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.

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