Out of the Maze

I get in these moods sometimes.

One came upon me recently while I was out on a ride, alone with my thoughts. I had had a couple of bad falls in the past week and it seemed like I kept spilling on the same side, making the same mistakes. I was feeling shaky on the dirt, like I had lost something important but didn’t even know what it was.

I was up close to the top of the Nelson Loop at Hall Ranch. The clouds had rolled in and covered up what had been a beautiful sunny afternoon. I heard thunder in the distance and inside me the weather turned too.

A dark weight settled over me as I sweated and struggled up that climb.

This felt so wrong, because I am supposed to be safe on my bike. I love being on my bike for the same reason I love being on snow and underwater – because in no other places do I feel so close to being perfect.

But for this afternoon all my old fears had come and found me, and I couldn’t outride them. So I didn’t try.

I let the darkness cover me up like a cloud and as I started my descent I didn’t push it harder for the thrill. I rode slowly and with feeling, noticing every detail. Of every rock and contour of the trail. Of every doubt and insecurity in my stomach.

I navigated the twists and turns of the switchbacks and took care to shift weight accordingly, kill speed conservatively, and I imagined myself navigating the twists and turns in my own head in the same way. Carefully, taking my time, not rushing through them. Respecting them and not judging them.

Self-doubt. Turn.

Frustration.  Lean.

Look ahead.

I thought about how a trail flows both ways and can have a very different character depending on the way you go, yet it’s still the same trail, with the same rocks and terrain you love some days and hate the next. People are like that too. We’re package deals. At my worst I’m moody, melodramatic, obsessive, and self-absorbed. But on the other side of the coin was passion, empathy, drive and creativity. Like every obstacle on this trail, all of these characteristics would always be with me, and whether that was for better or worse may just depend on which way I was riding that day. There would always be the darkness, but there was so much light too.

I think sometimes my family and friends wonder what it is I’m trying to prove with this bike racing stuff. And who knows, maybe they are right. Sometimes, when I am out there doing some six-hour ride on some remote trail where I am in way over my head, lost, struggling, frustrated – sometimes I wonder the same thing. What am I doing out here? What is wrong with me, that I have to make things so hard on myself?

But I know there’s also this. The smile stuck to my face on a long, ripping singletrack descent through the woods. The feeling of cleaning a climb that knocked me off my bike a year ago. The sweet sound of the crowd at the finish line, maybe even people waiting to shout your name, finally audible for the first time after hours of racing in the backcountry. And the way that riding teaches you about life because in so many ways life is like riding a bike. Neither life or riding are always easy, and you know that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Because sometimes you bleed and cry and wonder why you even woke and up tried today. But it just makes it that much more beautiful when you get there.

I still can’t say I 100% understand why I do this stuff. I don’t think it really matters. I do know that I’m a better person because I do.

***

The tires scraped the sandy trail beneath me, and the bike swung below my body like a pendulum. And every turn brought me a little further out of the maze. I rolled through the metal gates of the trailhead onto the safe, wide open, welcome road. The weight was still there but I knew it would not last forever. I relaxed, sat up, and breathed.

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