I went out Friday with three close friends for my second try at mountain biking (MTB). It was a humbling and joyous experience.
The humbling part is learning a new skill, with a body that is not as resilient as it was at age 20 or 30. The first time I went, I fell 4 times, but not very hard. This time I fell just once, but this was an “endo” (they have names for different falls in this sport!) going down a hill, and I landed hard on my elbow. After I got over the shock, and realized I would be mostly OK, it reminded me to be careful and pay attention – there are hazards galore in this sport.
I’ve been biking my whole life, but my primary mode has always been on pavement. On the surface, MTB and road biking look a lot alike – wheels, brakes, a skinny seat, etc. – but truly they are worlds apart. MTB has a completely different vibe.
Let me try to describe it for you. On a road bike, your goals generally revolve around getting from Point A to Point B, usually as fast as possible. The ultimate ride involves reducing friction, avoiding obstacles (& cars!) and achieving something as close to flight as possible. In fact, a lot of people describe the thrill of on-road cycling as something akin to the freedom of flying.
Now switch your mindset to mountain biking. You’re in the middle of the woods. The twisting & undulating nature of the trail, not to mention the rocks, stumps and trees, make going fast mostly impossible. Frequently, you lose traction due to the mud or a hill, the bike stops and you flop over to one side. Maintaining traction means keeping your pedals moving steadily, and keeping your wheels in contact with the earth.
On the MTB, it’s all about being in the moment, choosing a safe path, as you move gracefully along the trail. The image I got on both my rides was more about caressing the earth, vs. flying over and by.
After my confidence returned, I realized I had gained a higher level of respect for the trail and the bike. I was coming to appreciate the difficulty of this new sport, but having had a glimpse of the exhilaration and tranquility it can offer me, I knew I’d be hooked.
On the drive home, I opened the windows, turned up the radio, and basked in a perfect mix of sunshine, endorphins and old songs that somehow sounded completely new.