“Cut your losses." It’s a saying we use when we have already invested too much into a losing venture, and decide to quit before losing more. This phrase came to me on an organized mountain bike ride the other day, as I once again fell off the back of the “slower intermediate" group. I started to think I had already invested far too much (9 years to be exact) into an activity that was not, and apparently was not ever going to be, my forte.
But what I couldn’t quite figure out was why, after 9 years of stagnating at generally the beginner skill level, I was still out there trying. Years ago when I tried my hand at windsurfing, it only took a few failed attempts before I realized that wasn’t my “thing". Same thing with several other activities – it didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t a runner, a skier, or a swimmer. I’ve generally not ever really been the athletic type, most often preferring the solitude of reading, writing, meditation, dance, etc.
So why was I here, floundering on this beginner level trail, while others who had been riding a fraction of the years I had were flying effortlessly past me as I struggled helplessly on the unforgiving roots and tight turns? Why have I found it so difficult to abandon attempts at this sport like I have so many others? What makes mountain biking different?
I pondered this as I dismounted time and time again when I was unable to maintain control of my bike along the twisty, narrow trail. Perhaps it was because I had already invested so many years in the sport? No, that couldn’t be it. I gave up horseback riding after over 30 years, and I was far better at horsemanship than I am at bike handling.
Suddenly my mind flashed back to something a fellow competitor had told me at a 24 hour race a couple of years ago. As he watched me ride past his campsite at around 5:30 in the morning when the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, the expression on my face was one of pure joy, as if this was more of a “religious experience" than a race. He said that I appeared to be completely absorbed in the moment, seemingly unaware of any pain or exhaustion that I must have felt at that time, after riding straight for nearly 17 hours.
Then it occurred to me that most of the darkest, loneliest times I’ve experienced on my bike have actually been when I was riding in groups. I realized that I am not fast or technically skilled, and at 42 years old, in all likelihood never will be. I don’t really have much interest in seeing how many trail obstacles I can conquer, or how fast I can ride.
Truthfully I don’t fit the mold of the average mountain biker at all. I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and don’t have a very strong competitive drive. While mountain biking seems to be a social outlet for many riders, for me it is more a means of facilitating “moving meditation", whereby I can step outside myself and delve more deeply into my inner self at the same time. When I ride alone, I’m not the slow rider, or the scared rider, or the rider who gets dropped. On solitary rides, I am the fast rider, the bold rider, and the rider leading the pack.
However, even all that does not totally explain the siren’s call this sport has for me. Generally people are drawn to activities where they excel. Yet here I am, still struggling, still falling off the back of group rides, still afraid to try technical trail sections or obstacles, and despite all this, I continue to head out to the trail with my bike. Why? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I’ll go for a solo ride and think it over…