Two years ago, I had known the DT crew would be faster than me. But what I didn’t expect was the variety of terrain we’d ride, how that would beat me up, and how much more skilled the other riders would be. Mountain bikers and cyclocross racers, they handled rocky trails and rough dirt-road descents like I didn’t know was possible.

One area in particular sticks in my mind, an old carriage road that’s steep in places and loosely graveled where it isn’t populated with boulders and baby heads exposed by frost heaving and erosion. To one side lies a steep drop. When I first rode it, I clutched the bars in fear, wobbled up the climbs, occasionally put a foot down, and came out tense and wondering why I’d just subjected myself to that on what is essentially a road bike.

Lat night, it was fun. That I’m fit enough to climb vigorously is part of it, but the real change was in bike-handling skills learned over the past two years. This difference in technique is only the basics of looking ahead, staying loose, and riding out of the saddle, but recognizing and crediting myself for the transition was a big, crunchy, carrot. Instead of enduring fear and seeking safety by riding slowly, I found both safety and fun in riding loose and quick. Nothing scared me – It was all within my abilities.

It is easy to be discouraged by the distance between better athletes’ skills and one’s own. But I’m grateful to have fallen in with a group of better riders who have helped raise me up. Sure, when their taillights disappear up a hill in front of me, it’s a reminder that they’re better climbers. When I get up that same hill without wanting to die, it’s a reminder that I’m better than I was. And when I enjoyed that old carriage road last night, it was a reminder of how much better I’ve become, and how much more fun that gives.




About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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