Greg has been off mountain biking for the last four days while I’ve been home with Argus. He and his buddies go on an annual trip, usually somewhere epic like Moab, UT. This year, they are staying closer to home and went to Mammoth, CA.
In 2006, the trip was in Whistler, BC and the girls got to go. Woo hoo! It was my first time visiting that area and I was excited to be along for what promised to be a fun trip. While mountain biking has never been my first passion, I knew the trails there would be fantastic and that I would be riding with a couple of girls who had been to “Dirt Camp” and could give me a few pointers without judging my less-than-stellar abilities.
It was slow-going at first as we warmed up to the terrain and each other’s riding styles. I started out riding reasonably tame single track through the forests with three other relative novices while a helicopter dropped the expert group on top of some mountain. In the end, I think we novices had a much better day (as you can see from that section of Pete’s photojournal.) By mid-afternoon on the first day, I was actually starting to feel more comfortable on my bike and I surprised myself by taking more risks – going faster, riding over short ladders without bailing out, and getting some air (approximately 2 inches, probably) when navigating a drop. It helped that I wasn’t intimidated by my fellow riders, as is often the case when I am when I ride with Greg. We were all in the same boat, working on our individual skills and cheering each other on along the way. I was really enjoying myself!
Even four years later as I write this, I can picture where I was standing at the top of a long ladder with a sharp turn at the bottom. This one, to be exact:
Now, I know this isn’t difficult to someone who is a mountain biking veteran. It even looks tame as I look down (or up, as the case may be) it now. But perspective is everything.
“V” flew down it with no trouble at all (he probably could have done the expert ride that day). “A” came down next and she made it look easy. “J” had a few false starts at the top, but she eventually made it without incident.
And then it was my turn.
I stood up at the top of that ladder for two hours. It was probably more like fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity and my fears were piling up. I was nearly paralyzed thinking about all the things that could and probably would go wrong. Meanwhile, my friends were encouraging me that I could do it. “Just look ahead!” “You’ve got this!” “Don’t look down!” “This isn’t the hardest thing you’ve done today!”
As my mind continued to wander to far-off places like hospitals and assisted living centers for the young, I began to feel even worse about the situation. Here we were in a beautiful setting, among friends, getting great exercise. WAIT! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE EXERCISE! And I had stopped the whole show over my silly fears of crashing, hurting myself, and looking like a fool.
Even though I hadn’t moved in probably 30 minutes by then (including the time it took the others to go down and my panic attack), my heart was racing. I was sweating. It sure felt like exercise. Aha! I’ve found the silver lining! With this in mind, I hollered down to my friends,
“How many calories does fear burn?”
And with that, I had created a filter through which I could measure the hard decisions in my life. Because what is more important than burning calories, even if they’re metaphorical?
I eventually made it down that ladder and didn’t crash. Even if I had, it would have been worth it. TRYING made it worth it. I even did a bunch of other, even scarier stunts over the course of that weekend. Like this, this, and even this (but nothing like this). And, while I have not been mountain biking on any trails that resemble these, I know I’m good enough to do it if I really want to.
Most people don’t like being afraid. Or they like being afraid of things that aren’t real – like scary movies and haunted houses at Halloween. This idea that I’m burning calories when I do scary things gives me one more reason to go for it. That, and finding out time and again that what’s on the other side of the scary thing is so much bigger than the fear itself and better than where I was.
It’s kinda fun (in a masochistic way, of course) to apply this idea into all aspects of my life, not just physical things like mountain biking and triathlon. You know, life-changing things like moving cross-country or deciding to get up every day and be positive even though your body is broken into a million pieces from a bike wreck. Or hey, what about getting married? There’s a big one that people do every day and don’t realize how scary it is.
Wait… Marriage? Scary?
How many of you said “forever” in your vows? Start counting!