Bikes are therapy

Cycling is my therapy, how I re-charge and feel good about myself when other things aren’t going quite as I’d like. It does the mind, body, and soul good. When I’m frustrated by a situation or anything I can’t control, I get on the bike and ride my little heart out. On the bike, I’m in control of my own little world, and I can feel good about that. It’s the best physical and mental reset.

Thich Nhat Hanh nailed it when he wrote, “Mind relies on the body to manifest, and body relies on mind in order to be alive, in order to be possible. Your body is you. Your body is your mind.” Riding bikes takes care of it all. They don’t call it #dirtchurch for nothin’ ya know.

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Get Loose

First off let me say that mountain biking with friends in the mountains is the best cure for a hangover, especially in the fall. Breathe in that crisp autumn air, ride over all the crunchy leaves, enjoy the mountain views, hang out with good folks…and of course ride your bike up a mountain for an hour and a half, then scream back down it in less than fifteen minutes. Sweat out the toxins and replace with endorphins. Feels so good. And it feels even better when you have a major breakthrough: this past Sunday’s ride I finally got loose again for the first time in a while.

Hangover Cure Nov 2014 2

Ever since a nasty crash in May I’ve been a bit skittish on the descents, so instead of “screaming” down mountains, I kind of just creep. Backcountry descents are a completely different beast from well-groomed cross-country trails. They’re just…wild. Big rocks and scree, random logs and fallen trees, lots of brush and briars, sometimes big drops. When I see skilled riders navigate these things, it looks playful, fun, even beautiful. For me, though, I will admit that it’s kind of terrifying and sometimes feels like riding a pogo-stick down the mountain.

Actually that’s exactly what it feels like when you’re NOT getting loose: a pogo-stick. Your whole body is rigid and stiff from fear as you cling to your bike for dear life. You drag brake instead of feathering or using your brakes only when needed. Every obstacle that your bike encounters turns into a jolt that is transmitted directly into your body and nearly rattles your teeth out. You fight the trail and exhaust yourself. Instead of going with the flow, you ride a bucking bronco bike and hope that you don’t get bounced off the side of the mountain.

All of these things are the exact opposite of what you need to do. You need to get loose.

The hard part is actually putting it into action. Yes, I know I shouldn’t drag brake. Yes, I know I need to let my bike move and do what it’s built to do. Yes, I know I need to be springy with my arms and legs, use my body’s suspension, the muscles and joints in my arms and legs. I know it, but how do I do it? My Jiminy Cricket of self-preservation says that surely I will die if I let go of my brakes and go any faster down the trail. So, what then?

So, it’s completely valid to be terrified as you ride a 30-lb wheelie-cycle contraption down a mountain trail. And maybe that does mean that you’re creeping down the mountain to start. You just have to get out there and keep doing it and convince yourself that you can. It’s all about building confidence and figuring out what you and your bike are capable of doing. I’ve found that the first few times I try something scary and meet with success, the easier it is the next go-round. I’m more willing to try again because I know I can do it because I’ve done it before. Riding with more skilled riders and getting feedback is tremendously helpful too – I encourage attending clinics with professionals* or riding with your local badasses.

I should make the disclaimer that having a certain level of comfort and handling skills on the bike is necessary before attempting more difficult trails. Always ride what’s in your comfort level. There is no shame in getting off and walking a section you don’t feel safe riding. The trails will still be there waiting for you the next time you ride. It’s not worth an injury.

So yeah, Sunday’s ride was a return to getting loose and not fighting the bike and the trail anymore. So go get loose. Have fun. Go with the flow. Don’t get all rigid and awkward and scared. Do what you’re comfortable doing. Start small to build your confidence for more challenging tasks. I could try to explain how that carries over to life in general, except I feel like it’s fairly self-explanatory already.

*Check out these sites if you’re looking for skills clinics and/or coaching. Do it! Feedback on your riding is life-changing.

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I hesitate to write this so soon after a mountain bike race for fear that it will turn into a race report (not the point of this blog), but the sentiment is so strong in the moment that I’m gonna write anyway.

Today was the Tidewater Challenge down in Toano, Virginia, and it is always a tough race. I like to describe it as a rooty roller coaster on the bike. One lap is 4 miles and no joke: lots up quick ups and downs, nowhere to rest really, only a couple places to eat/drink. At least the fun jumps made up for the not-so-fun, rattle-your-brains-out sections.

Tidewater Challenge 2014

Sport women and 45+ women

Anyway, the point is PERSEVERANCE. The sport women category (cat2 or intermediate level in case you’re wondering what a “sport woman” is) had to do 4 laps. Each one was a struggle. My legs had no pizzazz, and I was just plain tired. Somehow it slipped my mind that I might still be wrecked from last weekend’s all-night adventure ride of 130 miles and 8-9k ft elevation. Recovery? What’s that?

