTube channel, and this one’s called Retirement Xtreme.

Logo!!!  ——>RetirementXtremeLogo1

And I probably won’t be posting to a blog/webpage with the writing portions, as I’m hoping to make the video tell the story itself.

First up will be a video from my first day of riding in Scotland, at an incredible bike park called Glentress, about an hour south of Edinburgh.

So have a look at the new YouTube channel, or, even better, subscribe to it, and you’ll be notified anytime I post more content. We’ll see where I’m able to take this fork in the road, but hopefully it’ll help fund some of the future travels a little… Who knows???

Flow – Interrupted…

Some details from Day 5

On my way home from four incredible days of riding in South Lake Tahoe, I made plans to stop by Grass Valley to visit my cousin and her family.

But first, I needed to sample some of the singletrack along the way! Found something interesting on the Trailforks app, just off Highway 20, near Harmony Ridge, so decided to give it a go.

Park it at the market!
Let’s get rollin’

After ten miles of dusty beginner-ish trails, stumbled across something awesome in the woods late that afternoon — a hand-built pathway named “Hoot Trail” with over 30 tabletop jumps and nearly as many berm turns descending gently over 1.3 miles through lime-green forest with whispering pines. Pedaled up it to get it figured out, then turned around in giddy anticipation after reaching the summit. First few turns and jumps started out well, then I lost any chance of getting into flow state due to my over-obsession with some failed technology, in this case the GoPro Karma Grip gimbal.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I captured the entire sordid ordeal and put it into this video:

First thing to notice is that the trail I expected to be awesome — Zipper — turned out to be a “total snoozer,” as DT would put it, due to the off-camber turns on the 20 or so switchbacks. Had to scrub all speed to make it through them without sliding out, which killed any chance of getting into the flow zone…

Cut to the Hoot Trail scene, and make sure to listen for the many times I had to substitute the word “freakin”‘ in the edit room for the f-bombs I was dropping anytime the gimbal would screw up again…

Needless to say, I had let technology detract from, instead of enhance, the experience — kind of a double-edged sword for all our high-tech toys…

Oh well, the day overall ended up a net positive NeuroAdventure on the Dopamine Scale, since I had such a great time visiting my cousin and her husband and kids (and their cool pupper Drake, not Duke…)

Meet Drake!
Also met a bunch o’ chickens…
Rush Hour in downtown Nevada City

And there’s always tomorrow for another chance to find the flow!

NeuroFlow

My last post was a link to a video showcasing one of the best MTB Flow Trails out there right now, with features common to the genre: gradual and sustained downhill on mostly groomed trail surface, with berms (banked turns), jumps, drop-offs, and other stunts that can be strung together in a rhythmic cadence from top to bottom, reminiscent of a dance on dirt. But let’s talk about another kind of flow: the mental state we try to reach while on NeuroAdventures, and hopefully in life.

“Flow State” in the psychological/neuroscience sense is the place when everything is effortless, the events unfold as they happen, and you go with it. We always seek it in our adventure sports — surfing, snow skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, et al. It often occurs in other realms, too — when performing music, creating art, writing, even designing new products, software, processes, and ideas… When past and future disappear, and you are totally absorbed in the moment, you have reached the state of flow.

Now scientists have recently put a name to the system they have identified in the brain that is implicated in this exalted state: Default Mode Network (DMN). This is a neural network that comes into play when you are doing… nothing. When you are not involved in a task, or performing a mindless task, and your mind starts to wander, the area that lights up in a brain scan is the DMN. It acts as a bridge between the higher-order cognitive reasoning areas of the cerebral cortex and the deeply-embedded emotional limbic system, and retrieves memories from the hippocampus then ties them into the mix, as well, to provide a sense of past, present, and future, and an idea of our place in this timeline and our sense of separation from other people and our physical environment. Scientists liken its role to that of symphony conductor between the cognitive, emotional, and memory regions of the brain. It has also been called the brain’s “traffic cop,” allowing certain sensations and memories in, but filtering many, many of them out, to give us a reduced set of ideas to plan our next move. It’s one of the most recently evolved complex systems in the mammalian brain, and especially so for the human brain. Classical Freudian psychology called this system the ego. It is the voice in your head that replays its version of history for review, and projects possible scenarios in the future for your consideration and decision-making. It is critical for the higher-level planning and execution of complex ideas in novel circumstances, which has proved a key survival trait that humans possess more strongly than other (living) species, and has allowed us to flourish in nearly every climate and environment — including ones of our own invention.

And it is implicated in flow state, but not in a way you may be thinking: Flow state turns certain aspects of this DMN system off! That’s right, when we reach flow state, we stop projecting into the past and future, we turn off the chatter, we stop analyzing the present to decide our next move, and we just do. We just go.

A recent scientific paper put it thusly: “It is proposed that a necessary prerequisite to the experience of flow is a state of transient hypofrontality that enables the temporary suppression of the analytical and meta-conscious capacities of the explicit system.” (Italics added for emphasis… 😉 )

Psychologists have also published frequently about the benefits of reaching flow state — whether through focused work or play or meditation or “mindfullness” or exercise, or even by ingesting certain psychoactive drugs like psilocybin and peyote and the lysergic acid diethylamide (normally known by 3 of its initials) in a controlled and professionally-supervised manner. They have proposed that reaching this flow state — by shutting off the DMN — can boost creativity by unlocking hidden and sometimes dormant regions of the brain to increase connections between these previously disparate areas. While doing so, it also removes judgement about the ideas, but still allows us to review them as an impassioned observer. Biologically, it can trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine and other feel-good chemicals, reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and can even alleviate the downsides of overactivity in the DMN system that manifest themselves as negative rumination about the past (depression) and obsessive worry about the future (anxiety).

