What’s This Rock Doing Here, and other things I said to myself today

Over the past month, our bike riding had declined as we were fully immersed in closing shop in Pittsburgh and preparing for life on the road. We had been staying with a good friend of ours who lived just a little bit outside of town, so commuting by bicycle wasn’t always an option when we were on such a tight time schedule. However, the place we were living was also fairly close to Frick Park, and we did manage to hit the trails a few times to find ourselves, away from the clutter and chaos that comes with moving, among our more comfortable setting of the tight, short, steep climbs of trails that are enclosed from ground brush and Sugar Maples. On riding one of our favorite trails, Iron Grate, I realized that I can’t turn left, just like Zoolander, and also very similar to my dog Major Tom. I have almost no problem attacking switchbacks that turn right, but those left-leaning ones leave me tabbing my toe and holding my breath. I chalked it up to something to work on this winter on our epic voyage, as I train to ride down the Continental Divide.

Evan and I have been living in our camper for a week now, and it’s been a lot of fun, though the first half of that was spent driving through the rain. There was a lot of sitting (and donut eating) and by now I am really jonesing for some miles on my bike. I mean, we did pack six of them. We are currently staying with a friend 10 miles outside Austin, Texas, who has a large yard and a generous heart, but his street is too busy to ride bikes on safely for any distance longer than a mile to grab snacks and come home. Even walking the dog feels perilous. We drove the bikes into town the other day and rode ten miles along riverfront trails to see a friend at her Butter Days caramel cottage factory. The trail was a joy and on my redesigned Redline, with an Origin8 Space Bar and Paul basket, and I felt like a kid riding through sand and around the twisty features of the park.

Today, Evan and I went mountain biking at Jay Hoggs Park at Georgetown Lake. The experience was not at all similar to the whimsical path. I felt less like a child and more like a baby who has not learned to walk. What a demoralizing experience! I tried to be aware of my shortcomings, to make an effort to look forward rather than down, to lean back on my bike and let the front wheel and fork do the hard work, to trust the bike, to pedal with my butt. Oh, if only I could pedal! The trail was unlike anything I’d ever ridden before. I probably only got 5 to 10 pedal strokes in at a time, tops, before having to put my foot down, or occasionally dismount all together. I had been really excited about riding some fast, dusty singletrack with a few rocky sections and some gravelly double track dispursed throughout, as the trail’s description had said. Maybe by doubletrack it meant the trail disappeared? Or by rocky sections it was referring to those few relieving sections where the rocks were so big they were actually a fairly flat, though off-camber surface?

All I could think as I was riding was, how on earth am I going to make it down the Continental Divide with my pal Meghan if I can’t even hang on this section of trail in Austin, with front suspension and no bags attached to my bike. The worst part was when we had been riding for a considerable amount of time and Evan says (when I catch up to him), “Okay, so that was a little over a mile, we can go a bit further before we have to turn back to meet your friend.” UUUGGGHHHHH.

Eventually, we turned around and road the same section home. Originally, we had been planning on riding a whole loop. But we left too late, no longer used to having any sort of schedule to keep, and anyway there is no way we would have been able to do the whole loop with the time restraints we had, even if we had left on time, because it took us considerably longer than anticipated. On the way back, I found there were some sections that were much easier to ride, and others that just felt impossible. The spirit crusher is that I know they are very possible, just not something I can wrap my brain around, given my skillset. A couple times I tried to figure out how I was even supposed to get myself between that rock and this tree, or over that obstacle from this angle, or why I was able to see my own butt while going around this bend.

The trail was flat, and if it was anything at all like what I am used to riding, that is to say, if it was something I was at all used to riding or had ever even approached before, it would have been an incredible ride and fairly fast. the bright Texas sun was in full blast as we rode in and out of dark shade, and when it was bright enough to see, the trail occasionally opened enough for me to identify there was a trail there, and short cacti lined each side like a well-groomed walkway. The water and the sky were both a rich blue, and it wasn’t too much of an effort to remind myself that I do like this, even though I couldn’t do it, and it was a beautiful day, and in this extraordinary life there are more brilliant and hard days to come, hopefully many of them. The only thing that will make the riding easier is to keep on putting in the effort, even if the miles don’t stack up as quickly as the hours, and even if the noises coming out of my mouth aren’t fit for innocent ears.

Back at the car, Evan told me with some regret that the trail we’d ridden wasn’t a black diamond, only a blue square. It made sense to me. It wasn’t dangerous. If I fell (which I did, actually, but was moving so slowly it only bruised my ego), I would only cut myself on the rocks or something along those lines. I want to get some kneepads, which received a big eyeroll from my partner in biking, because really that’s the worst that could happen on that trail unless I really, seriously messed up. That’s the sort of thing I need to keep remembering. Falling isn’t everything. Speed isn’t everything. Keeping on pedaling and trying and moving forward is what really makes a bit ride enjoyable, what makes me love this sport after 29 years and endless incarnations.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for buying my a bike for my fifth birthday and for taking off the training wheels on my sixth birthday after months of begging. Sometimes we just know what we want in life, and have to decide to not be afraid.

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