Beginner Mountain Biking

The free four day intros came at the right time. The local ski season had ended a year ago; the handful of hikes I had been on were blurring together; I wasn’t fully convinced I was ready to start the summer and let my only source of adrenaline go. The thrill of zip-lining was endearing but low level to the point of subconscious.And I was ready to meet some more people and indulge in their stories and ways of life.

~~~

It all started a month ago. The mountains were closed, but the adrenaline had far from dried up. With no more reason to speed down on a vehicle little more than a sheet of wood and without brakes, we had to come up with alternative methods of madness. But snowboarding had taken a year to learn, and so we wanted adrenaline quickly and we wanted it now. Something that lasted year long, and had the same sense of camaraderie and love of speed. Little did we know, the obvious choice was actually staring at us in the face.

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Okay, not in our face, unless you like to lick your handlebars.

Two things had always held me back from mountain biking of any sort: circumstance, and fear. Circumstance being mountain biking was not the obvious or approved or feasible choice to spend one’s time and money; and fear being a fear of achieving one’s dreams. Have you ever noticed how, the more you wanted something, and the more pressure and hardship that came with that want, you felt an antithetical want to shy away? We humans don’t like emotional conflict, we only fight to survive. So when faced with what we really want, the enormity of effort required becomes clear.

Something needs to push us to our dreams. And what a better push than a series of once per week free intro bike rides?

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In case you didn’t see the first time, that’s my bike. My dad picked it up for free from our city’s yearly curb-side clean up.

My 22 inch wheel kid’s bike had never held me back any more than I had held myself back. Last September I took it to some trails; I walked the ladders but thought I fared better than the lady who had braved the trails for the first time with her hybrid road bike. I came back stoked, because 4 hours of the best intro to biking was not enough. Still, the months fell by the wayside; there were no more beginner bike rides scheduled, and Squamish was 2 hours away.

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Picture not mine. I am in the middle; you can see my bike is a bit lacking size-wise.

Half a year later, I felt the same yearning. You can’t get the same feeling riding in your neighbourhood. Riding sidewalks and pretending they’re rocks and roots is hard. In a world with an abundance of varied landscape, there is no need to suffice.

I love being swept up in the excitement of trying a new activity. This time there was a bit of doubt, as I’ve been doing these ‘beginner’ events for snowboarding, hiking, and now biking, and the ability to get over self consciousness can erode. Or grow: but I sorely knew that my bike was not a mountain bike, and I could be excluded from trails if they weren’t suitable with my ride.

Luckily, that was not the case. I was not even given a blank look over. It was the bemused and subsequently knowledgeable and helpful commentary that met me when I pedalled up. Even the small incline had me reaching towards a place of hidden courage. All I needed was the okay and I got it.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet someone there that I had met previously on a hike, our carpooler and basically saviour off of Elfin Lakes after 30 cm of snow fell on the road and rendered many drivers useless. He hadn’t lost his competitive spirit.

“Have any of you mountain biked before?” our instructor asked, as I’ve been asked in some variation many times. There were four of us total, and all of us had different backgrounds.

The others, excluding me, had all ridden before, but then again, maybe I had, back in Alice Lake. One had moved from Quebec and worked IT; another a bus driver; the one I knew had started last year. All wanted to get back to their former glory or reach it. They also had the bike to show it.

So the lesson commenced. We were taught basic positioning of the body, and the bulk of the lesson also included how to buy a properly fitting bike. There were lots of things I had never considered, like the positioning of the brakes. “Two fingers need to be able to tap on them at all times,” our instructor said. “Yours are too big. See how you can’t reach? It was probably made for a boy. But if you unscrew them you can move them closer together,” he said to me. Then we went on a trail, which I didn’t feel confident on, although it looked easier than anything I’d done in Alice Lake. On the way there, I walked my bike over the ladders, and on the way back I rode over them, smiling. This was why I liked biking-the quick reflex reactions and adrenaline and fun of a narrow trail. Everyone else was smiling and laughing too at their own mishaps or victories.

