My youth imprinted upon me that I was not an athlete. Until the last year or two of high school I was the fat kid who was last to be picked for teams. The after-school sports I did try were embarrassing miseries. That changed somewhat around my junior year when a growth spurt combined with a summer of physical labor to thin me out and make me stronger. In gym class, being tall let me spike a volleyball, and in the spring I found that I could tear the leather off a softball. The first time I sent one over the left-fielder’s head both the opposing team and I stood dumbfounded while my teammates yelled, “Run!”
Crossing the plate once my legs did move was my favorite moment in four years at Belvidere High School. I had stolen the jock’s lightning and it felt good. Forty two years later, thinking about it still feels good.
Yesterday I mountain-biked. There’s a rock on a climb on the Blue Trail I’ve never cleaned in 5 years of mountain biking (4 years if you discount the year lost to a torn ACL). The previous time on that trail, I saw the line I’d always missed. Yesterday I rode that line and it was easy.
After that I bobbled a rock garden I’ve cleaned many times.
You just don’t know on an mtb.
Then came the stream crossing before the meadow. You’re riding through a hemlock wood along an old farm road when you come to it. The stream itself is nothing – Shallow and maybe 6 ft. wide. But before the stream is a 3 ft. drop. The climb out isn’t as steep, but it’s rooty and steep enough. Like the rock on Blue, I’d never cleaned it. I’d always taken the safer-looking, more gradual line and my wet tire always spun out on the roots. Yesterday, I hit if fast and I hit the steep part of the drop.
After the splash, I barely had to turn my cranks before passing the crux of the move, whooping with joy.
After 5 years of failure, success was easy.
There were little moments, too. On several rocky climbs I let the front wheel get too light and ended up in the weeds. My reptile brain said, “Put a foot down,” but the mammal brain more loudly said, “Pedal!”
I rode out.
I grunted out, “Yeah!”
And that’s why I do it. That’s why I ride hard places. That’s why I push to overcome the fear that remains from tearing my ACL.
It’s like hitting that softball. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does there’s no greater feeling.