Big Fat Tire: Don’t let fear steal your ride (column)
I could hear the fear in her voice. It was on a rocky, steep section of singletrack of our third ride together on her new bike. We wanted to do a short evening loop and I picked a route that was mostly easy; it did have a few more advanced sections, maybe too advanced for my lovely fiancé’s novice ability. The thing is, despite her fear, she rode many of those sections. She made it without any tumbles.
Years ago, Rebecca had a very nasty crash which resulted in injury. That was basically her last mountain bike ride and that feeling, losing traction, losing control, hitting the ground, whether she’s wanted it or not has stuck with her. It says a lot about her courage and toughness that she was willing to purchase a not-inexpensive mountain bike and give the sport another try. Love is an amazing thing.
That moment and our subsequent conversation brought back memories of my own. In my whitewater kayaking days, I had a very nasty life-threatening swim in the class 5 Pine Creek rapid on the Arkansas River at high water. For a year after that, my paddling became much more tentative and timid. I always felt kayaking is a sport where I had to conquer fear and fear was conquering me. Eventually, I became more comfortable in my boat but I don’t think I ever got my mojo back 100 percent.
Although serious injury is rare, tumbles and occasional lost skin and bruises are a part of mountain biking. I’ve had a few crashes on my mountain bike that have shaken my confidence over the years but I’ve usually bounced back given enough time. There are a few spots on trails though, the sites of where those uglier crashes have happened, that still to this day I can’t pass without a little twinge in my stomach, a little taste of fear. The fear may be on a leash, but it’s not entirely gone. I don’t charge the downhills as hard as I used to. Part of that I write off as age; I don’t heal as fast as I used to and I have more responsibilities than I used to, but maybe those handful of harder crashes are still in my mind, making me less than sure about my skills. (not to mention, I’m just not that much into pain anymore).
Mountain biking is a hard sport. It can be incredibly fun and very satisfying, but it can also bite you. It requires a lot of different skills. Fitness, strength, eye-, hand- and full-body coordination all play a big role, but like most sports it’s mostly mental. Bouncing over rocks, flying down a trail at speed, making slow speed technical moves in rock gardens all take skill, but there is much more than learning how to shift your weight on the bike or how to pick a line or soak up bumps. It takes confidence and confidence is something that can be easily shaken and difficult to regain.
I came into mountain biking after many years of riding motorcycles on and off pavement. I already had an idea of what to do on two wheels on a loose, steep, sketchy trail. I learned those skills when I was too young to be smart enough to be afraid. Some folks come into the sport with BMX backgrounds or started mountain biking when they were in their teens or 20s, but my sweetheart has none of those advantages. Riding with her has not only driven home to me how difficult the sport is and what an advantage I have, but how much I respect her for being willing to swing her leg over a bike and follow me into the great unknown. Bike porn is full of young guys (and some girls) doing crazy things; hucking themselves down insanely steep and gnarly terrain, flying through the air on ballistic trajectories, and so on, but the courage that my wife-to-be has had to summon to follow me down a rocky trail impresses me as much, if not more.
As with almost any activity, time spent doing it instills a certain amount of comfort. Skills can be learned and practiced but the mental aspect, real confidence in mountain biking and in life in general is a tricky and subtle thing. My experiences with Rebecca have driven home a lesson that I’ve known, but need to re-learn: Don’t take things for granted. Be grateful for your blessings, that you have the time and the disposable income to do something frivolous like mountain biking and that you live in a place where trails abound. Confidence is easily shaken, don’t take it for granted.
In other news: The Fall Classic mountain bike race is this weekend. The Fall Classic has been around since 1984. I raced it first in 1985 when I had just had a mountain bike for a couple months. The race was in October back then and there was snow on the ground in some places. I think there were probably less than 50 people in the race that year. As the years went on the race grew into a large and prestigious event that spent many years as the season finale of the Colorado off-road series and after than the mountain states cup. I was privileged to be the race director during some of those years in the ’80s and ’90s. Jeff Westcott and the folks at Mav Sports promote the race now and they’ve been great stewards of the tradition of the race. They’ve kept it old school and fun. Check it out.
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