After the ride, after discussing each other’s lives for a little bit, my acquaintance offered to drive me up to the Skytrain station and we reminisced over our trip that winter.

On the second day, a different crowd showed up. Two were female, two over last time, excluding myself. The person that I knew from a previous hike showed up again, along with a total newbie. “Are you a cyclist?” I asked him. He seemed to be in his tight spandex gear and leg muscles. “No,” he replied to my surprise, and said, “This is a new bike. I’ve never ridden it.” I was impressed at the gold framed bulky but sleek bike, and impressed that someone who had never biked before thought to buy it. He must be interested inside in a place that no one else could see. Since he had never ridden, he went off with the main instructor, presumably to go over what we had the first time. The rest of us followed another instructor, who promised to take us on some different trails. Since I didn’t recognize them anyways, I wasn’t that excited. However, it turns out I was surprised. The second time around, with some female riders and the two people I already knew, I felt much more confident and rode over the ladders with joy. We still didn’t do anything tough, though. As usual I walked over inclines I couldn’t or didn’t try to do on my little bike. The two other women laughed over something they knew between the two of them and I also found out one was a elementary school peer of our instructor. They joked over getting shots, as one was a lab tech and the other frequently got blood tests. It was hilarious and touching, especially because the woman was none too tall herself, which inspired me (I’m not tall.) The instructor tried to teach us some more technical skills, such as rolling over an obstacle, which we mostly failed but enjoyed doing. Because we were competitive, the acquaintance and I tried riding up some wooden structures in the park. I surprised myself by fearlessly riding up it even though I was certain to fall down. I did, but on my two wheels. It was one of the best feelings ever, to try climbing an wooden slat set on an incline and then “hopping” off and landing on both wheels when I lost speed. I almost pedalled onto it, but my competition was already on it and he was ahead of me at a dead stop, so I had too, too. It was a good day, and I left fervently sure I would buy a cheap used mountain bike on Craigslist.

Finally, it was the last day. I showed up…and was the only one that showed up. Not surprising; my acquaintance said that he had been the only one once and that time he had a blast because the instructors took him up to the top of SFU/Burnaby Mountain. Although I imagined that I would be a lot less competitive and social with only the two instructors and no other beginners to mess around with, I was excited to accept the challenge. Later, I realized it was only 350~or so m in elevation but it was still a climb to me. But it certainly beat the trails we got climbing (riding our bikes up) only halfway up the hill last time. Along the way we biked past many hikers, who surely benefitted from having the local hill there for their hiking training grounds, and a climb called “cardiac”, which we didn’t do. Understably-cardiac was a steep looking trail that looked impossible to bike up. But young daredevils and fit adults did it-and, our aging instructor said, he had just ridden in Pemberton just before on a 2 hour long steep climb. “It’s good for you,” he said, in a bubbly tone that didn’t make you think he was a high school teacher, dad, and daredevil mountain biker. I was just about to find out.

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The top of the climb up Burnaby Mountain (actually just a hill).

“This trail is a little steeper,with some rocky bits, but you can do it,” he said as we found our way to the trail down. Just from looking down, I couldn’t tell how much steeper, or how much rockier. Actually, the front of the trail was just smooth medium steep singletrack. Scary though-I didn’t want a single track and rocks. Although I tried to compare it to seeing a bunny hill on my first day snowboarding, it was still scary. But I imagined my competitive acquaintance on the top of this same trail, and how he probably would man up. Well, if he could do it, I could too, since beneath it all, he was strong, and pride hardy, but still cautious when the time came. So I watched our first instructor drop in, then dropped in myself, with the other instructor sweeping.

