It was a Saturday afternoon and Travis had asked me if I’d be interested in taking my new mountain bike, Bruno, out on the trails. Bruno is a Surly Krampus, which Travis had custom painted and custom built for me. (I'm not great at bragging, but Bruno is super dope!) He's a bit on the big side and I’m learning that I’m not blessed with the ability to stand over him without worrying about the lady bits getting hit. You notice when you do, and it's not fun!
I had ridden the pine trails in Van Peenan once last year, and hadn’t been back since. During the summer months, Travis had to forego any riding time with me on Tuesdays to stay at work and catch up on repairs, or get jobs done he couldn’t do easily during business hours. This was my first golden opportunity to get my new tires dirty and finally spend time riding bikes with him.
We started off in Van Peenan because the pines are pretty easy to maneuver around. There aren’t really any hills or drop-offs for me to worry about while riding in the trees. My tires are huge and ride over roots easily (if I didn't avoid them), so it was good a warm up to get me used to terrain other than pavement.
Eventually it was decided that we needed to kick it up a notch and see what I could potentially do on a trail that isn’t 100% dirt. So we went on a trail called Rocky Road; which the name describes just that. One particular area of it (which ended up being both a down-hill and incline) was literally rocky. Very much like the rocks I’ve seen out in my dad’s woods; flat, irregular, and just all over the darn place. I had thought myself somewhat confident, but when I saw what I was going to go down, my confidence just shot straight out the door. I took a deep breath and said “Hoooookay.”
Try to find a line to follow, a path of least resistance. My hands were gripping my handlebars like it was the only way to survive. I was standing up over my seat, my left thigh braced against the seat to give me extra balance. Adrenalin was running full speed, my heart was pounding, and I had to tell myself to keep inhaling and exhaling.
I made it!
Then we ended up coming to a wooden bridge which instantly sparked nervousness in me. My first bike biff was on a wooden bridge; my brain didn’t care it was different terrain let alone a different approach. A tiny jab of anxiety shot through my gut. I rolled over it with no issues, my confidence slowly coming back.
Then came the next tricky part; through a creek, up the bank, and up/over a little hill. I needed to master the power of momentum to get up and over the hump. Also, there was a smaller tree to my left, right at the top of the hump. Talk about tight quarters! If I fell over I’d fall into the hillside, or I could just fall down into the creek below. Thankfully when I lost my bearings I opted for the hillside.
I let out a few cuss words, and Travis asked if I’d like to try it again. Honestly it wasn't that hard, it was just learning momentum and balance. I psyched myself up and said “Okay” and turned around to find a good start point. We “sessioned” the area about two times. I was able to make a successful go at it, and welled up with new-found confidence.
The last tricky part of the day was going back up Rocky Road, which for a novice, likely wouldn’t be the easiest thing. Inclines were never my specialty. I can go up hills, but I’m not necessarily excited or happy about it. With each pedal stroke, I feel the tightening and relaxing my leg muscles. Travis was impressed! I made it up Rocky Road! I was beaming over his excitement.
My first introduction to mountain biking was an overall success. It does bring up some communication challenges; most people know me as very light-hearted and fun. When I learn something new, I’m much more quiet and observant. My concentration is entirely focused on what’s happening in front of my bike tires and around me. The feel of the bike under my body, how my arms are steering, how my hands are gripping. Everything is turned on in my senses, except talking. It was something Travis found very disconcerting.
He was worried I was potentially not having fun, that mountain biking was being forced on me, and he expressed his concerns. I realized at that moment I was actually scared of laughing and enjoying myself! I was on the brink of laughter and enjoyment right before my chin hit the pavement (my last biff). I was afraid that my carefree attitude led me to not be as observant and cautious as I should’ve been. I shuddered with a feeling of sadness and frustration. However, at the same time it opened me up to acknowledge my fears. It also helped Travis and I to talk about our feelings/concerns over what had happened and what we wanted and felt comfortable with in terms of my cycling.
Learning mountain bike isn’t just learning to bike on terrain that is different than I’m currently used to. It started opening doors on communication between two people. Travis has shown an extreme amount of patience with me that likely wouldn’t be easy for others. I go slowly. I’m not ready to blast the trails at epic speeds. The kindness and consideration of my comfort levels and abilities show on his end. His allowing me to go back and session an area several times until I feel more comfortable with it has really helped my confidence levels. Travis’ encouragement and positive feedback has helped me to overcome some of the anxieties and fears I had over learning something new.
It just goes to show that biking can open up many doors and lead you to different places. It has helped me to discover more of myself and has brought me new friends and taken me to new places. So get out there and enjoy the ride!