So, very soon into the race I was sitting in solid 3rd, aka DFL* since there were only three sport women at this race. At least one or two times I was tempted to call it a day and quit early. But, as an obsessive endurance athlete, I don’t like to quit unless I’m on death’s door, so I just kept chugging along. In my mind DFL>DNF** and “Death before DNF.”

I unrealistically entertained the hope that maybe the other riders had gone out too fast and would blow up, or that I would somehow get more warmed up and start riding better. Neither of those things happened, but something else did: a mechanical miracle (for me anyway) – 2nd place broke her chain in the last lap, which made her a DNF and put me in 2nd instead. Yay, one step up on the podium!

Even though I didn’t feel like I was riding my best, I still kept at it and didn’t give up, and that’s what I’m getting at. Perseverance. You never know what’s going to happen in a bike race. Of course there’s a time to know when you’re beaten – like if I had broken my chain, I probably would’ve been done too. But I guess my point is don’t give up easily. Rise to the challenge and keep at it.

Tidewater Challenge 2014 podium

*DFL = dead fucking last

**DNF = did not finish

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Bikes really are the love of my life

I have all these anecdotes from mountain biking, and for a while I’ve been thinking how great it would be if someday I could write a book about it all. But why wait until someday? You only have now. My friend suggested that I start a blog, and so here I am. And maybe one day when I’m recuperating from some sort of inevitable injury (“If yer not slidin’ yer not ridin'”), I will sift through this jumble of words for the good stuff…and by golly one day I will write a book.

But for now, it’s the blogosphere for me. As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Let’s get rolling.

I have always loved bicycles. When I learned to ride a bike in 3rd grade, one of the first things I did was ride straight into a parked car. In 8th grade I managed to break my arm while riding a bike. During undergrad I would regularly commute by bicycle. When I was 23 I got hit by a car while commuting to work. I even played bike polo for a brief stint. Despite the inherent danger and my innate ability to injure myself on the bike, I have always had a love affair with bicycles. But I never considered myself a “serious” cyclist (you know, with the spandex get-up and all) until the past couple years.

In January of 2012 when I was living and working in Charlottesville, I was accepted to physical therapy school. As a reward I decided to buy myself a shiny new steel frame cyclocross/touring bike from Blue Ridge Cyclery. Thor was (and still is) a 30-pound beast, but somehow the shop guys convinced me to join in on the Sunday morning gravel road rides. Gravel road rides (aka gravel grinders) are great winter training because the roads are decently sheltered from the wind and you don’t go as fast — ergo, you don’t freeze quite as much.

To this day I fondly remember my first “big ride.” I had no water bottles, no snacks, no bike-specific clothes, no clipless shoes/pedals… I had no idea what I was doing, aside from the obvious — that I was going on a bike ride. It was only through sympathy from other kind riders who shared their water and snacks with me that I survived the 2-hr and 30-mile journey into the mountains and back. But I did it, and I even had fun, and I was hooked. So I started doing the Sunday gravel road rides with all the mountain bikers, and eventually they convinced me to try mountain biking.

My very first “real” mountain bike ride was in March of 2012, during which I proceeded to crash no fewer than five times (I lost count actually, but five sounds about right). The last crash I managed to sublux a rib — that means dislocating and relocating in quick succession. I was broken in, literally, and it took a good month or so before I was good to ride again. So, after such a wonderful experience (note the sarcasm), how did I ever want to ride a bike again, you ask. I’m not sure either, except that as I have previously stated, I just love bikes.

So, let’s jump to now, about two and half years later. Obviously, I am still riding bikes. I’m on the Coqui Cyclery grassroots mountain bike team based in Richmond, VA, and I have become a bit of a cycling maniac. Honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Over time cycling has slowly changed my life. I would even go as far as to say that mountain biking has saved my life: it’s given me improved self-confidence, the ability and drive to test my limits (both physical and mental), I’m in the best shape of my life (once again both physical and mental), and I’ve learned the most important concept of positive mental attitude. And — this is kind of a big deal, maybe the biggest — I’ve met some of the best people through mountain biking.

In a nutshell, mountain biking has helped me become harder, better, faster, stronger. And not just on the bike, but in all aspects of life. It’s something I love so much, that I can’t help but want to share the stoke, the love, the joy. And even better, any mountain biking theme can be extrapolated and applied to other areas of life.

So if you’re reading this and you’re already a mountain biker, great! I hope you enjoy my interpretation of our sport. If you’re reading this and you’re not a mountain biker and you’re thinking, “Wow, mountain biking sounds scary, this girl is crazy,” then maybe I can sell you on why mountain biking is pretty much the best thing ever. Either way, get ready for some life-changing revelations from behind bars…handlebars, that is.

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