|*Image found here|
But, let me first go back a bit.
I grew up riding mountain bikes. After my first tricycle and banana seat bike (with training wheels of course), I was on to mountain bikes. I don't think I owned a road bike until well into adulthood. Mountain bikes were simply the only option, unless a person was into BMX bikes, and I was not.
I rode my bicycle, like most pre-teens, to get around town when my parents weren't willing or weren't available to drag me to whatever location was of interest that day. I rode my mountain bike frequently over paved roads, dirt roads, and wherever I needed to travel.
I honestly don't ever remember being afraid to pedal anywhere I needed to go. In fact, I looked forward to going over obstacles and would often seek them out. Tree branches, rocks, giant puddles of mud/water - I loved it all.
Something happened between that care-free time in my youth and what I'll loosely refer to as today (which actually encompasses the last decade). What was once a fun, exciting, practical means of travel or fun became a thing of fear and dread. I wish I knew where it all turned or that I could point to a specific moment and know that it was where everything changed.
But, I can't. I don't know why or how the fear came about, but one day I simply became aware that mountain biking is scary. It became a daredevil activity in which I was no longer allowed to participate.
A few years ago, poor Sam attempted to get me started on it again, knowing full well that I am the biggest scaredy-cat when it comes to mountain bikes. That ride didn't go well. So unwell in fact that I didn't touch a mountain bike again for a very long time.
As Sam has participated in mountain bike races over the summer, it's caused me to take another look at mountain biking. Not because I want to do races, but because everyone I see actually seems to have a good time. They don't look scared out of their minds and they don't seem to be death-gripping the handlebars like yours truly. I wanted desperately to be able to find that joy and not be completely terrified of even the simplest of dirt trails.
Not to mention, I'd love to understand where the breakdown happens between riding paved roads and riding unpaved trails in my mind.
|*Image from Santa Cruz|
I knew full well that there was no way on this earth Sam was going to buy that bike. For starters, the bike as built was just shy of $7k. Really. It's an easy way to get out of something when you know there's no money for that sort of thing - particularly knowing that I may very well never touch the darn bike at all. He replied that if he could, he would, if it would get me out, which made me feel worse for suggesting it - even as a joke.
But, the more I wandered past mountain bikes in shops, the more I pondered the idea of actually using one for something other than riding up and down a paved road. The Bridgestone from the 90s I had was really too big to be used for such activities, so if I wanted to test things, I'd either need to ride Sam's bike (which is an option, but we set our bikes up very differently, and I'd hate to mess with his ride too much), or I'd have to get my own.
I looked, on occasion, through Craigslist and eBay, wondering if there was a good deal on something that would fit, but I couldn't justify spending even a few hundred dollars knowing that it could very well just end up gathering dust (and not from riding somewhere dirty). I pretty much let the whole thing go, figuring that I get plenty of other types of riding in and I didn't feel like cluttering my head with such things for the time being.
Then one day, several weeks later, Sam arrived home from work with a mountain bike on the back of the car. Argh. Not sure if this was a good thing or not, Sam informed me that there was no need for panic as the bike was $50 from someone just trying to get rid of it, so he figured if nothing else, it would be worth testing out.
The tires were pumped up a bit and I stood over the bike in front of the house as though I was going to die if I started to pedal. As I stood there, I pondered actually taking off up the hill in front of me, but just couldn't get myself to move. I played with the brakes, pretending to test them, and a few minutes later threw my leg back over and started walking the bike back to the bike area.
Sam looked disappointed. I know he wanted me to ride the bike, but the fear running through me was more than I could handle. My insides were shaking and my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest. "I promise I'll ride it soon," I said, only half believing it myself. "I just need to take it slowly."
Slow definitely didn't begin to describe it. I pretty much ignored the bike entirely. Then, one day, without warning or much thought at all, I decided that I should at least take the mountain bike around the block to see if it even fit properly. I took it from its spot in the holding area and pedaled around the block. The saddle was low, so I raised it up. Then, I pedaled around some more. I rode about 6 miles that day just testing the bike on paved roads.
