I used to mountain bike.
I hate that past-tense, I hate it so much I speak the lie and use the present all the time. Hobbies? Oh, you know, I write and I take photos and I do some graphic art and I hike and I mountain bike. I usually put it in at the end to sort of tip people off to the great stonking un-truth. I don't, I don't mountain bike. Anymore.
But I used to - WE used to, Kirk and I. We started in Alaska where I learned to get on the bike even if it terrified me, to go down those tiny hills that seemed so steep I was gonna pitch forward over the handles if I didn't throw my ass way back behind me, finally to realize that as long as I stared fixedly at that damn tree I didn't want to hit I was going to steer right for it, every single time. (look where you want to go; keep your eyes off the obstacles). I learned to be fearless there somehow, I hit that magical point where you just put your tire at the start of the trail and figure, what the hell and take off. Yeah, there will be tight parts where the trees grow so tight you'll close as no matter scrape the handlebars on either side; yeah the hills are gonna get scary-steep and one side will drop off into nothing if you spare it a glance; yeah some asshole will have put a huge log construction across the whole thing where you'll have to pop the front tire up just at the right moment and make sure to hit the pedals just when you should and even then you have to hold your breath just right to get over (yeah, you're gonna fall).
We went to Virginia, some of the best single-track I've ever seen - well, out of the four states worth of single-track I've actually looked at, and every spare day, every spare half day we could scrape together we would be out on the bikes. And, of course, the magical fearless stuff wore off as I got enough experience to realize how hard some of that stuff really was, after I learned enough to be afraid of what should have scared the bike-shorts off me all along. But I wasn't going to stop, hell no, so I kept putting that tire on the start of the trail and taking off and trying not to hit the trees when my handlebars were shaking so bad from the adrenaline choke I must have looked like I was riding drunk. I kept tipping down those steep hills, the ones with the heart-shaking bend at the very bottom that you could take just right or end up down a ravine. I kept listening to my own breath, louder and louder as if I was trying to drown out that part of my brain that was wanting to stare at every tree and root and boulder and drop. Until finally it happened and I came around a corner hard and fast (don't let the fear slow you down) and hit a tire-polished root covered with slick yellow leaves.
I know right where I flew into the tree. I hit it on my collarbone and on my thigh - don't ask me how because that's about all I know. I know I lay there for a minute and I wanted to holler - wanted to shout and cry and scream at Kirk that this, THIS is why I was so damn scared of biking even though I had never told him once how frightened I was. I wanted someone to run over and pick me up and babble about how horrible that crash had looked and was I okay, was I sure I was okay? Cause that was a hell of a crash. But it was the middle of the morning on a weekday and there wasn't a soul around. Damn it.
The stupid bike was fine. No scratch, no dent, no busted in tire.
I started wheeling it on, limping, winded, pissed off and sniffing because no one cared that I had finally crashed. But it was taking too long, and the stupid bike was fine, so I got back on and slowly, carefully started riding. Then a bit faster, because it was still taking too long, and this was a pretty easy bit, and yeah there was that log bridge to come, but it wasn't that hard, and then just three hills and a squirt through the last two trees and out on the fire road again where Kirk would be waiting. (they're right you know, you should get right back on).
He was, waiting that is, and he knew something was up since I was so far back, but that wasn't enough.
"I came down," I told him, watching closely. "HARD."
I said it very firmly - HARD. Because I wanted him to know, wanted him to understand that when I crashed it was a good crash, a real crash, a right-in-the-tree crash. I crashed because I was going fast around that corner, because I was going harder and faster than I really wanted to because I was riding away from that fear.
"Wow," he said, and I knew he was ready to hear that I was done with the biking, that I wasn't going to bike any more. "You okay?"
Yeah, I was okay. Because that crash? The one that almost-but-didn't-quite break my collarbone, and left a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my thigh? That was nothing. It was just a crash, a normal-sized crash that blew that inflated, bogey-man fear into nothing.
Funny how life teaches in parenthesis so you can miss it, or forget it too easily when you find it. I've been sitting still here in the fear and watching it fill up all the possibilities. It's time to start riding away from it again.
It might even be time to crash.