Sunday, March 10, 2019

Embracing Uncomfortable: A Mountain Biking Lesson

Photo Credit: Rod Hasse
I've talked about living with uncomfortable and how it leads to growth when it comes to general life stuff, but this time I'm talking strictly about biking.

If I had stayed in my comfort zone when it came to biking, I would not be where I am today. Likely I would not be mountain biking, as mountain biking (in general) was something that greatly challenged me.

I'd go so far to say it provoked fear.



I felt uncomfortable riding terrain that wasn't smooth. I had to develop a relationship with the bicycle. I had to do things that scared me because if I didn't, I wouldn't have progressed. If I hadn't progressed, I wouldn't be exploring on trails local or far and having fun!

Uncomfortable. It's a word everyone wants to avoid, but without it, we are stuck in our comfort zones afraid to step out and see what else we can do. Mountain biking is what I would consider a very progressive sport. The more you do it, the quicker it seems more of it is possible than impossible. You find it's still intimidating, but maybe not as fear-inducing as you originally thought.
The more you push your boundaries, the more you'll learn, and you'll find you are capable of more than you knew.

My mountain biking journey was filled with fear, tears, and me vehemently saying that I couldn't do it. At the same time, I really wanted to. It was a continual battle with myself- convincing myself that I could do it vs. my ego saying that I was out of my mind for trying.

Eventually, I felt better about what I was able to do, and that is when Travis figured we should make me uncomfortable. Yes. Go on a new trail and try to ride something that challenged me. You can't keep it easy, otherwise, you won't build up skill. Oh boy! I get to referee the internal battle inside my head again. Fabulous.

Without being uncomfortable, without pushing my boundaries, and without accepting that I might fail repeatedly- I wouldn't have become a mountain biker.

Bringing mountain biking into my life has been the best thing and being uncomfortable helped me realize that. Mountain biking has ultimately helped me deal with feelings of being uncomfortable in other areas of my life. Overcoming those feelings has allowed me to do things that I would otherwise not and bring adventure into my life!

Once I had the general riding thing down, I knew I needed to expand my horizons. So I entered my first fatbike race: The Pugsley World Championship
I promptly got my a** handed to me. It was my first year regularly fatbiking, but I still had a lot to learn in terms of handling and control when riding in snow. The snow conditions were extremely challenging as temperatures warmed up. Encouraging folks told me to do the second lap. I walked a majority of, rode a portion that tripped up others, and found myself finishing 2nd for women and absolutely dead last. I loved it!

After that event, I realized that racing could be fun, even if it's just doing your thing and not worrying about anyone else. (Just like what everyone else does!)

Borah Epic was a race I went to that sent me into a state of uncomfortable. One because it was the longest event I would do for actual mountain biking: 35+ miles of singletrack. I did not condition myself as much as I should have. I ran out of water early on. I felt guilty for not being at work on a weekend that could be busy. I discovered that mass starts that lead into singletrack can make the first 5+ miles of riding absolutely nightmarish. Anxiety was definitely high until I was able to escape the train of riders and do my thing. However, I discovered my technical riding ability was solid, Decorah trails conditioned me for lots of climbing (when there wasn't much), and I could manage with limited water as I regularly rode with little to no water back home. (Thank goodness for aid stations!)
I discovered my mettle and I came in 1st for my age group for women.

The photo at the top of the page was taken at 2018 Chequamegon- my most challenging Chequamegon to date.

My first Chequamegon was in 2016 and I ended up riding it solo (without Travis as company.) It was a wet year in 2016 and many were giving me props for doing my first Chequamegon in "crappy" conditions. It was an event that made me feel uncomfortable due to the sheer volume of individuals surrounding you. I worried if I was pacing myself well or if I needed to ride faster. I sucked at taking in nutrition. I made climbs I wasn't sure I'd make, walked what I absolutely couldn't (with everyone else) and plugged away until I came to the finish. I encountered nice people out on the route when I was riding, I enjoyed the scenic scenes of the Hayward and Cable area, and I felt absolutely stoked that I did something so big, by myself. In a sea of fellow humans, I was met with camaraderie, smiles, united struggles, and determination.

In 2018 I was set to take on my most challenging Chequamegon race. Multiple reasons why, but mainly due to lack of overall bike fitness and conditions. I knew going into this event, even with a companion, I would be in a different league. Travis somehow has the ability to be able to put out good clips without ever training. I'm the one who holds him back, even when I feel like I am "bike fit." I am the one encouraging the both of us to pace ourselves, and as much as he feels as tho we must rush forth, he thinks the ability to pace is great as it's not in the forefront of his mind.

I also experienced my first continual mechanical which really put a damper on my spirit. My chain kept dropping, and we both sacrificed hydration to clean it multiple times. I didn't eat as much as I hoped because all of my non-gu foods were wet or mud-covered. I actually swore towards the end as I spun out on a muddy climb. Exhausted, I exclaimed, "Damn it!" and trudged up the rest of the hill.

I physically felt exactly how my 2018 year felt in my head. The final hill before the finish, when we rode past our friends, I felt rejuvenated. The cheers, whoops, and smiles made me cry. I had tears in my eyes all the way to the finish and had to stop myself from sobbing. I was spent. I waded through what one could consider a "pile of sh*t." I finished. That's all I asked for going into that event.

During Chequamegon, I was practically pleading for some sort of "sign" that my dad was there. My dad would help me ride better than I would (nope.) My dad would somehow keep me mechanical-free (big nopenope.) There wasn't a fairytale ending with my race, other than I gave myself tangible proof that I am a persistent individual. My gift was finding out how to embrace the uncomfortable and push through all of the emotional sludge that builds up.

These are a few experiences that really left an imprint on my #bikelife, and they were opportunities that I could choose to let myself feel beat down or I could rise up and say #challengeaccepted. I always do my best to be an optimist when it comes to uncomfortable moments in life, but it's not to say that I don't find frustration or sometimes, the feeling of defeat. It's after the experience and digesting of emotions I can sit back, reflect, and acknowledge that these are experiences meant to be savored.

Without embracing uncomfortable moments I would not have grown with mountain biking. I would have no idea of how much I'm capable of. I wouldn't seek adventure and I wouldn't embrace unknowns. I would be stuck, afraid of moving forward or backward- because I overcame the uncomfortable, I could grow. Accept there will be uncomfortable moments in your mountain biking journey and push yourself to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable (like a skills clinic or race) and see the progression you'll make. It's impossible to take the uncomfortable out of learning to mountain bike, and life is too short to try and suffocate in perfection. #whatsworthit

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