I write this blog post today from a state of discomfort. My left ankle (y’know, the bionic one with all the metal in it) sports a bone bruise and abrasions. My left hip boasts a cherry the size of a lemon. My chin, a mark reminding me of the moment I decided to use my head as a shovel. The entire forehead, bone bruised. My body in general? A 5.5 out of 10 on the “fucked” scale.
But I dig it.
Back in 2012, I decided that downhill mountain biking was something I wanted to try. I also decided that downhill mountain biking was something I loved that same year. In 2012, I fell once — on my first day on a downhill bike ever. Dust off, walk away. I also fell once in 2012 when I went riding in Bellingham with my friend Tanya. Dust off, walk away.
Yesterday, I decided to take a lesson. I want to become a better downhiller. Enjoy the sport more. Ride more of the trails on the mountain. Y’know — from a purely egotistical standpoint, be that chick who can shred on a heavy bike that makes the boys go whoa.
I hauled ass up to Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort, about an hour and a half from where I live, and ran into the pro shop. It was 9:20AM. Lessons start at 9:30AM. Could a sister score a lesson or am I shit out of luck?
I was in luck. I got geared up and setup on a bike and headed out with Bryan, my coach for the morning. We hit the lift and I handed my season pass to the lift attendant.
I had no idea that I was about to hand myself my own ass.
You’re never going to get better if…
I hadn’t dumped my bike at Trestle since 2011. Bryan went over some basics with me and we headed down our first trail. He pulled me over, gave me a few lessons about gravity that actually changed the way I thought about things, and again we rolled on. Another break, a discussion on jumps (and the dawning recognition why I had been spotty with them in the past), and again, we rolled on — over some jumps this time (wheeee!). I felt great. Absorbing everything like a sponge — I was learning. Less brakes, more bike and body. Helloooooo, speed! Tearing around a few banked switchbacks, I came through and fou…
Exactly when they’d put the set of railroad tracks through the bike park , I have no idea. Otherwise, how would that fucking train and come through and knocked me off my bike? I felt as if I were some sort of comic gnat and someone had given me a hand-of-god wave and smacked me down. The handlebars ended up in my gut, knocking the wind out of me. I’d hit the front brake on accident, it seemed. This brings your bike to a level of fuck you-rated stop that never ends well.
I caught my breath, we moved/rolled on.
My teeth are dirty.
Bryan and I head down towards the trail junction. Mind you, I’ve been on this exact trail countless times over two seasons of downhilling. I know it like I know the ink on my body. I got my gumption back up and the next thing I know, I feel my foot slip on the pedal in the middle of a banked turn.
This is about when I decided to use my head as a shovel. It was a dirt explosion. My middle name suddenly became Caterpillar. All I could do was crawl off the trail with my bike and listen to the Hemingway-penned tune playing in my head. TWICE. I’d biffed TWICE in 10 minutes. On a trail that I’ve never (ever) wrecked on.
This is about when Bryan looks at me and just says, “Uh, you might want to clean your Invisalign.” I pop them out — solid brown. Filled with dirt. Nice.
About Riders and Pedalers
We do the rest of the run — it probably takes us another 30-40 minutes. At the final split, Bryan chats me up. I’d handled some turns nicely, hit some bumps with a good stance and baby bits of air. At this point, I really appreciated the attagirls, especially after the yardsales I’d hosted further up the mountain. But he laid something on me that I wanted to share with you: his concept of Riders and Pedalers. This is as I remember it and not a direct quote, but you’ll catch his drift.
I see tons of people on bikes on this mountain. To me, there are two types of people: Riders and Pedalers. The Pedalers will come up here, do what they do. Same bad form, same problems. Too proud to ask for help when a little help could get them a long way. And then there are Riders: people who use this whole mountain and whatever level they ride at, they ride. They use every tool available to them at every possible moment. They practice. They get better. They find more tools. I teach people to be Riders.
I didn’t really have anything to say. He’d just spelled out why I hauled ass 75 miles at 7:45AM on a Saturday morning to come take a downhill mountain biking lesson. He’d actually just described why I do what I do for a living. Just like me, he helps people become that next better version of themselves. In his case, it happens to be on two wheels.
Raising the stakes
The rest of our lesson was beyond Squeeeeeville. Aside from a few pansy ass moves on my part (fear — this will fuck up your flow on a downhill trail, believe me) and a huge body positioning catch my Bryan which drastically improved my cornering skills over the next few runs, I had a blast. I’m headed back up to Trestle for the July 4th weekend and can’t wait to keep practicing everything I learned in just 3 short hours.
But let me lay my thoughts on you about raising the stakes in whatever you do:
- Challenge: If what you’re doing right now isn’t challenging, you’ll never find “better.”
- Better: This is a byproduct of a designing challenging life. It also happens when humility runs face-first into scary-as-fuck.
- Easy: One of my cycling coaches used to say, in response to someone bitching about a tough workout, “If it were easy, it would be called ‘beer.'” Easy is lazy. Efficient is a better goal. Why? Because it’s the place where you can use your tools, skills, and practice to work less and enjoy [insert any word other than blowjobs or sex] more.
- The Choice: Will you be a Rider or a Pedaler? Riders are on the quest for better — they embrace humility and ask for help. They look to expand their knowledge and focus that knowledge on creating a better life. They practice. The Pedalers? Sure. You can probably have fun as a Pedaler. But you’ll never use the whole mountain. You’ll always have envy.
- Biffing: Eating a little dirt is a damn fine lesson. If you come off life’s trails without any dirt on you, you’ve bought into easy. There’s no reason to wreck on purpose (oh, hell no), but there’s something to learn from every wreck. Nothing more humbling than even a minor biff.
- Speed: I went into yesterday’s lesson saying I wanted to learn to go faster. Wrong goal. It’s never about how fast you go unless you’ve paid an entry fee and joined a race. Going fast always has to be coupled with coming out alive. Speed’s a byproduct of finding a challenge, practicing to get better, and finding a new level of efficiency. You can go plenty fast with shitty skills. You can also own it slower and steadier and raise the awesome while keeping the shit show factor to a minimum. EFFICIENCY leads to speed.
And those 2 wrecks I had yesterday? A result of newfound confidence. Access to new tools that are going to take work to use and use well. So I got some dirt in my Invisalign (which is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted since I went on a date with a man in 2002 who had T-Rex arms who tricked me into eating sea urchin. Asshole.). A few tweaks and a guide like Bryan gave me the confidence to try new trails I never would have ridden on my own, fuck up in the presence of someone who could help dust me off, and make me think that if I keep this up…
I can become a Rider.
If you’re headed up to Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park anytime soon, ask for Jack in the pro shop. He’s the smiley and friendly guy who hooked me up with Bryan Redding, my instructor (who is baller). And if you need stuff in the bike shop, ask for Sam. He got me squared away on my protective gear. None of these guys have any idea I’m writing about them, but they made yesterday a really good day, despite a hip cherry, my colossal headache today, and an epic head-shovel move I care to never repeat.