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December 17, 2010

Look At The Gaps, Not The Hazards



Bret Rasmussen


Since we sold all the livestock on our home place we now use the corral to park trailers (no need to shut the gate either). It’s not big enough to pull in and turn around, so I have to back through the gate with the trailer and park it so that the other trailers are not blocked. If I focus on the gate I can never reach my destination without having to pull up and straighten out a number of times.

If I focus on the wheel chocks that are purposely left in place, I can then—and only then—back straight through the gate and park against the chocks without any difficulty.

If you focus on the hazard you’ll become part of the hazard.

On one particular outing, I had a rather large group, maybe 18 or 20 riders. As the typical ride goes we would advance from one stop to the next, play awhile and move on. Just so everyone understands my position, I do not act as a guide. I am nearly always in a new area and one of the group is designated as guide, leader, chief and person in charge. I simply don’t take responsibility for all getting back to the point of beginning. I figure if I get myself back and all is good then that’s an accomplishment. OK, I admit to even trying to lose certain riders, but that’s beside the point.

Now back to my story. We were midway through the day and someone asked about Jim (I don’t remember his real name). Three people said they saw him at the last stop so a few went back to look for Jim. When they came back empty-handed we realized that he could be in trouble so we decided to backtrack until we found him. So … after several stops (not just one or two, maybe more like four) back on the day’s ride, we found him in a tree well. Now I could talk about buddy systems and other ways to keep track of one another or maybe how Jim should have made a friend earlier in the day.

But I want to discuss more in detail the tree well. You see, this was a lone tree in the middle of a large flat meadow. This was a single hazard standing all by itself in the middle of a huge gap. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he was in this hole. The tree was broken off and his sled was bent—A-arms, plastic, everything. He didn’t just bump into the tree. I’ll give Jim this. He was committed. Just not quite sure what he was committed to—keeping up with the group or breaking off the tree. The real reason he went into the tree is because he was focused on the hazard (tree).

When you look at the hazard your sled will take you to it. When you focus on the gap, the hazard becomes much less of a threat. So we all had a good laugh at Jim. He had been by himself shoveling for more than an hour in the worst possible situation, a low spot in a flat meadow.

Everything comes easier with more experience, even riding sleds. Most people look at their ski tips or just beyond. If you are doing 60 bumps a minute and they are coming at you at the rate of three bumps every 10 feet then you have to look past your ski tips, because the third bump 10 feet in front of you is already too close for you to set up for. You need to look out ahead and give yourself room to set up for any obstacles and hazards.

When I am in the trees, it can be difficult to look ahead. I don’t have bionic vision, so I really can’t see around or through that tree just in front. What do I do? I try to anticipate the terrain. I use clues. An easy one is if I’m on a track where someone has gone before. This could be good, but usually not, especially if a frozen sledder is found on a dead sled. I am always on the lookout for light, even sunlight around the back of the tree that I am coming up on. This means there is surely an opening coming up and I will focus on the gap that takes me to the opening. Even as I enter the opening I will be looking forward for another outlet, another gap. Things are generally happening very quickly. If the snow is deep it will be a matter of momentum that keeps my sled moving forward without getting stuck. When you second guess your line, it causes a hesitation and it’s this hesitation that will become a stuck. There is no time for second guessing; look forward far enough to make decisions and stick with them.

There is a shot in the Schooled Again video where I am on a line that Chris Burandt had followed and when I got to a point on the hill where I could see that he took the line away, I wasn’t prepared mentally to make an adjustment and I just stopped, wondering one more time how is it that the lines always work out for him and not for me.

During my career as a competition hillclimb racer, I would always, without exception, walk the course before the race and continue to monitor it up until the time came for me to make my run. I would have the course completely memorized from the first gate to the last hole, rock and stump. During that preparation, which included the night before an event, I would go over and over the course in my mind so that when I got on the hill my focus wouldn’t be distracted by hazards. I don’t like surprises during an event and believe me I’ve seen many of them.

Remember, it’s the gaps that need your focus; surely you won’t be negotiating the hazard, so you don’t need to waste any time focusing on it. There will always be an outlet beyond the hazard; look for it.



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