What Mountain Biking Helped Me Learn

The process of learning to mountain bike has gifted me several life lessons along the way.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the push and encouragement to learn how to mountain bike.

It was challenging and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, yet has given me the tools I need to be a better version of myself.

1. To better accept challenges
Let's face it, mountain biking did not come easily to me and it took a lot of repetition for me to gain confidence riding singletrack. Living in Iowa, I can say I learned on challenging, man-made singletrack that definitely intimidates some riders.

I had to accept that these trails were what I had to learn on and to make the most of it, even if it scared me sometimes. Because I was persistent, I managed to build up my skill level pretty quickly. I became more confident in myself and my ability to "read" trails. Sometimes I need to stop and look at what I'm going to attempt to ride, assess it, and then ride it.

Fearless Women of Dirt is a great example of an ongoing challenge that I've taken steps to morph into something awesome for the Midwest. Locally, we do not have an ideal setup to get new riders into the fold without asking them to be extremely patient with themselves and the learning curve. However, Fearless Women of Dirt has had great success in other communities that have more trail options for new riders than we do. This gives me hope that once Decorah has a new trail system- we will have the opportunity for the same kind of success. Until then, I'm not necessarily expanding the local FWD riding community- I've started expanding FWD into other communities.

Going through the process of dealing with my dad's estate is another example. You have to make difficult phone calls. It's a struggle when you call a company and you have to state you have no idea what the process is, but your dad died and you are the executor. Trying to understand the process, in general, is challenging. Eventually, things become a bit easier as paperwork gets filed. You know that in time, it's an uphill that you'll eventually ride and you won't be walking the bike. It takes time and patience.

2. To enjoy the moment
Winding through the trees, climbing up a hill, or standing off to the side of the trail to watch a deer. Sometimes I'm riding, sometimes I'm taking pictures of wildflowers, or I might be looking up at the sky admiring the puffy clouds against the bright blue color. Either way, I'm doing something I enjoy- I might be enjoying it however I want to that particular day.

This year, my desire to ride was minimized because of my loss. I didn't have the same passion for being outdoors because it made me feel sad. The outdoors was my dad's favorite place to be, and even tho it was a way for me to be close to him- I had a hard time doing so. Depression can do that.
What helped me was getting a GoPro camera, and that gave me a "reason" to go outside. I had something to "do" besides ride my bike and feel like crying. Sometimes I did feel like "just riding my bike" so I would. I left the house prepared so I could do whatever it was I wanted, ride bikes, take photos, or both.

3. To be adventurous
Once I became confident riding our trails, I wanted to seek out other areas to ride. We have great trails but it can become a little monotonous riding the same ones over and over again. Mountain biking itself takes a sense of adventure to really dive into it. You have to want to experience something new, even if it scares you.

The courage I gained from mountain biking on the local trails helped me make decisions for adventures. I went by myself up to Hayward, Wisconsin and in 2019 I'm going to take a trip to Arizona and attend the Roam Bike Fest in Sedona. I'm really excited to experience new trails, meet new friends, and let myself have a sense of adventure.

I'm nervous, of course, as I'm not one who really travels much nor have I flown solo. However, I know if I have questions I'll find people who can help. All I need to do is allow myself to have the opportunity- in the end, it will help me grow and feel more confident in other areas of my life.

Had I not fallen in love with mountain biking I know I would not be looking for adventures.

4. To have a voice
I loved writing, but I didn't have a direction, and my journey with mountain biking gave me something to talk about. There was a journey to unveil and I could use my words to make the experience less mysterious. I also utilized my passion for mountain biking to seek out others who loved it, too. There have been so many wonderful interviews shared over the years, and if I'm lucky, I can keep them coming.

I feel telling a story is important and mountain biking gave me a platform to work with. My humble wish is that either with my words or the words of those interviewed can inspire others to find #bikelife.

5. To be patient
In the Midwest, we can have variable trail conditions based on the time of year. There are a couple of times during the year when trail conditions aren't great and you have to adapt to the changing of the season. Winters have changed and can lend to icy conditions rather than snow in some instances. I miss the outdoors and my riding outside is limited to commuting to work rather than on trails. I take to riding indoors, and this year, I'm working on rehabbing my shoulder. It's a process that will require a lot of patience as I've dealt with shoulder issues for multiple years. I ride indoors and catch up on shows, appreciating how I can make my legs feel like jelly after 10 miles. I feel like I've noticed a difference already with my riding. My hope is to regain lost fitness from 2018 and bring back my best self for 2019. More so I can feel healthy and vibrant and really enjoy my time on the trails.

6. To be passionate
When I discover something I'm passionate about, I tend to go "all in" and immerse myself. I want to know everything there is to know about what I am getting into. This can seem a bit extreme because you ultimately find way too many things to purchase to help fuel the fire. I am a firm believer that if you live within your means, why not?