Although the DMN set us free from being slaves to our environment, and allowed us to invent wondrous solutions to novel problems key to our survival (or, more likely in today’s world, to our economic state…), it can also hold us back. It can also make us sad, especially when it is overactive, and we don’t occasionally shut it off. When we don’t make it go away. Make it stop analyzing. And overanalyzing. And ruminating. And chattering.

So we have been advised for years to find ways to “live in the moment” — by Buddhist scholars and Eastern philosophers initially, and today by psychiatrists, therapists, sports psychologists, and others involved in the practice of advising us how to increase our levels of performance and find contentment in daily life. Another way to say this, in neuroscience-speak, is we should seek to occasionally, temporarily, shut off temporal and analytical regions of the DMN, to allow other regions of the brain to have their say, to enable us to go with the flow, to make us again feel connected. Easier said than done…

A key differentiator between one individual and another on their ability to reach flow state during an activity is experience — specifically, experience through focused practice of this activity, usually over many years. Think of musicians who can play and improvise effortlessly, artists who lose themselves for hours in their creations, computer analysts and programmers who can design and code late into the night without a break, athletes who can perform during competition automatically and without thought. Another way to increase focus and quickly reach the state of flow is to perform physical activities with perceived risk such that they demand our full attention. Sort of sounds like, wait for it, the so-called extreme sports…

I can say from personal experience that I have felt this sense of “flow” — and the disappearance of time and chattering thought — through a number of activities: downhill mountain biking, surfing, snow skiing, programming, database and system design, drawing, painting, and even just listening to music. Usually you don’t realize until it’s over that you were in this state. Then, it’s almost a shock, like, “wow, what just happened?” And it does leave you in a calm yet energized state.

So that brings us to the final 2 days of the Tahoe journey: NeuroAdventures Stop #1, Days 5 and 6, On the Way Home.

Day 5 was an example of “No Flow” after stumbling across something awesome in the woods near Grass Valley late that afternoon — a hand-built pathway named “Hoot Trail” with over 30 tabletop jumps and nearly as many berm turns descending gently over 1.3 miles through lime-green forest with whispering pines — and absolutely losing any chance of getting into flow state while riding it for the first time, due to my over-obsession with some failed technology, in this case the GoPro Karma Grip gimbal.

Day 6 was about finding the State of Flow, and a sense of redemption, by returning to Hoot Trail the next morning, setting-then-forgetting the GoPro/Gimbal, then just letting go and riding with 100% focus on the trail in front of me. The video evidence from both events is still in the edit room, so I will post them as they are completed.

No lesson learned here, really… Just some examples to illustrate that when it comes to Flow, some days you find it, some days you don’t… but the days you do keep you coming back for more!

NeuroAdventures 8/12/18 – Tahoe Day 4: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (w/video)

The adventures continue at South Lake Tahoe, Stop #1 of the NeuroAdventures World Tour! DT, Clinkie and I tackled the legendary Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on this 4th day of the trip, starting with a 2.8 mile hike-a-bike climb from Luther Pass off the 89. The 5.2 mile descent that followed had a nice variety of rock gardens and flow sections with natural embedded granite step-down jumps, all on pine-forest singletrack. Near the bottom, they have started to build a few kicker jumps to spice things up; hopefully this trend will continue and the next time we visit it will have dozens of park-like tabletops and maybe some gap jumps for the hardcore aficionados (i.e. – not me… ;-).

Got the neurotransmitters flowing with the nice mix of shaded forest (serotonin) and sustained uphill to begin (endorphin+anandine). The fun but not too scary technical stuff got the norepinephrine working and helped keep the flow state going for almost an hour. And, of course, camaraderie = oxytocin…

So, I will award this one a +8.5 Dopamine Rating – not quite as high as yesterday’s ride, with its extra pucker-factor from the exposed rock staircases on Monument Pass. But this is still an exceptional score, and one that proves that Mr. Toad’s lives up to the hype!

Kudos to the crew for planning another great ride!

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Here’s a link to the video to see what you’re missing:

NeuroAdventures 8/11/18 – Tahoe Day 3: Monument Pass (Video!)

More mountain biking around Lake Tahoe for Stop #1 of the NeuroAdventures World Tour! We all first climbed a steep-ass fireroad for a few miles, then Erik and Clinkie stopped there and went down Cold Creek straight away. DT and I continued with a 2.7 mile hike-a-bike on Monument Pass Trail to Tahoe Rim Trail. Stopped for a few shots along the way:

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Turnaround point, at the intersection with Tahoe Rim Trail:

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DT and I then threaded our way back down what we’d just ridden/pushed/carried up. At the intersection, we continued with Cold Creek DH, as well, but long after the others had finished up.

Glad we had a smooth flow ride yesterday to start. Today’s initial down got a bit more… intense, with rock gardens and staircase switchbacks that demanded 100% attention to detail — or payment in granite damage (as shown in the video). Lower half of Monument got faster. Fun to let it out a little thru there. Cold Creek was fast and fun, too, but you’ll have to take my word for it, rather than watch a smudgy video… (Note to self: check lens for spots/smudges at each stop!)

I’m going to award this one a Dopamine Rating of 9, for another day of stunning views (serotonin) and long climbs (endorphin+anandine). But the norepinephrine level topped out a bit higher than yesterday. Upper Monument took a lot of focus. And chilling out with the whole crew down the mountain later was awesome (oxytocin factor).

Good one; 9’s are rare…

Oh ya, here’s the video: