“Why am I doing this??”
That is a literal question I ask myself at least once, if not several times, during each ride I set out on. Mountain biking for me is challenging, like really challenging. It pushes my body and mind to extremes that I haven’t experienced in any other sport or endeavor I have taken on before or since. There are points during each ride that I feel like quitting. The route gets tough. My lungs start screaming for air. My legs begin to feel like they are on fire or I am just faced with terrain that challenges all the skills I thought I had picked up along the way.
In addition to all of that, to say I have a healthy fear of falling and really doing damage to myself might be an understatement. But the flip side is, I have become addicted to not only the adrenaline rush that comes with this type of sport but possibly even more to the feeling of continually looking this particular type of fear in the eye and not backing down from the challenge.
I got into mountain biking almost two decades ago. Back then I was semi-serious about it, but it was more of a hobby than a sport I was trying to master. I rode for a few years and well then life happened. I moved around a bit, left my bike behind, and never really picked it back up. That is until COVID hit.
At the start of the pandemic last year I was itching, like a lot of folks, to get outside more. A good friend of mine who happened to have held onto my bike for me all these years asked if I wanted to go for a ride on one, particularly beautiful spring day. I immediately jumped at the chance thinking it would just be nice to go on a casual ride and get out of the house for a bit.
I pulled all my old biking gear out of a storage box that had been long since covered up with a ton of other things I no longer used but of course, couldn’t bear to part with and suited up. We started off just hitting some paved trails right by my house but pretty soon stumbled upon some paths that led off into the woods with much more rugged and challenging terrain and jumped at the chance to really let the bikes loose.
Almost immediately I had a huge smile plastered on my face and was attacking those roots and rocks with a kind of reckless abandon I really only get when I am in the middle of the woods speeding down a steep incline with countless numbers of obstacles trying to buck me off my bike. I had so much fun being “back in the saddle” that day that I knew this was not going to be a one-time thing. I was hooked. I was hooked more than I think I ever was the first time I tried the sport and from that day forward have been borderline obsessed about getting on my bike every chance I get. See below for some pics from a mountain biking trip we took over the weekend…
So, what is about mountain biking that has me so completely determined to do everything I can to get better and better at the sport? Well for starters, my friend is an absolutely amazing rider. He has been riding for about 30 years and is faster and more agile on his bike than I will probably ever be on mine. That being said, riding with him gives me so much motivation to keep improving my skills because I see how far there is to go. And by the way, I use the phrase “riding with him” loosely because he absolutely smokes me most of the time and it is everything I can do to just keep him somewhat in my sights.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, mountain biking is hard for me. It hasn’t been something I have picked up and excelled at right from the start. It is challenging physically of course but probably even more so mentally and even emotionally. During each ride I truly at times think to myself this is crazy, it is too hard, why am I doing this to myself, and usually there is an omg I might die thrown in there as well. Inevitably though, as soon as the ride is over, and I get off my bike I am already looking forward to doing it all again! In really thinking about why all those things go through my mind each time I ride, it dawned on me how many lessons mountain biking can teach me about life in general. Namely,
Patience is a Virtue
I have a hard time not immediately being good at something. A really hard time. I want right from the start to be the best at everything I try no matter how difficult, complex, or challenging the task ahead of me is. It makes no logical sense that I would pick up my bike after years and years of not riding and be able to attack double black diamond trails with the ease of a seasoned professional, yet to me, that is what I expect of myself. A year into being back on my bike and while I know I have gotten stronger and made a lot of progress in certain areas I am very far from where I still want to be. I need to learn to balance, however, being motivated to keep improving and realizing it won’t happen overnight. Focusing too much on what I have not accomplished yet instead of being proud of myself for being out there, trying and not giving up robs me of fully enjoying everything I love about the sport, to begin with.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”.
That wise statement attributed to Theodore Roosevelt rings especially true for me when it comes to mountain biking. Riding with someone who is so much better than me in just about every way, while motivational and educational tends to also be frustrating at times. I like to win. I like to come in first place. As bad as this sounds, I like to beat the rest of the pack. When I can’t and I am not the best at something, I am very hard on myself. Always riding with people who are so much better than I am is a truly humbling experience and one that is a bit hard for my ego to take at times. My friend always tells me to stop comparing myself to him or anyone else, be proud of the progress I am making and just enjoy being out on the bike. While of course, he is right, the stubborn, perfectionist part of me has trouble accepting my second-place position. Focusing so much on what someone else is doing whether on a bike or just in life, robs you of energy you could be putting into improving yourself. Just for the record, this is one is still very hard for me. I am working on it though, I promise!
Progress doesn’t happen in your comfort zone.
A large part of mountain biking, or at least getting better at mountain biking is continually pushing yourself to go bigger. If I never tried harder features or let up off the brakes more going down a steep embankment or forced myself to keep pedaling up a gnarly hill when my legs were screaming for me to quit, I would never get any better. And I so badly want to be better, faster and stronger and honestly less afraid. The only way to accomplish all those things is to face the fear, get uncomfortable and do it all anyway. Whether it is mountain biking, or taking a chance on a new job, or getting the courage to leave a relationship that no longer is working for you, real meaningful change only happens when you get uncomfortable. We are all going to be faced with hills in life, with choices that involve staying where we are or pushing ourselves more than we thought possible because something better might be on the other side of the climb. In my experience, you will only be disappointed if you choose not to tackle that mountain in front of you. The fear will diminish, the pain will subside and what you will be left with is a stronger more confident version of yourself which for me is worth all the struggles.
Fall 7 times, get back up 8!
One of the motto’s that mountain bikers say a lot is “if you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying”. Well at the beginning of last year I must have been trying a whole heck of a lot because I took a few good spills right in a row and let me tell you even with pads on it hurts quite a bit! After about my third good fall, I found my confidence to be shaken. I could sense myself pulling back on the trails, taking fewer chances and in turn plateauing because I was afraid of taking another tumble. Pretty soon though, the disappointment of not making any real strides became worse for me than accepting the reality and honestly the fear that I might come off my bike a time or two again. Falling is part of life y’all. Not just in mountain biking but in all aspects of life. What really matters is not how many falls you take or how often you try something that doesn’t work but that you never stop trying. Never stop dedicating yourself to getting better at whatever it is you have set your mind to. Fall, fall, and then fall once more. Just don’t give up on yourself…ever!
Learn from each and every mistake.
Every time I have fallen off my bike it was because I did something wrong. I either didn’t hit a feature with enough speed or I got a little scared and grabbed too much brake, or my position on the bike was wrong going into a particular section of the trail. Each time I found myself picking my bike up and dusting myself off, I immediately thought ok, why did that happen and how can I avoid it happening in the future because ouch! What mountain biking, in particular, has taught me more than probably any other sport I have ever participated in, is that there is no shame at all in falling down, and in fact, each fall is an opportunity to improve. Mistakes are inevitable in all aspects of life. We will make countless mistakes throughout a lifetime, some over and over again, but framing those mistakes as a learning opportunity is truly how we grow, get better and continue to make progress. While they can be frustrating and sometimes even downright painful, take the opportunity to reflect on the mistakes we all are bound to make and do just a little better the next time!
In mountain biking, I have truly found a worthy opponent. While it sometimes feels like it is me against the mountain, in reality, it is me against me. Like so many other scenarios in life, the only thing that will dictate how much I am able to improve, and progress is how motivated I am to continue to get uncomfortable, face my fears and meet each new challenge head-on. I want nothing more than to prove to myself that even in the face of something so challenging I am able to ignore that inner voice inside my head telling me it is too hard, and I should quit, and accomplish what I have set my mind to doing. After all, what better feeling is there than being able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person staring back at you?!? So my challenge for you today guys, is to go out and do one thing that scares you! And of course, report back and let me know what it was and how you did!!