That didn't seem so bad, I thought to myself. Of course, I knew very well that the problem was not paved roads, but rather dirt, rock and other off-road type rides.
I ended up on a dirt path accidentally on a ride with the Hillborne one day several weeks ago, which seemed to provide my brain a bit of peace with the idea of using a mountain bike on a dirt trail. If I just start slow, it won't be a problem, I told myself. I really had been trying to work my way up to even getting on the bike anywhere that wasn't paved.
As crazy as it sounds, as soon as I get near an off-road path I immediately tense up and fear takes over. I can ride dirt roads on the Hillborne because I'm comfortable with how it handles and the way it rides, but beyond that, the thought just overwhelms me. The biggest problem is that there are limits to what I can handle with the Hillborne because it is so large.
As I got closer to the trail head, my heart was pounding so loudly. I was fairly convinced at this point that I wasn't going to ride the trail at all. I did a quick riding loop around the parking lot and then seriously pondered turning around and going home.
But, I didn't. Instead, I opened the gate, drug the bike through, stood over the bike and took a deep breath.
I understand completely that this all sounds insane. For someone who rides her bikes a lot, it must seem so absurd that I'd have so much anxiety about a simple dirt trail, but as I stated close to the start, there are some demons I'm dealing with when it comes to any form of mountain biking - even a silly, technically very easy, dirt trail with little climbing.
I stood on the other side of the gate for a few minutes. My brain was saying, Go back, GO BACK! You don't need to do this. My body seemed to agree as my hands were noticeably shaking. My heart was pounding so loudly I thought it might actually come out of my chest. I fought every instinct in that moment and started to pedal forward.
I pedaled for what felt like an absolute eternity (which turned out to be only a mile), at which point I stopped and got off the bike. Ahead of me were two riders on horses and I had the option to keep going and figure out how to pass them on the trail, or turn around and head back. I decided in that moment that I hadn't fallen over yet, nothing bad had happened, and I needed to keep this first ride positive, so I turned around and headed back.
As I returned to the start of the trail, I heard someone behind me say with heavy breath, "On your left." I suddenly heard the pounding of running shoes on the ground and realized that a runner was passing me. How embarrassing! Seriously, I was pedaling so slow that a runner was able to easily stride past me. I couldn't help but laugh to myself at the ridiculousness of the situation.
As short as the ride was (just over 2 miles of trail), I could feel that there was a bit of confidence gained in just that short distance. I'm not ready to set off on the rockiest of terrain nor am I prepared to say that I am entirely comfortable on a mountain bike trail - even an easy one like this, but I think with some repetition and increases in distance, I can overcome some of the fear that seems to have taken over this aspect of riding for me.
The bike Sam got for me is on the large side, which hasn't resolved some of the issues with having a bike that's too large (it's a bit long in reach and the standover is a tad scary, so sudden stops are a bit precarious - which I do realize probably isn't helping the fear factor), but it handles like a tank, which for me, is a wonderful quality because I don't worry as much about holes or smaller obstacles on a trail. I'm sure I'll regret that characteristic when climbing becomes more serious.
Ultimately, it's a great feeling to have gone out and at least tried to conquer something I fear so much - particularly doing it on my own. When I look at the photos of the trail, I have to wonder what it is I am so terrified of with off-road paths, but when actually riding them the fear comes and simply takes over. Being able to overcome a bit of it is definitely confidence-inspiring though, and I was reminded that while there are few things that scare me as much as mountain biking, it is important to face my fears and attempt to overcome them.
I find it hard to believe that a two-mile bicycle ride (can I even call that a ride?) could cause such a shift in my mind, but I do think it has helped to remind myself that I don't have to do anything I am uncomfortable with riding. Perhaps one day I'll feel confident enough to head to the actual mountains rather than the foothills, but for now, I'm happy to take things slow and see where it goes.
With cooler temperatures setting in and snow likely on the way, I don't know how frequently I'll be able to ride before trails become too intimidating for me. However, I look forward to trying again soon and I know that we have enough sunny days even in winter that I may just be able to get this demon conquered before spring hits again. Maybe.