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.