My biking story started in 2006 when a knee injury necessitated a rest from the ravages of running. My physical therapist recommended an alternative form of exercise.
“Why don’t you try swimming?”
“I hate swimming.”
“How about biking?”
“I hate biking.”
I was mad at my joints for betraying me. I didn’t want to swim. I didn’t want to bike. I wanted to run. But I couldn’t run and was feeling petulant.
I repeated it again, just so my PT would know how serious I was. “I hate biking.”
And I meant it. But without other available options (no WAY was I going to try swimming), I pulled my cobweb-covered ancient 10 speed out of the garage and took it up on the trails behind the hospital.
And fell in love.
You don’t need a super bike; you don’t need to be in the foothills of Moab; you don’t need perfect weather: all you need to do is pedal. The trails, the mountains, the freedom of wobbling downhill with a white-knuckled grip of death and a slightly crazed grin on my face … I was hooked.
I trashed my 10 speed after three dirt rides. Trashed. As in completely falling apart. And just as quickly, I bought my first real mountain bike – an old trek hardtail – for $400 on ebay. I couldn’t believe that I had just spent that much money on a bike – how could I justify the cost? But how could I not? This 35 lb red and black beauty – tricked out with a rear rack, panniers, and kick stand – was worth every penny. I just wouldn’t tell anyone how much I had spent, because it did seem a bit excessive.
I was ready to be a mountain biker and started begging people to take me biking – to show me the trails. And finding a few bikers who didn’t mind having a newbie along, and with less than 10 rides under my belt, I found myself at Solitude being knocked around from rock to rock.
My mind: blown.
I did not know it could be like this – this rattle of chains and gears over this tumble of roots and rocks. And I was actually doing it – getting the hang of it – laughing maniacally as I threw myself around this mountain – a radical reduction of the world to trail, bike and body.
I am a mountain biker!!!
At the end of the ride, the boys were playing around in the parking lot. Doing wheelies, bunny hopping obstacles, climbing concrete steps.
And now that I was a mountain biker, I was sure that I could do this too. Hadn’t I just successfully navigated one of the most technical trails in the history of the world?
A strange thing, mountain biking. Amazing how it completely short-circuits your common sense.
I pedaled my bike towards a parking curb, because THAT’S HOW WE ROLL AT SOLITUDE, BABY!
Aiming my front wheel towards this immobile object – a wheel that I had absolutely no ability to lift even a fraction of an inch off the ground – I built up speed.
Because I could not stop my bike, it kindly stopped for me.
There’s an endless silence as you’re flying over your handlebars. You wish it would never end.
Trust me on this.
I slipped the surly bonds of earth, but ultimately became reacquainted with Terra Firma as I developed a major case of sliding across the pavement without my bike.
I layed there bonelessly for a bit, eyes shut, face down on the concrete, feeling the growing heat that comes from the Leaden Orb of Pain dropping into my newly broken jaw.
My flesh was scored. My courage was rent. But somehow despite this less-than-auspicious beginning, I managed to measure my human sorrows and needs against the mountain trails, then grip my courage and my handlebars, and continue biking.
I love biking. No, I mean, really LOVE biking.
But I have spent the last five years fixated on a fear of uphill obstacles. The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to a) ride my bike on, b) ride my bike down, and c) get off and walk my bike up. Like that large boulder on the trail ahead of me … and by “boulder” I mean “small rock,” roughly the size of a of a rubix cube…
But I have also discovered, the more you are denied something, the more you want it. Goaded by inexplicable hopes and dreams, I have recently been unsettled by the gnawing sense of wanting something more – something … up.
I am not sure how I can get my groove back if I never had my groove in the first place. But this will not stop me from trying. For I have a vision – a vision of me going UP.
My mortal heart was filled with shivering – the hair standing up on the back of my neck – when Kenny and I rolled into Guacamole last weekend with the sole purpose of getting me pedaling up things on my bike. It is extremely difficult to not get hypnotized by the constant monologue inside my head- the one that says that I am a terrible biker, I will never be able to do these up moves, and this whole ride is a very bad idea. But I wanted to gain some confidence, I wanted to feel assured in ascension, secure in the scramble, good in going up.
And Guacamole is as good as it gets on a bike. Undulating slickrock singletrack, full of majestic views, with some optional advanced techy sections for riders looking to hone their biking skills. Riding this trail, you’ll enter a Zen-like state – well, at least a Guacamole-like state – where bike, body and trail all meet on a higher plain.
I wanted to try it all.
I was terrified as I started riding. Every single move was preceded by a feeling of dread. I tried and failed, and regaining sphincter control, I turned it around and tried again. Safe in the knowledge that Kenny was spotting me, I practiced lifting my front tire onto rocks; practiced hopping my back tire onto rocks. I practiced the timing, the unweighting, the balance. Practiced until the more I tried, the more I did. Until I was feeling no impulse to doubt myself or falter.
Teetering on the brink of something unspeakable, I biked UP. UP! Great day for UP!
And then we were done. And I was feeling excited and strong. Biking back to the car, I had finally found my confidence.
About a mile from the trailhead, I saw another obstacle ready for my supreme ascendancy – a two-foot rock sticking straight out of the ground. An unrollable, must-lift, vertical slope so obviously dangerous that even mountain goats would only try it roped together.
Well, mountain goats and Kenny – which arguably may be the same thing. Kenny gracefully floated his bike up onto this stony behemoth, then turned around to watch me have a go.
I picked up speed. And two things occurred to me – one, was that I was on a high-speed projectile machine heading straight for that large rock.
The second was gravity.
You know how sometimes you remember a really bad experience, and you are you dreading doing it again, and then you do it again, and it wasn’t as bad as you remember?
This wasn’t one of those times.
Combining all the qualities of something not good at staying on a bike with something not good at landing on the ground, I hurled head first into the rock and felt the rock gods smite me with an almighty sledgehammer directly to my face, driving my left front tooth and left lateral tooth backwards with a sickening crunch.
I sprawled there gasping on the ground. It took me a moment to realize that the whimpering noise I heard was actually coming from my own mouth.
There are no words here. It was a sound before words. If there was any meaning at all in that lament, it was,
“Well, that’s the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.”
I wrinkled my forehead, working hard to formulate a coherent thought. I was feeling the need for lalochezia to help me think clearerer.
Hmm. Am pretty sure have never used the word “lalochezia” before. Weird moment of clarity. All of a sudden I feel 42 percent more articulate. The Ig isotype is defined by constant region sequences that are invariable and downstream of the VDJ recombination.
And then the cake, accordion, and dwarf simultaneously explode.
Kenny’s face appears over me. My eyes are squinting with the effort of getting all three remaining brain cells lined up. Either his face or my vision is smeary – I hope it’s his face, but I have my doubts.
He asks me if I’m okay. I’m not sure what to say. I need time to just lie here and not move. I need to think about what just happened. And I need to NEVER think about this again.
And I could really, really use a shot of morphine.
A deep, long intake of breath. I tremble. And remember. Remember the parking curb. Remember the broken jaw. Feel the wobbly broken teeth with my tongue, and remember the fear. Always, the fear.
It seems that we, those of small talent but with considerable love of our bicycles, share a common derangement. We tend to envision ourselves as profoundly competent with little regard for the truth. The fear that I have had for the past 5 years deserved to be there. I should be afraid. Even if I don’t want to be. Even if I still want to try this again.
But how can I regain that confidence now? How can I ever try this again?
On the bright side, however, my next year’s Halloween costume is in the bag.
And I have an idea…