The top of the run is something I don’t even remember. So soon after the smooth drop in there were a few turns and “Here’s the rocks! There’s some big ones! Don’t try to continuously brake,modulate it!” Indeed there was. I went over them, feeling a fear I hadn’t felt since snowboarding ended, and a delicious adrenaline rush. But mostly I was afraid. I was being bounced around constantly, although I was supremely glad this free bike had some sort of suspension system, and I didn’t know how to handle the turns, or if my reflexes were fast enough. I was constantly afraid that I would skid out on a turn or react too slowly, but at the same time I managed to keep rational. There were some parts where I started to brake not just intermittently but for long stretches so skidding was an inevitable result. At that point I hopped off my bike and walked it, because the terrain was too rocky or too steep, or because i had to reset my fear so that I could bike rationally, brake a lot, but not so much I skid over long stretches. I was still skidding all of it, no fooling. But after that moment I would ride better, because I would think “don’t rely on the brake” and try to navigate better around objects, and because if anything did make it uncomfortable in its steepness, I would hop off and walk it. Unlike a blue run that I find too hard, but can still skid down, biking allows you to disengage and walk parts rather than unproductively skid down a steep slope. I think that’s a good lesson for on the snow-focus on technique, and lessen skidding. If you have to, take off your bindings and walk/roll down a bit to feel the steepness of the slope, and try again, focussing on the thought skidding is your last resort. It can be done. Or it’s too hard and you should go somewhere easier but still tough o refocus on technique. In those parts of the trail where I seemed to do well-I dodged rocks, moved my body with my bike, not against it, shifted my weight, I may seemed to have known what I was doing-but inside I was terrified, only I had gotten into a rhythm within the fear, so that I could learn through it. (When you skid, your fear blinds you, and you don’t learn technique). But that was maybe 1% of the time. Yet that 1% was enough. I had never felt that way on a bike except when I went to Alice Lake last year, and the whipping back and forth motion, characteristic of snowboard turns, felt amazing. It was why I liked snowboarding, and throughout all this fear on this way-too-hard trail there had to be this one gem. If I wanted it again, I’d have to suffer through all that fear and I’d never do that alone and probably not on this bike ever again, either.

Also notable on the trail were some small drops-maybe a foot high; “Drop!” the instructor out would yell, and if not for the adrenaline, I wouldn’t have dropped. It went to show how useless my non adrenalized self was. A drop I’d never do in the city was fun and fast here; I slowed down a bit but easily saw the drop as “OK” as long as I was rolling fast enough. 1, 2, 3. I heard “drop” three times and off I went. “Good job!” I heard behind me, and although I knew he probably said that to everyone, I felt good: here was some confirmation that a little confidence could get you somewhere you wanted to be, rather than lack of skill. Compared to the rest of the trail, the foot wide ladders that came up seemed easy. What scared me was how it was notably abundance in some areas how a little extra skill could get you miles ahead. I had none of that; it daunted me that steeps I could walk down were too terrifying on bike (It may have been just a 30 degree angle) and especially I had no idea why rocks were placed where they were. Sure, this was nature’s trail, but human work had been done to it, and parts of it simply baffled me as being antithetical. In fact, the trail was probably cut the way it was because it was fun to someone with more experience, in places where it excited fear in me.

“You’re tough,” my acquaintance had said to me after I showed up Wednesday morning saying I might not come because I was sick-in fact, I had had a full blown panic attack and I had dragged myself out mostly because I was afraid of being by myself- and I laughed because this was not true. He was tough. I did not exercise regularly or do anything that would make me actually tough, but, he was right that I didn’t rationalize my laziness by staying at home all the time. And afterwards, I thought better of myself even though in reality I was still very much a lazy person, but the past does not predict the present. There was a feel-good feeling, the buoyancy of adrenaline gone right. The present does though, predict the future. So, keeping that in mind, I’ll figure out what the perfect level of adrenaline and relaxation is for me, and keep those eyes on for a good deal on Craigslist (3 weeks and counting…not looking good. 😉 )

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The road back from the trail exit to the skytrain. Great ride, the second time I had ridden close to big roads; surprisingly, I liked it a lot. 

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