Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fearless Joy

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been struggling with fear. Fear of mountain bike trail obstacles. Fear of never being able to regain the fitness level of my youth. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of losing my athletic identity as a cyclist. I have been trying to relearn mountain biking, but trying to do it the right way this time. When I first learned to ride 20 years ago (yes, I learned to ride a bike as an adult, which was difficult enough to say the least), I think in my eagerness to catch up for not biking as a kid, I rushed things and tried to do too much too soon. That ended up creating massive levels of fear in me about every aspect of the trail, not to mention never allowing me to get truly comfortable handling a bicycle. Yes, I got to do a lot of races, rode a lot of trails and had a lot of fun in a terrifying kind of way. But there was always that knowledge in the back of my mind that I really didn't know what I was doing because I had never taken the time to actually learn how to ride, so I bluffed my way through the trails for 20 years - I rode, but was always limited by intense unreasonable fear.

So with Steve's help, after taking time off from any kind of significant biking for a long while, I'm relearning the sport, but trying to do it the right way this time and taking things slowly. And even though I'm not naive enough to think I'll ever reach a competitive racer level, if I can simply get comfortable and confident enough this time to manage the non-double-black-diamond trails, that's plenty good enough for me at this stage in my life. In order to gain that confidence, I'm limiting my riding for the time being to trails where the technical sections and challenges have a lower penalty for failure to help me regain fitness and learn to trust myself and my bike before moving to scarier trails.

This past weekend, on the way home from Asheville where Steve raced the final event of the Southern Super D Series, we took a detour to try out the trails at Lake Norman State Park. This turned out to be a superb decision. We only rode three of the easier loops out there, but I discovered that my current bike, a Salsa Spearfish, seemed to be absolutely made for the Monbo Loop. I don't recall having that much fun or having ridden a singletrack trail that fast ever in my life, yet I never felt out of control or scared like I had gotten so used to feeling every time I rode. This hand built trail was the most fun I've had on a mountain bike since I don't know when, and it's been a long time - too long - since I finished a 10 mile mountain bike ride with such a great big grin on my face.
Yeah, I had a couple of close calls. I almost wrapped the bike around a tree when I took a corner with a bit too much speed. Luckily, I was able to steer clear, and thankfully slowing enough to do so helped me narrowly avoid flying off the edge of little curvy rock bridge just after the tree. And there was one small rocky climb where I had to walk the very top few feet due to being out of shape. But I was delighted to find I was able to easily ride the rooty sections, other climbs, descents and rocky stretches. And even with the minor errors noted above, I didn't feel that old familiar gut-wrenching fear I've carried with me for so long, so maybe this plan of taking baby steps with my biking is going to work. I certainly hope so, because I definitely want to go back to LNSP soon, and look forward to finding fearless joy in mountain biking soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Been a While

Yeah, I know I kind of left things hanging since my last blog post several weeks ago. I did end up having a nuclear stress test which showed somewhat abnormal results so underwent a cardiac catheterization the other week. Despite all my worries about the procedure being painful, I actually slept through the entire thing and was awakened by the staff letting me know everything went well and my coronary arteries looked very good. Apparently there was no sign of any coronary artery disease, not even any plaque according to the cardiologist! So my heart appears to be healthy; great news in that it means I can continue on with my weight loss and exercise plans. The only negatives include some temporary wrist soreness where the wire was inserted (which has since resolved) and the massive pile of co-payment bills now having to be addressed. But it is good to know my heart is apparently in great shape. We still don’t know the cause of the EKG abnormalities, but I guess they aren’t harmful; erosive esophagitis and reflux disease are the current primary suspects for my symptomatology. So we’re working on addressing that at present, and it seems to be improving.

Now comes the really hard part – getting back into a regular exercise routine. When you’re overweight, getting older and trying to regain lost fitness, well, let’s just say it’s tough. And discouraging - less than 10 years ago I was easily riding my bike for as much as 22 hours straight during endurance events on challenging trails, and now managing one hour on a beginner loop is exhausting and harder than I remember. I’m doing what I can, but it’s a balancing act between exercising hard enough to make gains in fitness and keeping things at a level where it isn’t so awful that I can’t force myself to get back out there the next time. I get frustrated when I can’t do the things I used to do with ease, and at times it feels like I’m carrying a toddler on my back due to the extra body weight, especially on climbs, but I’m taking baby steps to try and improve. Right now my focus is on more saddle time to get comfortable on the bike again, and I’ll worry about adding increasing speed and tackling the scarier more technical trail sections bit by bit so as not to get too overwhelmed with everything at once.
The weirdest part about it, though, is that my fear of obstacles seems to be the biggest roadblock to my progress; I still seem to have a fair amount of strength for biking, and can even go a little bit fast (for me) on short stretches, especially considering my current lack of fitness. But riding a sketchy descent or crossing a log or rock garden just freezes me psychologically, and if we’re heading to a difficult trail, I find that I am sick to the point of nausea, trembling and cold sweats before I even take to the saddle. Not sure what’s going on with that, especially since I know I can always walk the sketchy sections, but it’s something I’d really like to understand and correct because I desperately want to find the joy in biking again. I feel like I already lost the first 33 years of myself as an equestrian when my horse died 20 years ago and I couldn’t bring myself to face that grief. And I don’t want to lose these last 20 years of my identity as a mountain biker as well due to fear of re-learning how to ride. I suppose I need to just keep pressing onward and hopefully things will work themselves out.