I wear a necklace around my neck that says “I am stronger.” It reminds me that I am stronger than the disease that ravages my body (rheumatoid arthritis). That I am stronger than the road or trail in front of me. That I am stronger than all of the burdens and responsibilities that go into parenting and managing my family, trying to run a (very) small business. That I am stronger than what is happening right now.
I live in one of them world’s most famous places for mountain biking. When I took up cycling four years or so ago I never considered mountain biking even though it was on my doorstep and daily I saw riders head up the hill to the trails. It wasn’t something I considered because I thought it would be too risky. I’m not sure if it was me trying to make the good parenting choice to preserve myself to help my kids or if I was just chicken.
I didn’t go near mountain biking because I was scared of falling.
Instead I hit the road.
Now, after many years of training and confidence, I take my bike anywhere. In reality I should probably be far more scared of traffic but instead I am energized and assertive to avoid it when needed and take my rightful place when required. My confidence doesn’t make me reckless, it empowers me and combined with my ever-improving skills makes me a better rider.
This summer I decided I wouldn’t pack away my bike when the fall rains came. Instead I would find myself a mountain bike and use this season to learn something new. In reality all my hours on my road bike are solo hours. While I am with my fantastic clubmates or ride buddies, I am never with my family. Mid-summer I ride a lot and if I want to add more time in the saddle I should do it in a way that works for everyone. Living in Lynn Valley, on Vancouver’s North Shore, on Mt. Fromme makes it a no-brainer my boys are riding mountain bikes and I might as well join them. With confidence in bike handling and an underlying level of fitness I decided this was the time to hit the trails.
I knew a fall was inevitable.
In a little more than four years of road biking I have – knock on wood – never had a crash. Yes, there was the tragic turtling while trying to unclip from my pedals the first time. And it was mortifying – doing it in front of a bleacher full of t-ball spectators who leapt to my aid. I have seen crashes and I have helped others after crashes but I luckily have never been a part of one.
I knew falls would be apart of mountain biking – that’s why they sell the armor right? But I still dwelled in the inevitability of a crash or fall. How would I react at 38 years old to unexpectedly going over my bars or sliding off the edge of a wet feature? I could almost feel the impact, feel the gravel and dirt tearing at my skin – and I was scared.
Not scared enough to not do it but certainly dreading that first taste of dirt that would most definitely come my way.
And then it happened.
I got a little bit too big for my britches. The confidence that sometimes takes care of me on the road let me push myself too far. I was doing loops of a downhill trail that I first tackled just last week, and after improving, getting some fantastic tips from the women I was riding with and feeling more comfortable I decided “Hey, I can do this faster!”
Well, it turns out I can’t.
But it also turns out that fall I am terrified of wasn’t so bad.
It hurts. There are bruises. There are scrapes. There was even a trip to the hospital, x-rays, scans and now a cast…. but it wasn’t that bad. The pain and the surprise I had worried so much about wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
I went big for my first crash. I kind of got it all out-of-the-way. I am not stupid, I am grateful I didn’t hit my head beyond a tiny scrape. I grateful that I was riding with friends, so I wasn’t left on the trail a couple of kilometers from home with a broken arm. I’m grateful for Canada’s medical system that had me checked, scanned, x-rayed, casted, in-and-out of the hospital in about an hour and a half and without crippling bills to pay.
I learned I can handle this part of the sport. It will happen and I will get up and ride again. I learned I need to step back and enjoy being a rookie again. To try to revel in each small accomplishment instead of pushing for some giant success. To build on the last ride, the last trail, the last bit of advice another rider was kind enough to pass on.
Even before the crash, I was so proud of showing my kids that their mom still takes risks and tries new things. That I am learning something, asking for help, and being scared but not so scared that I don’t do it. I think that’s a powerful message for little boys – especially to hear it from their mom.
This summer I’ve been trying to help them internalize that courage is just being brave when you’re also scared. You can be both, and in fact being both will take you further than determination alone.
So this fall won’t have me tackling the trails in the ways I had hoped but I will be back out there as soon as I can and a friend just messaged me to get my next cast molded to fit my road bars so I can get back out riding (…hmmm maybe she meant for the trainer?….).
I also learned I’m right.
I am stronger.