Photo by Andre Stringer
I went out with our regular Wednesday group. It's an all girls ride and usually hits up the local climbs. But today was different. Today’s plan called for us to follow the road after the pavement ends and get in some dirt riding. Yay! I was in to the idea. It sounded nice to change the routine and to get out in the wilderness. Plus, it was very convenient for trying out my new mountain bike. I rode it for the first time the day before with mediocre results and definitely could use more practice.
We started out the ride as usual... warming up as we traverse the neighborhoods and chat about the happenings of life. Up we climb and the houses start to fall away. We turn into a protected state park with a beautiful paved ridge road. We wind around for a few miles until the road comes to a gate… pavement ends, dirt starts. Let’s do it! We start to climb the steep grade, picking our line through the gravel, ruts and sand. Our voices fall silent and our breath gets heavy with the hard work of plodding ahead.
It is beautiful here. Epic sunrise casting long shadows over the wild mountain range. The terrain is sparse and dry but has an air of being very alive. And it is quiet. So quiet. My mind trains on the plodding of my knobby tires and gravel grinding under my wheel. I had done this same route the day before for my inaugural ride on this bike. But this time it seems so different. Is it the time of day? The company I am in? Not sure. It's just different.
We climb to the peak and turn around for the descent. Ok, here we go again. I take a deep breath and try to ignore the pit in my stomach. Yesterday’s descent was a bit of a shit-show. I couldn't find my line and was sliding all over the place. I felt the opposite of at-one-with-my-bike. A little bit scary. A lot not-fun. Frustrated, I had called a friend later that day... "Not sure about this whole mountain biking thing." I said. He laughed, "Really? You are going to make that judgement after just one go?" I laughed and vowed to try again. "By the way, what tire pressure are you running?", he added before we hung up. Whoa, turns out I was way way off. Oops. Newbie mistake. Maybe I don't suck as much as I thought. This time I felt armed with a little knowledge, lower tire-pressure, and a no-agenda attitude. Let’s do this!
We start to descend and I felt it almost immediately... THE FLOW. You know the feeling. The times you are in command of your body, your mind, your bike, your line. It just works. It's easy. It's fun. I gathered speed and leaned in to the turns, caught little skids, and floated over ruts and gaps. Flow. Radicalness.
As I barreled down the wide fire road, I saw some single-track off to the side and didn't think twice as I darted left to explore the trail. Ack! Holy shit! It was steep. It was narrow. It was technical. Yikes! My brain kicked-in... STOP! Too much, too fast! I immediately came to a halt. Shit. I got cocky. And definitely got checked. I turned around and slowly made my way back to the fire road.
Aaaah… There we go. I cruised down the wide dirt road. As I got my bearings again, I realized my friends were nowhere to be found. They must be up ahead. I started to pick up speed in an effort to catch them. And there it was again... That flow. That ease. The speed, the terrain, the sound, the wind. I went with it. Curving and swooping around the bends. Gliding over the ruts and bumps. And there they were! My friends came up quick and I passed them at speed, careful to not kick-up too much dust. I heard one of them say.. “hell yeah!” as I passed.
As we came to a stop at the trail gate and gathered the group, one of the girls said… “Wow. You were going so fast. You are fearless!” What?! I was totally caught off-gaurd. “Fearless?” The word was so foreign to me. It would never be considered as words I would use to describe myself or my riding. Especially yesterday. And again today. Was she mistaking me with someone else?
That comment sat with me the rest of the day. Fearless? Why does that seem so off? How does fear play a role in my riding? I surveyed the last few days. I had felt fear plenty of times. More than a handful.
It all started to gel. Maybe my experience is more the opposite… not FEARLESS but FEARFUL. Maybe not in a grasp-the-terror kind of way, but more in a keep-it-close-company kind of way. I don't seem to cling to fear, necessarily, but maybe it is more of a respect thing. Maybe I use it. Use it as a gauge of my boundaries and abilities. Use it as a way to trust the world and myself. Without fear, would I know when to stop? Fear is so primal and emotional. A much more effective method than thinking. Like an automatic safe-o-meter. Maybe I trust it to pop-up just when I need it. And trust that I will listen to it. Maybe that is how it works. And maybe that is why "FEARLESS" just doesn't work for me. It is not about the lack. It is about having it and holding it close, respecting it and heeding to it. Maybe that is what gives me the confidence to push. Maybe. We'll see. I am going out again tomorrow.