Over the past year I learned as much about myself as about riding bikes through the woods. For the first time, an injury kept me off the bike for months. That led me to ask just what the hell a 55 year old man was doing trying to learn to mountain-bike. My real worry was this question: Was I trying to deny middle age by hanging out with the cool mountain-bike crowd? Or was it something else, something of my own?
My answer isn’t profound. Yeah, I like the guys and gals I ride with. But their camaraderie and approval isn’t what I’m chasing. What I’m chasing is the rush of whatever feel-good hormones riding floods my body with. I’m a hormone whore. That, to me, is worth paying a certain price in blood and sweat for.
Two and a half months off the bike made me a better cyclist. With my cycling fix limited to watching videos and Jonesing about my riding, I became more contemplative. I realized that starting out, I had only a vague idea of where the edge of my abilities lay. Clearly, there was plenty of room for growth, which meant that the edge was a moving target. But no matter where on the skills continuum my edge fell, this fact remained: On one side of the edge was safety. On the other side was debilitating injury. To learn, you have to push against the edge. The trick is to push the edge without crossing it, but I think you only truly know where it is after crossing it. I crossed it. Most mountain bikers I know have crossed it.
Over those two and a half months this summer, it became clear that the lesson wasn’t to stop pushing the edge. The lesson was distinguishing between pushing it and being reckless. I learned to say, “Not today,” when I wasn’t feeling it. I learned to take satisfaction in incremental growth, and realized that the only measure of that growth is my own past. When I clean that troublesome, rocky, slow-speed turn that always stymied me, I think, “Cool.” Zipping through a rooty section where I’ve endoed in the past makes me happy. Leaning the bike left and right underneath me as I speed through turns that scared me a year ago is its own reward.
And that is what I learned this year.