Biker Philosophy

In honor of my first endo, I thought I would post a piece I thought I might one day sell to a magazine but never got around to submitting.  The endo left me a bit battered and bruised, but otherwise still living a charmed life of no broken bones, no bee stings.  Glad I wore a helmet, wished I would have worn my gloves- those little hand scraps hurt like hell!

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I am a mountain biker. When I mention this in conversation, I am usually met with a pained expression and an inquiry as how many bones I have broken. The person I am talking with usually follows up with an admission of trying mountain biking, getting scared or hurt, and never again hitting the trail. Am I an idiot to love a sport that has causes most people to scoff “no way”?

Mountain biking is a new activity for me, having spent only about a year riding the trails. I am still perfecting the art of grinding uphill, still forcing myself to steel my nerves and attempt to glide over seemingly disastrous rock beds. My limited experience on the trail has taught me one thing- mountain bikers have their own way of viewing the world, a philosophy that comes in handy not just on the trail but in life as well. While the sport appeals to me on a physical level, the attitude is what keeps me hooked on shredding gnar.

  1.  Don’t be good at exercise.  Have an experience.

We all know the benefits of working out- good health, an attractive physique, and improved energy levels. We want the payoff, so we force ourselves to step on the treadmill even when we’d rather be sitting on the couch. We watch television at the gym, listen to music, and read magazines and books- anything to make the drudgery of working out bearable.

Mountain biking is FUN! Yes, it is a killer workout. Riding regularly is sure to give you the benefits of hitting the gym. The difference is you might actually smile while mountain biking.

My husband and I take turns watching the kids so we can each squeeze in some time on the bike. In our post ride euphoria, we can’t wait to exchange details- what parts of trail were challenging, where we got spooked, if we saw any animals or had any unusual occurrences.

Mountain biking is entertainment that’s also good for you. I’ve never spent an afternoon on a mountain bike and wished I had those hours back.

  1.  Walking is not a crime.

On an afternoon ride with my husband, I was anxious to show off the strength I had acquired from pushing myself to ride longer hills.

My showboating backfired as he led me up a trail littered with boulders and inclines that would make my heart race if I hadn’t had a bike in tow. We made it to the high point, and I laid into him. I was not too happy about hiking a bike up the treacherous terrain.

“Are you mad that you walked? Some people never want to put their foot on the ground.  That means they are only riding things they are comfortable with- which is fine. But it tells you what kind of trails you are going to ride in the future.”

The words could have well been a foreign language. As a runner, walking is a sign of needing to train harder. From my first 5k to my last half marathon, my goal remained the same- to run the entire race.

I contemplated what he said. Mountain biking appeals to me because it is outside my comfort zone. At the end of that particular ride, I reflected on my performance. Yes, I spent a good portion of the day walking. But I also rode over sections I thought were well outside my range of expertise. I was exhilarated from the challenge.  I wanted more. I understood there was going to be walking in my future.

  1.  If you aren’t getting hurt, you aren’t putting yourself out there.

The first time I went over the handlebars, I emailed a friend and fellow biker to share the details. I expected a response of “ouch! Are you ok?”

Instead she wrote “Yeah! Your first crash! Congratulations!” She then regaled me with stories of some of her more eventful spills.

Mountain bikers love to exchange tales of disaster. Scars are a badge of honor. Biker philosophy notes that falling down demonstrates your commitment to challenging yourself. Getting back on the bike makes you tough.

  1.  Momentum is your friend.

I am the type of person that gets an idea and jumps right in. Friends advise me to slow down and think things through. I assume they are hoping to shield me from disappointment when one of my half baked ideas fizzles.

But what I have learned from diving into project head first is that momentum can be a powerful thing. When other people are bogged down trying to figure out theoretical details, I’m finding solutions to actual problems. Some might never get started because the more they think it through the more fear begins to take hold instead of enthusiasm.

Mountain biking is the perfect activity for someone like me. When I see a huge hill in the distance, I know the more speed I gain; the further I will make it up the slope before my legs have to do the work. I can agonize over how to cross a rock-strewn path, or I can just ride over it in a matter of seconds. Sure, sometimes I fall and get another spot of road rash to add to my collection. Most of the time, momentum is on my side and makes the rocky patches seem almost smooth.

  1.  I’ve got your back.

Bikers can look like a grizzly bunch, covered in dust, reeking of day old sweat, blood dripping from scrapes on their knee caps and elbows. Resembling warriors outfitted in pads and helmets, you might not expect the unwavering chivalry that occurs on the trails. When I am grinding up a steep incline, if a biker passes me on the way down, nine times out of ten I will be told “good job” or “keep going.” If I pull my bike to the side of the trail for a break, I am inevitably asked if my bike is ok or if I need any help. I have never had this kind of kinship in the runner community.  Runners put their headphones in and tune out. Outside of a head nod in passing, runners do not exist to other runners.

These bits of advice can carry you pretty far on the trail, and in life. But above all else, obey the cardinal rule of mountain biking:  Never let hikers see you fall. Even the gnarliest of riders wants to look cool. Careful though- make sure you got the skills to back up the attitude.  In this day and age of cell phone cameras, you don’t want to end up as the lead video on an episode of Tosh.O.


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