“Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling,” I told myself as I looked at the rocks up ahead. I was nervous and sweating profusely, even on this cool overcast fifty degree day. I was definitely outside my comfort zone and was struggling to continue moving forward, but I knew I had to keep going if I didn’t want to wind up alone and somewhat lost in the woods. I pedaled harder and found myself bouncing all over as the rocks pummeled my bike from side to side, but I was still upright. “Woohoo!” I thought, I was making some progress.
Riding over big rocks, downed trees, logs and basically anything in your path is definitely not something I am used to as a road rider. On the road, I try to avoid even small rocks and branches to prevent myself from falling or puncturing my thin 23mm tires. I attended a demo day for Trek Bicycles and decided that I wanted to give mountain biking a try. I had never attempted riding in the woods and figured this was a good opportunity to test out some high end mountain bikes and my skills. I ride bikes a lot, normally at least six to seven days per week, but all of the road riding I have done up until now did not really prepare me for the experience of real mountain biking.
I was set up on a very nice full suspension bike and then sent off into the woods following a small group of other riders. The first couple of minutes were fun, going over leaves, small branches and a few small rocks. It was kind of cool to be riding a bike in the woods. However, then we started to come upon some larger obstacles. Being a roadie and usually only riding over small twigs and pebbles, I didn’t have the confidence to power over big sharp looking rocks and logs. I would see a decent sized rock or a small downed tree on the ground and think, “I can’t ride a bike over those things.” I was told to look fifteen feet ahead, to where I wanted to go, and just keep pedaling hard and that I could in fact power right over them. Even though I tried to follow the advice I was given, and look farther ahead I had a hard time not looking at the big rock 2 feet ahead of me. I was continuously almost falling due to the technical nature of the terrain and my lack of experience and confidence. I tried to push up and over the first short rocky uphill and suddenly I found myself laying in a pile of soft wet leaves. I untangled myself from the bike, got up, and walked it to the top of the hill where I remounted and soldiered on. This type of riding required a big mental shift for me, but it was kind of cool to be able to use these much larger tires to power over things that would have caused some serious damage to me and my bike out on the road.
I found my first mountain biking adventure to be very mentally and physically taxing. I had to be aware of the rocks and trees surrounding me, while trying to push hard to make it over whichever obstacles I could. I was told that the makeshift trail we were on was pretty rocky and technical for a beginner which made me feel a bit better, but still it was definitely a humbling experience for me.
I attended a second demo day a couple of weeks later on a much less rocky and better established trail at Allaire State Park. I still had a few of the mental hurdles to jump over, but this experience was much better. I spent much more time actually on the bike and less time on the ground or walking the bike over rock gardens. I was able to actually ride and enjoy the experience of being in the woods.
Reflecting on my first mountain biking experiences I think the biggest obstacle for me was not a log or a rock, but the mental hurdles that I had to ride over. I had to keep telling myself that if I just kept pedaling I could make it over these things and normally when I took the plunge and really went for it, I could. It was only when I doubted myself and started to pedal more tentatively and slow down that I got caught up and found myself falling or almost falling into the piles of wet leaves and rocks surrounding me. I think this was a great experience and definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am looking forward to getting my own mountain bike and continuing to work on my skills and confidence in the woods.