My passion for riding exists because I enjoy the challenge, but I also enjoy the other aspects that go into mountain biking. Trying different things, like gear and accessories to figure out my preferences.  Bikes, tire sizes, tire tread, baggy shorts vs. lycra shorts, hydration pack vs. water bottle.
It's interesting to look at my evolution from when I started mountain biking to the present-day Josie.
This has possibly led me to collect multiple mountain bikes. I look at it like my dad's gun collection. To someone not educated with guns, you could say that they all had the ability to do the same thing- shoot. Why would you need different ones? My dad had multiple different guns in multiple styles because he could. They made him happy. With a couple of my bikes, you could ask me why I need multiple, and my answer would be "Because I can. They make me happy."

7. To be expressive
I look at my bikes as tho they are art, and also as if they have human personalities. To me, they are more than a bike. They are a tool to help me through life. They give me something that resets my mind/soul, they keep me healthy, and they keep me happy. They are loved as tho they are family.
Biking clothes are also a way for me to express what I feel my personality truly is- colorful and vibrant. Fun and likely a little obnoxious. I snort when I laugh (really laugh) and I sometimes talk way too much. I love unicorns, mermaids, narwhals, and manatees. In my world, a shared interest in mountain biking, pizza, beer, coffee, and sparkles makes us the best of friends.

I spent much of my life hiding from my quirks and doing what I could to make sure I didn't seem "too weird" to other folks. During the workday, I keep my appearance simple and approachable, but on the bike for an actual bike ride? I'll blow myself up with as much color as I want. Bright helmet, jersey, shorts, and/or socks...whatever I want. I'll also utilize the opportunity to put together a smashing outfit- like wearing a kit (shorts/jersey that match) or wear something that matches my bike.

In my school days, as much as I tried, I was not "fashionable" even tho I wanted to be. In real life, not bike life, I am truly a jeans/t-shirt/zip-up hoodie person who loves to wear fun socks in secret. In #bikelife I let out my inner diva, if you will. Yes, I'll be that person who matches their wind jacket to the glittery rim strips of their fatbike wheel. I'll wear a helmet that matches my race bike. I'll wear socks that match my jersey. I seriously love putting together my biking outfits!

I feel more confident and comfortable with myself when I'm on my bike, it's something that's given me a way to shine.

8. To better accept imperfections
When you start the mountain biking journey, you will find yourself feeling very humble. There is a large learning curve and it can feel a bit daunting at times. You'll fumble. You'll tip over. You'll realize that you may be able to ride something one day and the next day you're struggling. It takes time to figure out the bike/body relationship you need to have to make certain things work.
Sometimes you'll feel back to square one when you hop on a new bike. I look at each bike of mine as a partner, and you develop a relationship with that bike. You know what you need to do on that bike to get the desired result. A new bike can throw a curveball you aren't expecting (unless you're one of those folks who can hop on any bike and ride it like you've owned it for years.)

There will be perfect riding days and then other times you'll find that you're battling with extremely dry trails (which can be challenging) or slick trails due to humidity or rain (which can be challenging.) Unless you are ride only when you'll have "hero dirt" you'll have to accept that there will be trail conditions that aren't your favorite, but they aren't impossible to ride. In fact, learning to ride in less than ideal conditions will help your handling skills.

A good mountain biker is not made in a day. It, like any new activity that requires skill developing, takes hours of practice. You have to make the choice to keep working at it and know that you won't have cinematic riding days every time you go out. I still have off days where I'll do something completely stupid! (Like miss my footing when trying to stop by a log to check something out, subsequently falling down on said log, hard, leaving me with a lump on my leg that will probably stick around for 5 months.)

What's true for me is that even if I have a really wonky ride, it's better than not having a ride at all.

9. To appreciate my body
I have struggled with body-love for years. I've had an eating disorder and I know full well that I do not see myself like others would see me. It's something that I'm aware of and if I'm falling into a cycle of not appreciating my body- I can see it and tell myself that I need a break from "me."

I've always known I had legs built to be strong, and cycling helped them become quite solid. My forearms are trim, and I like how they flex when I'm using them to help me get up a hill.
My lungs have become healthier since I've added biking to my life, and that makes me feel a lot better about my overall endurance and fitness.

I have spider veins on my thighs and stretch marks on my lower back and thighs. I don't think about those at all when I'm riding. When I'm riding, I'm appreciating how strong and capable my body feels. It's really amazing to think of everything that goes into keeping a bike upright when you're riding in the woods!

Biking has also brought out my weakness- at times my chronic neck/shoulder discomfort can be triggered and it can be physically and mentally exhausting. I love mountain biking so much that I'm willing to go through the scary and time-consuming process to figure out what's going on and how to better my situation.

10. To be involved 
Biking is good for the environment, good for your health, and can increase confidence in adults and youth alike. I found the emotional and mental benefits of cycling to be powerful and I wanted to make it a mission to share that with other people. I also wanted to create connections and community between women riders and those working in the cycling industry.

Ultimately, I became more involved in my local community and wanted to help other communities find a way to bring women together and bond over mountain biking.

Mountain biking is more than simply riding your bike in the woods- it creates wonder and gives you valuable lessons that transfer over to other parts of life.