Lessons in Mountain Biking: Overcoming Fear and Doubt

A rocky uphill on Dead Pet
Travis and I decided hit up our local mountain bike trails in Decorah, and I had the big decision on choosing where to go. I thought about it for awhile and realized that I would not improve on other trails if I continued to avoid them. If I’m to take people out riding with me, what fun is riding the same thing over and over again? It's probably alright for awhile until the boredom sets in. In order to grow you must push yourself past your boundaries.

“Let’s do the Palisades trails!” I said, and later on in the day I remembered why I wasn’t excited to go back anytime soon. There were two downhill sections that I considered technical and tricky; one I had to walk and the other I managed to make down after an attempt. I was scared to death of both features.

Before we left, I had a feeling of anxiety, which put us both into a funky mood. My stomach felt uneasy and I wasn't certain if I really wanted to follow through with my request. All I could think about was a downhill that scared the crap out of me. I also asked to not go down Dead Pet the lower half, a route that made me want to simultaneously barf and cry at the same time. It was a rocky and twisty downhill that completely unnerved me.

To tell the story better, I had Travis help me with giving me some shorthand notes on where we rode on Tuesday.
We entered into “Cheater” to upper Dead Pet. Why it’s called “Cheater” I have no idea. It wasn't the most terrible section in the world, but I had to put a foot down a few times which frustrated me. While we were spraying ourselves with bug spray a couple hikers came around the bend. Ahead of me was an uphill that I was told to not even bother with. We walked our bikes up the incline and continued on our way. I continued on with a ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, but I was bound and determined to keep on going.

After Dead Pet we went to Lower Pali which boasts a challenging uphill that when done in reverse is a technically challenging downhill. This is where I made the assumption about the downhill being the one that freaked me out so terribly on a previous ride. It wasn't, but we'll let myself humor me in this situation. I asked Travis if we could ride the downhill right off the bat to simply "get it over with." This way it wouldn't be so scary later on and the challenge would be accomplishing it.

To do this we finished riding up the trail and turned around before we would ride up Middle Pali.
You begin by poking your way downhill and picking a good line aka choosing the path of least resistance. I faltered and stopped at the entrance; I was mad. My bike tipped over and in that moment I felt like a failure. I walked back to the trailhead and Travis rode up past me, refusing to let me turn down trying it again. He wouldn’t allow it. 

I started second attempt at this downhill turn and felt very uneasy, because the next thing I knew I had a rider behind me! Travis seemed to know who it was, he looked back and kept going. I apologized to the mysterious rider for my slowness and he said it wasn't a problem. He made no request to have me go off to the side to let him pass, my assumption was he knew I was following Travis for instruction. I looked ahead, panic filling my brain cells-“Don’t you dare f*** up!”
I observed Travis’ lines and did my best to mimic them while the rider behind me gave words of encouragement, “Nice line!” which gave me a sense of momentary pride.

When I came down to the road that takes you up to the top of Palisades, I was in shock! I was done?! I had made it down the hill and didn’t fall! (I didn’t fall in front of an experienced rider!)
I identified the mystery bike rider and felt a sense of relief that it was someone I knew, someone who also knew I was still learning. I appreciated his consideration in letting me keep my place behind Travis so I could gain the insight and experience I needed. 

Challenging downhill on Fred's
A combination of relief, shock, and extreme joy had me shedding tears. An overwhelming wave of emotion was unearthed and I didn't care who saw it.
Travis smiled, gave me a hug, and said “No one can take this moment away from you.
I was rejuvenated, yet this descend I accomplished was not the scariest one and I all but forgot about the “impending doom” of the hill yet to come.

We rode to Upper Palisades and went onto Lee’s Loop, both were ridden without a foot down and I didn’t notice until Travis had mentioned it! For all of the nervousness I had during the first minutes of the ride, I had soon discovered my groove and I felt fantastic.

After we did Lee’s Loop we went back onto the Upper Pali trail and rode it in reverse down to Middle Pali. While on Middle Pali Travis asked “Do you remember where you are? What’s coming up?” I was clueless until a metaphorical light bulb blinked on above my head. “Oh NOOOO!” When I started to panic, it was already too late to stop and I was following Travis down the hill. I was riding over the rocks and roots, over the tricky double root section, and down the hill. We made our way down Lower Pali and back onto Dead Pet.

Dead Pet is challenging because it’s such a rocky trail vs. a packed dirt trail. When coming down Dead Pet there is a rock that you can aim high and to the right in order to sneak between the rock and earth. Otherwise you can ride over the rock, sitting as far back on your seat as possible so you don’t flip over the bars when your front tire hits the ground. I had to give it several attempts before I accomplished getting down and over the rock. 

I had another accomplishment on Dead Pet which was getting up the rocky hill that Travis had told me to not worry about. I watched the line he chose and decided I would give it a winning go. Mimicking Travis is how I learn to see and make the choices of lines I should take when I'm riding solo. Next thing you know I’m up on top of the hill! Travis was pleased.

On Dead Pet, Travis led me to another trail which has been called Glass Trail (not the official trail name) as it has a lot of glass shards all along it. I found myself walking a lot more than riding and mosquitoes thought I was a fantastic treat. It was rocky like Dead Pet and there were definitely sections that made me nervous. It was interesting to see, but I didn't feel like it was a trail I needed to try again anytime soon. I’ll take Dead Pet over Glass Trail any day.

We ventured over to the Van Peenen trails as I wanted an introduction to the Randy trails. We started off riding IPT to North 40, Gunnar, and Pines West. From the Pines we made our way down Fred’s to Lower Randy’s. I enjoyed riding something familiar that I knew I was pretty good at. After riding trails that are new or unfamiliar to me, a re-cap of familiarity gives me confidence.
From Lower Randy’s we went up Backside and to the top of Ice Cave, then we rode Backside and Lower Randy's in reverse back to Death Valley and out the Luge.

I can’t go into immense detail about the Randy trails because I felt a little confused about where I was at. I remember when we left Randy’s I had in my head I was going to come out somewhere else, which wasn't the case! Plus there are other trails at the top that I rode once last year that I must find and ride again. I’m going to have Travis take me back out on again very soon, or at least go out and get lost on a day off. That way my time frame allows me to poke around and not worry about rushing or having a feeling of “How the heck do I get back to familiar territory?!” I like excitement but not when there is a chance it will make me late for work.

To the left-Luge and to the right-Randy's
Plus I need to add more to my photo collection.

A ride that started out full of stress and uncertainty turned into a great ride. There were many new accomplishments, I found new challenges, and proved to myself that I can overcome personal fear and doubt. 

Ride on.


  1. This stuff is exactly why I will never try MTB'ing... and why I admire people who do! You go, girl!

  2. Thanks, Rebecca!
    It's all fun until you smack into some Wild Parsnip ;)


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