Yesterday, for the first time in many months I ventured out to the mountain biking miracle known as Sandy Ridge to ride my sweet full suspension bike on damn near perfect trail conditions. It was, in a word, sublime.
I had succumbed to the H1N1 flu just before New Year’s Eve, and have been mostly quarantined and on my sickbed for weeks. The flu turned into laryngitis which then turned into acute bronchitis. I’d suffered terrible bronchial infections in my youth in New York, and have permanently impaired lungs, scarred from illness and injury (and *cough cough* chain smoking as a young adult). It is my number one limitation as an athlete and as the years pass, it becomes even more challenging to endure.
For me, climbing even the most gradual grade is often a feat of epic proportions. Anyone who has ever ridden trails with me can attest… I Am The Slowest Climber. Fortunately, what goes up will come down, and gravity is my very good friend. My love of—and comfort with—descending is inversely proportional to my dread of and disability when climbing. Simply put, I love to shred. It is absolutely, positively my “happy place”.
I had misgivings about “pushing it” but the weather was predicted to be fair, and a short and sweet 20 mile road ride the day before to test myself left me no worse for the wear, other than some sore legs. I’ve definitely experienced some muscle wasting over the past couple months. My riding buddy Steve was just coming back from a severe injury that laid him out for several months, so we figured we’d be well-matched for the climb up the road to the trailhead.
Not so. I wheezed and hacked the entire way up while Steve practically danced on the pedals, spinning up the road ahead as if doused with magical unicorn glitter. The tables turned once we arrived at the trailhead and I got my pads in place. Expecting ice and mud, I wanted extra protection in case I ran out of talent before I ran out of trail.
Not too many riders seemed to want to slog up through the snow and ice to get to the upper trails, so Steve and I opted for a little of both; one full run from top to bottom, before climbing back to the recently added Flow Motion to lower Hide and Seek to wrap up the day. The trails were in perfect condition; a little wet in spots, but not very muddy, and minimal snow and ice in the more exposed sections. What blew my mind was how well I rode, after not touching the bike or singletrack for months.
I carved, shredded, schralped, crushed and flowed with and a passion and fury I haven’t felt in ages. I felt imbued with grace and power, and the places I usually got caught up barely even caused a blip on my radar this time.
Maybe it was finally being healthy enough to ride. Or maybe, just maybe it was all that hard work I did last fall, working on my technical skills. Or maybe I absorbed ninja superpowers subconsciously while watching all those the Kung Fu movies while I was laid up.
The truth about why I was riding well is a probably a combination of all the above, but one thing is certain; where my weak, asthmatic lungs fail, my passionate, feisty, furious heart more than makes up for it.
As we rolled back to town our talk turned to more serious matters, like work and money. As if being wretchedly ill at the start of the New Year wasn’t bad enough, I also got laid off from my puny part-time service industry job. After the initial bummer effect wore off, I realized it was actually a blessing in disguise. The job had been a flimsy crutch which hadn’t really been holding me up very well and now that it had been kicked out from under me I was in free-fall. How liberating!
I was free to focus full-time on my writing career, which I’d been hesitant to commit to. As a mountain biker, I had learned about the dangers of hesitation—of being afraid to commit—the hard, bloody, bruisey way. It was time to put on the pads, lower the dropper post and send it.
Beyond making for a dusty metaphor for facing down fear and living the eye-of-the-tiger life, riding and writing are inseparable to me. Both feed me, fuel me, and give texture, color and meaning to life. Riding clears my head, opens up my perspective, and helps me access greater creativity. I’m told my riding lifestyle is incompatible with my riding lifestyle and that eventually I’ll have to make a choice.
I already have made a choice. I chose both.
In other words: Writer’s gonna ride. Rider’s gonna write.