How easy it is for love to fade away if left untended. To let something slip slowly from your consciousness is to withhold its sustenance. This is what happened to me and my long-time affection for mountain biking. I ignored the love until it simply died.
I have been thinking about mountain biking a lot the past couple days. I had a good ride on Friday, one that helped me remember what it felt like to truly love something. Since then I have read two mountain bike magazines, cover-to-cover, still barely denting an unread stack that has piled up for years. I am plotting the next ride. I am thinking about the next bike.
I can make many excuses for not mountain biking—work, the yard, errands, the kid's school and sports, family rides, home projects, traveling. And these things are definite contributors. However, the main reason, the underlying truth, is a little more personal: it scares me now. A little.
For the first 24 years of mountain biking I was fearless. I lived a charmed existence. Attacking everything at full speed, I rarely made a mistake. I would go years between crashes. In the event that I did hit the ground, I always escaped with nothing more than a cut, bruise or road rash. After a while you can't help but believe in invincibility.
Then there was the crash, the one that shattered my wrist. It was a long time ago, but the memories are still so very fresh. The reminders come daily. The 12 screws, well, they refuse to let me forget. I awaken to a sore, stiff, immobile wrist. Every day. It never leaves. It never will.
When I was rehabbing, I couldn't wait to ride again. That is the carrot, of course. Work hard, do your exercises, let the nice lady at rehab put you though a tremendous amount of pain, and you can one day ride again. And I did.
But it wasn't the same. I couldn't do the things I did before, physically or mentally. I was broken.
I remember one ride in particular. My friend Doug and I were riding around the Sly Park area. I came around an exposed downhill corner—a steep, rocky chute with a cliff to the left. I balanced at the top for a moment, looking down at the obstacles before me. I was stricken with what I can only imagine was vertigo. I put my feet down. Once Doug was out of sight, I walked down the hill, hating myself for chickening out on a relatively easy trail.
Things improved over time, but not enough. Without the ability and guts to ride on the edge, to be fearless, I was left with an empty feeling. It wasn't fun anymore, wasn't the same. I rode more and more on the road, gravel roads, easy trails. I told myself I really liked "mixed terrain" rides.
After a while I entered a vicious circle: the less I rode my mountain bike, the worse I rode when I did mountain bike. My skills were eroding along with my confidence. A few summers ago I crashed THREE times during a ride in Tahoe, the last one a high speed washout in a left-hand sweeper that gave me a concussion. I was done.
Sure, I still put rubber to dirt. I rode the fat bike. I hit trails around my house. I rode places like Granite Bay, places that could hardly be considered difficult, technical or scary. Nothing I would consider real mountain biking. I put that out of my mind. I forgot about it.
Fast forward to Friday. Something clicked. Be it the new bike, a wrist that is finally "good enough," or simply forgetting to be scared, something clicked. I had fun. I rode hard. I rode without fear. I rode well.
It's only been a couple of days, but it feels a lot like love.