I am grateful that some have found my writing to be helpful, inspiring, and encouraging. The success of that post got me thinking about what the hardest part of learning to mountain bike was for me, and it hit me like a brick.
The most challenging, difficult, and trying part of learning to mountain bike was...
I was extremely fortunate to have my husband as my instructor when it came to learning the basics of mountain biking. He was (overall) patient and understanding. He spent countless hours working with me, building a bike (or...ahem...several), and encouraged me to push myself beyond my comfort zone. With all of that said, we (I) definitely had my moments, and you could say we "survived" some great relationship tests out on the trails.
Learning to mountain bike meant I had to put myself back in the role of a student. I had to accept that during the process I would be constantly vulnerable.
One of the biggest struggles of learning something new from your partner is the feeling of vulnerability. Raw and exposed; you'll feel that failures are magnified when they happen in front of your partner. I feel this is why many will typically recommend that you shouldn't learn a new skill from your partner. In my opinion, it depends on the partner but it also depends how you go into the situation. Really, the both of you can make or break a great opportunity.
Looking back on my first season of mountain biking, I realize that I took advantage of the situation of my partner as my instructor. I had a difficult time differentiating between Travis, my boyfriend vs. Travis, my teacher. It was far too easy for me to take Travis' critiques of my technique as a personal jab. My "fight or flight" mode was on hyperdrive and my emotions would take over. I would bicker with Travis over just about everything; I would shut down and prevent the learning process.
I thought back to the time when I attended a mini-grit clinic in Hayward. It was a situation where I went out of my comfort zone willingly and opened myself up to the opportunity to learn skills from women.
It was different to go to a clinic taught by women, for women.
It was helpful to have things explained to me by another woman.
It was awesome to experience such camaraderie between all of us.
My greatest fear happened during this women's clinic, and that was going over my handlebars while trying to put together all moves to make up a bunny hop.
If I had been with Travis I would've crumbled under the pressure I put on myself. Swearing, tears, verbally beating myself down, and rattling off all the thoughts I assumed Travis would be thinking. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.
At the clinic, I felt humbled, but I didn't feel the immense pull to unleash all of my emotions with reckless abandon. I was able to internalize, accept what happened, and rolled with it. It was apparent to me that everyone attending the clinic cared about how I was, if I was okay, and didn't hold the mishap against me. I found that I could break down how the accident happened without beating myself up over it. I was simply trying to do too much at once- it's near impossible to make a whole movement combined of several if you cannot do all of them correctly and in time.
I realized that my biggest lesson with learning to mountain bike was being open to the process without throwing in all of my fears, anxieties, and worries.
I came to the realization that my constant state of panic was making the learning experience unpleasant and downright impossible. I hated when Travis encouraged me to do something out of my comfort zone, and he only did when he felt I was ready to do so. I would often disagree, and my lack of being open to trying made the process quite frustrating.
Fact: I am bull-headed.
Fact: Having your partner as your instructor might not always be rainbows and sunshine. You have to go into it with an open mind, and if your personality is similar to mine, you'll feel attacked by every critique made when it's given to benefit you and keep you safe. If you can make it work, it will be immensely beneficial. Really? How many folks have such easy access to a wealth of mountain biking knowledge? All. The. Time?!
Fact: You may very well be your biggest enemy when it comes to learning to mountain bike. You will sell yourself short, you'll avoid challenges, and you'll make yourself feel like you really can't do anything.
#1. We have all been there. I didn't wake up one morning and become a badass mountain biker (I will never consider myself truly badass as there are definitely styles of mountain biking that I'm much happier to watch on t.v.!) I spent countless hours practicing, failing, and working to get to where I am. If you ride once or twice a week you will not improve quickly; you accept it and keep at it or you make changes to your schedule (if possible) to work in more rides or skill-building. Remember- very few are "naturals" and most of us need to spend 10,000 hours to learn a new skill.
#2. Your riding partner/instructor is not out to get you. Tips and suggestions are given in order to keep you safe and benefit you in the long run. Don't be afraid to mention if you feel overloaded with "stuff." You can always request to have lessons broken down to one key point at a time per ride, and someone who is considered a good riding partner should be able to do that for you.
Do your best to treat your partner/instructor like you would a professional instructor- be open and willing to listen and learn. Would you freak out on Lindsey Richter during a clinic or would you keep your cool?
#3. Find other people to ride with! Finding a women's group or co-ed group is a great way to find new friends to ride with, some who may be able to help you grow in skill. If groups aren't available, seek out someone to ride with one-on-one. It sounds intimidating, but if you find someone who is open to riding with you, knowing that you're a newer rider- go for it! This is an individual who understands "we've all been there" and they know full well what they're getting into when they agree to ride with newer riders. They don't care how slow or inexperienced you are- they want to help you gain confidence and will do so in the most unselfish way possible. Being there for you.
Riding with someone who has more experience than you is a great opportunity to learn! Sometimes hearing it from someone else makes it "click." Finding another friend or two to ride with can also help make the rides you go on with your partner more fun because they become less about lessons and more about just riding bikes together.
It may not be easy to keep emotions in check, but you'll accomplish more if you do. If you can keep an open mind, listen, be respectful (even when frustrated), give feedback on what you're learning, and practice- it will make the learning process much better.
Will Smith says it well- "Fail early, fail often, fail forward."