The Difference Between A Rut And A Grave

My brand-new, 13 year old Kona mountain bike gets a rest while I hydrate.

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”  ~Ellen Glasgow

I haven’t ridden my mountain bike on a singletrack trail in about seven years. This morning, in desperate need of exercise but short on time, I decided I would ride the six-mile, singletrack loop on the open space park behind our home. I used to be slightly more experienced at negotiating the rocks and bumps on a mountain bike trail. I used to have a bit more confidence about it too. Although I’ve ridden over 900 miles so far this year, these have been road bike or trainer miles. And those, as you can imagine, feel very different than mountain bike miles. This morning I might as well have been piloting a moon rover over the pitted surface of that hard, space rock. I felt lost.

All the time I’ve spent in the bike saddle this year kept me from becoming winded on the incline part of the ride today, but that’s the only thing my training prepared me for. I forgot how freaking bumpy the bike feels on a rocky path. I forgot how my hands get tired from the tighter grip I need to keep on the handlebars while negotiating the twists, turns, and obstacles along the way. I forgot the nerve that’s required when you see what lies a head of you. I forgot how your personal space is invaded by plants that brush you as you ride and remind you how narrow your path is. Aside from the two-wheeled mode of transport and the basic skill of balancing on a bike long enough to propel it forward, these sports seemed very far apart from each other this morning. If road biking is a cheetah (or, in my case, maybe a blind, three-legged cheetah), then mountain biking is a mountain goat (or in my case, a blind, three-legged mountain goat).

I had to rediscover some things on the ride, like that I’m not currently coordinated enough to ride and drink while on a singletrack trail. This is why it would have been worth it to pull my Camelback out of storage. But, the most important thing I remembered is that to be successful while mountain biking you have to trust yourself and your bike. You have to believe that the bike will carry you over the obstacles and that you will be able to control it when it does. The problem for me is that trust is not ever been something I’ve excelled at. I’m suspicious. I’m cautious. I’m a recovering control freak. I’ve been conditioned to eliminate the variables to create a smooth journey. But, mountain biking is not a smooth journey.

The more I thought about it on the much less tenuous descent toward home, the more I realized that I need to work toward becoming a better mountain biker because those skills are skills I need in my every day life. I need to trust. I need to believe. I need to push myself just a little bit further than I’m comfortable with because I can do it if I just try. You can only grow if you ask yourself to move beyond the grooves you’ve worn into your daily existence. Once you jump the boundary and veer ever-so-slightly off course, things change. You change.

I’m going to get myself some clipless pedals and fun mountain bike shoes and start pushing myself a bit more to ride that singletrack trail behind my house. Maybe if I do I’ll become confident enough to try other nearby trails and branch out. And, if I can do that, I’m fairly certain I will grow enough spine to try other new challenges as well. This morning, I felt lost while out on that six-mile loop. Sometimes, though, being lost can remind you how it feels to stop going through the motions and actually live.

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