My friend Dave Nice from Hurricane, Utah, is in town for a summer vacation to the "cool" temps of the "north" (to which I laugh and mop pools of sweat from my arms before applying more SPF 50.) I returned to Missoula on Sunday, still sleep deprived and a bit addled from the weekend, but rallied for a scorching mid-afternoon ride on the Lolo Loop.
I like this loop because it allows me to hide my secret shame — that my very most favorite thing to do on a mountain bike is climb long dirt roads into pleasantly tired legs and huge views. I can spin up the dirt track for hours, happy and content, and my friends have no idea I'm enjoying myself so much because they think we are just putting in the obligatory elevation gain in order to rip rocky singletrack down the long descent. Then, after 3,000 or 3,500 vertical feet, Dave Nice can launch into his crazy fixie finessing of rugged rock gardens, I can creep gingerly around hairpin switchbacks and step around rock ledges when no one is looking. In the end, we both ride away happy.
I have not yet developed the mountain bike pride. I didn't even learn the meaning of the word "dab" until earlier this summer, when a friend in Anchorage mentioned my usage of this most useful move whilst ascending a small, nearly vertical wall at Mooseberry Mesa. "Are you kidding?" I replied. "If I couldn't dab, I wouldn't even bother. " The way I saw it, I at least had tried and rode halfway up the hill, and I wouldn't have tried at all if taking my feet off the pedals was absolutely forbidden. Same goes with hike-a-bike. Who cares? I have walked behind people as they pedal for many hundreds of yards. They're absolutely dying and I'm breathing easy, and we're both moving the same speed, 3 miles per hour. As I said, I lack the mountain bike pride. I love wheels for their advantages, but I shrink away from their difficulties. I while I have gleaned enormous personal satisfaction from "cleaning" a "gnarly" move, at least 95 percent of the time, I am too timid to try. So my mountain bike technical skills have been extremely slow to develop.
(Photo stolen from Dave C.)
Since I do, honestly, enjoy mountain biking immensely, even downhill singletrack, I often wonder what my problem is. And then, eventually, I mess up even when I am well within my comfort zone, and I tumble over my bike and bash myself on things, and I lay in the dirt with all the rage of a hundred bully punches coursing through my veins, and then I realize, I remember — I hate crashing.
Even when I am not really all that hurt, as I usually am not. But yesterday, while riding with Dave Nice, Dave C., and my co-worker Casey, I was blissfully pedaling down a fairly mellow, off-camber trail along a side slope when my right pedal bashed flat smack into a boulder. The exact mechanics of the crash elude me, but my left pedal somehow took a big bite out of my shin before I tumbled sideways a few feet down the slope. (And while I do deserve criticism for continually using platform pedals whilst trying to develop my technical skills, I really do believe that if I had been riding clipless and hit the boulder with the same force, instead of bashing my shin on the pedal and tipping over into the brush, I would have taken a full header over the rocks.)
Either way, I was not badly injured, or even too hurt to jump right back on the bike and continue riding; but I was bleeding, and my shin ached with a deep-set bruise from bashing against a large metal object at high speed. It hurt with every single pedal stroke, and with every hurt, the doubt bit in. "You're terrible at this. Why do you bother? Mountain biking sucks. You really should take up trail running." That inner grumbling seems to color the entire rest of the ride, until even if the rest of it is perfectly fun, on a beautiful evening, with great riding partners, I can't quite pedal away the grump.
As we pedaled home last night, I admitted to Dave Nice what a big baby I really was. "I feel like one of those little kids whose friend just pulled her hair, so she gathers up all of her toys and storms home."
"Crashing is just part of riding," Dave said nonchalantly.
"I know," I sighed. "I know."
The question is, how do I embrace it?