Monday, March 3, 2008

In the Know

What a difference 20 years makes! Two decades ago, when Raja and I blindly started out on our mountain bike quest, we had no idea of the journey on which we were embarking. Little did we know the places it would take us, the friends we would make, and the lessons we would learn.

These were the thoughts I was having last Saturday as I was surrounded by 14 women, green behind the ears, eager to embark on their own journey of mountain biking.
Who am I to try and teach these wonderful people how to ride a bike?! I felt so inadequate. What do I say? Where do I start? Look at their smiles!

The fact that I had at one time been in their very shoes (so to speak) was my greatest qualification. I began my cycling "career" alongside my fiance, Raja, just as these women were joining in the sport with their spouses and boyfriends. They want to learn, but having your boyfriend as an instructor is a recipe for disaster! They all agreed, the only thing you end up learning is how to have an argument on a ride!

The first 5 years of my cycling learning curve was spent in total frustration. Having ridden motorcycles all his life, Raja was a natural at mountain biking. I, on the other hand, had not been allowed within a 10 mile radius of a motorcycle as a child. I had no clue on how to balance using my body while perched on 2 wheels bouncing over rocky terrain. You want me to go down That on This?! I chased him down trails, falling and beating myself black and blue the whole way.

Over time I got better and faster just by sheer determination alone. Survival of the fittest. I didn't want to be the last one left out on the trail in the woods! But I still didn't know how I was doing what I was doing. I crashed all the time. As a result, I was in a constant state of being hurt and broken. If you don't know why you crashed, you cannot learn from those mistakes and therefore, avoid them.

I had a horrible crash in 1999, cracking my helmet and rupturing a tendon. It was the final straw leading to my demise. That summer, we took our annual adventure biking trip with our friends to Sun Valley, Idaho. Everybody was loving it. Except me. I was smiling on the outside, but terrified on the inside.

Raja had enough sense to see that my growing Fear of mountain biking was paralyzing me. Here I was, a seasoned accomplished racer, yet I was slowly being strangled with fear. Nothing would do but that I get help from the best coach he could find.

Thanksgiving Day he put on a plane to San Francisco where I met up with Blair Lombardi, the Coach of the Pros. Blair has a foolproof method of teaching the best of the best how to fly downhill or zip up the most technical of climbs. If she couldn't help me, then there was no hope. Three days of one on one coaching from Blair opened up a whole new world for me. Pro racer, Janie Dalton, Blair Lombardi, and me at the trails of China Camp in San Rafael.

Slowly she broke through the many layers of irrational fears that had me trapped in a world of dread. Dreading the next accident, the next injury; that dread ate away at my confidence, and ultimately, my ability to enjoy my rides. If only I had come to her 10 yrs earlier!

Now nine years later, I have the pleasure of passing on those same nuggets of wisdom to these women as they begin their journey. How much better that they learn it now, instead of waiting 10 yrs down the road as I did! Susan, a roadie, hopefully can now make the transition a little smoother to the dirt.
It was so inspiring to be with riders like Kit, not the least bit afraid of a downhill! She'll have no trouble picking up on these techniques.Mary was just as determined, not afraid of a challenge! My hat is off to these women!It was so refreshing to see them enjoying the trail and the beautiful setting. Amy was always smiling and tried every downhill to perfection! I felt like a proud parent! I had a great time riding along the trail, encouraging them on as they took on new challenges. I wanted to spend a day with each of them, one on one. There's so much to share, so little time! How do I cram 20 years worth of experience into 2 hours? You can't. I did my best to drive the concepts in their heads, while hoping a fire had been ignited to inspire them to get out there and keep trying.

I was surprised after the clinic when 2 of the younger ladies wanted to go out and try the River Loop. This is NOT a beginner trail by any means, and I wasn't comfortable with the thought of them going it alone.

Raja, Mary, and I led them out. It had literally been over 12 yrs since Raja and I had ridden this trail. Ironically, when we began riding in 1988, this was one of the only trails we ever rode. It was where all the races were. I was curious to see how it would feel to me now that I was such a "pro" - Ha Ha!Mary made me proud by tackling the nasty downhill. She did it picture perfect! And I have to admit, this downhill that was such a terror to me before was really not bad at all this time around. I just listened to Blair's voice in my head.....Relax, Chin up, Look Ahead, Weight Back. It's really quite simple!

I thought this was a hoot, this tree that Raja noticed on the side of the trail. Looks like a beaver has been hard at work. It was a nostalgic ride for me and Raja. Each little section of trail would come back to us, "oh yea, I remember this part. Oooo, this used to be so hard. Wow, how did we ever do that back then?" What used to be a torturous ride was fun this time. The River Loop is still plenty challenging, but I wouldn't shake in my shoes if you told me that's where the ride of the week is being held, like I used to do...the old fearful me. Here's Raja riding the River Loop November of 1989! No fear in him then, no fear for him now.
Having been ill for the past 2 weeks and completely off the bike, this clinic was a breath of fresh air for me. The weekend before I was sick in bed, while Raja was off racing the GTI in its first autocross. He took my camera to play photo ninja in between his runs. He said it was fun and even won his class, but admitted he'd rather be riding his bike.See, that's another advantage he had over me when we were learning mtn biking. He's been racing cars since he was 16 yrs old. Racing autocross is alot like racing a mountain bike. It's fun, but still not as fun as flying down the trail on Pinhoti 2!

Trying to impart my little bit of wisdom to these women, made me appreciate how much I have learned through the years. It is easy to take for granted what you do know. You forget that little maneuvers such as going off a drop, rolling over a log, or zipping through twisty singletrack are something you too had to learn at one time. It comes natural now, easy as walking, but it didn't always.

Remember to respect that learning curve in others. Give them room to question, to try, to experience, to learn. You never know what great places it will take them in 20 years!


regularjoe said...

Man, this is great. Just great.

It's so inspiring to read your blog and the honesty with which you share your experiences.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

WOOOHOOO! Saturday was great!Thank you for a wonderful few hours full of fun, no frustration, and new friends.

Blair said...

Great post.
This made me think about the great people, times and trips of the last 17 yrs of riding.

See you guys in the dirt soon.

Andrea said...

As I prepare for my first racing season, I am excited but apprehensive. Even without a bad accident, I have that fear that you had and I am hoping I can find a way to get rid of it. That fear is my biggest obstacle and causes me to do a lot of stupid things. I am afraid of crashing; therefore, I panic, do something idiotic and crash. I'm a little far away from Georgia to come to your clinic, but maybe I can find something else that will help.

Becky said...

It is difficult to imagine that someone as natural-looking as you on a mtn bike was actually scared at one point in the past. And it's very inspiring - to know there is hope for those like me who are terrified of any obstacle on the trail (even tho we might not always admit it out loud)! May take me more than 20 yrs to get there though... ;)