There’s something masochistic about biking. Some curious, sadistic relationship that forms between you and your bike. The mental pain. The physical pain. It makes you bond. If you don’t get this, you’re just not riding enough, yet. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.
For road bikers, the pain is the sharp breathing. The utter fatigue. Absolute destruction of muscular competence in the pursuit of riding faster, harder, longer, stronger.
But, as a self-identifying mountain biker, this isn’t where my pain always comes from. Yeah, the legs and lungs burn every once in a while, but I’m also a runner, so I can push through that. My pain is usually a little more, shall we say, inflicted. To me, mountain biking is a part of my life and it’s worth the burn, regardless of the source.
If you find a hobby that never really leaves you, congratulations, you’ve found a passion. I hear not everyone finds these, I’ve found a few and riding happens to be one of them.
But, there are times that even with passions, you tend to back off of them a while.
I was recently there with biking. It was ok – blah, whatever. I’d find myself on the bike wondering why I was actually riding. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I was just riding to check it off the list. I’d lost the burn. The burn was bad.
I needed the love rekindled. (Is “rekindling” what happens when you don’t use your Kindle anymore and give to someone who can?)
I’m out the other day, riding solo, and I turned Strava on (something I don’t always do) and did some segment hunting. Just a boy in the woods on his bike exploring.
I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to do Ripcord again, after I felt my first attempt didn’t quite cut the mustard. It should be noted Ripcord is a high-speed, steep trail that has some larger features and a particularly nasty, steep section that weaves between rocks and some trees that are about a bar width apart. So with frustrated with my first attempt that day, I drop in again and take a stab at it, reminding myself to take chances. Ride fast and loose.
And then, I smacked (literally) nose first into a tree. Felt my nose collapse. Felt my cheek break the impact. Felt my chin split open. Again.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually done this before. Have the scar on my chin to prove it. So you could imagine my disbelief when I hit the same spot again.
Although, I have to say, this time I got way luckier. The first time involved a stump at neck level, a roller and poorly placed rock with an even worse line choice. I’ll spare some of the details, but to summarize, I thought I had collapsed my throat on the trail. (See photo below.)
A lot of times, a crash like this can really make you re-evaluate riding. Should I really be doing this? Why am I doing this? Is it fun anymore? Is this worth it? A slew of stuff flies through your head during a crash.
This time, I only contemplated these for a fleeting moment. As I was barreling towards the tree, and for a few moments after being introduced to it, I was enjoying the eulogistic replay of the morning’s ride. And even as I was straight-lining for this tree, I realized I had a blast all morning. Riding fast, railing corners, hitting big drops. I found my self smiling. Then I ran into the tree…
Panic and reality set in. Ok, I probably broke my nose, because I felt my septum collapse. My lip probably has a hole in it. Chin and cheek are wide open gushing blood. Just get ready for the worse. But you can at least walk and breath so you’ll be ok…
I try yanking out my phone, blowing my nose and spitting at the same time to see how much blood is coming from where. Finally get my phone out. Time for a selfie.
I was pissed at first. I blew up on a trail. I hit my face. But then I realized, this crash made me realize how much fun I was actually having. How much I still love this stupid sport. How I was taking it for granted. Something I never would have realized without a threat of it being taken away. That whole day prior to the crash (and even for a few minutes afterwards as I was finishing Ripcord) I was having a blast. I found what it was all about again. The burn came alive.
And then so did the swelling.
What does this all mean?
Go out there, take chances and fall (metaphorically, of course) to remind yourself how much you love riding – or whatever your thing is in life. And maybe your obstacle isn’t an American oak, but mine was and here’s what it taught me: Every once in while you need a good crash to point out why you’re doing something in life. To put everything in perspective and make you appreciate all the times your not watching a tree come into the center of a trail faster and faster until you smack straight into it. There’s not much worse than knowing you’re on the express train into the bark of an American oak.
When you’re getting bored, make changes to what you’re doing. Find a new bike. Practice a new trail. Take a different street to get home. Eat new fruit. I don’t know, I’m not your psychiatrist. I’m just telling you to find the fun in each ride, because it’s worth finding. And it shouldn’t take two of us to hit a tree beak-first to figure that out. But, sometimes you need to fall to find the love again.
About the author – Ben has ridden the rocky New England trails for a little over four years after falling in love with riding bikes before he could walk. He’s raced ESC and Triple Crown Enduro, but prefers to focus on being an ambassador of the sport and culture (although he still likes to go fast; follow him on Strava as “one rare hair”). When he’s not riding, he’s writing, running and playing tennis. Or slinging some digital marketing mumbo jumbo around. Only occasionally does he crash.