My heart rate was slightly elevated, my breathing was more rapid and my palms were sweating. With feelings like those you would have thought I was being interrogated by the police, but I was actually headed out for a mountain bike ride. I found that after years of road riding the transition to riding on the trails was nerve wracking and anxiety inducing for me. There was a point before every mountain bike ride that I considered backing out due to fear.
I bought a mountain bike in the fall of 2015 and between the fall of 2015 and 2016 I had only ridden the bike about five times. In spite of my lack of mountain biking experience I was asked to help out with a NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) team. NICA is an organization dedicated to getting more kids involved with cycling and mountain bike racing. I love kids and loved the idea of getting more kids on bikes, so how could I say no. However, after volunteering for this coaching position I realized that I was actually going to have to ride my mountain bike every week. Each week I was going to have to go through the anxiety of riding over roots, rocks and loose dirt up and down twisty trails.
If I was mountain biking on my own, or with friends I would tend to panic at times, but with the kids I had to keep my cool and be the adult. I had to try to be more fearless. This need to set my fears aside led me to go over obstacles or ride on trails that I might not have traversed had I been on my own. I wanted to help and I wanted to set a good and encouraging example for our team of kids and so I swallowed my anxiety a bit more each week and made myself ride the trails. I was still inexperienced and so I did struggle sometimes, but honestly I think it might have made some of the more inexperienced team members feel better to know that I was in the same boat as them.
Watching some of kids on the team struggle made me want to set a good example for them. It made me want to be able to educate them and give them the correct advice and encouragement to continue improving their skills. In order to do that I myself had to become more skilled and experienced and so that meant more mountain biking. I started pushing myself to arrive a few hours before practice to get more riding in, or to go on a day when we didn’t even have practice to ride my mountain bike.
Then all of a sudden came a day a couple of weeks ago, where I finally started to feel more comfortable on the trails. I actually had a pretty good ride where I was able to ride ninety percent of the trails and didn’t have to walk many section or over many obstacles. I was thrilled and proud of myself for conquering some of my fears. The following week I found myself looking forward to mountain biking, something that I never thought would happen. I took a couple of other newbie women out on some of the trails and again was more successful in not only riding the trails, but navigating us back out of the woods to the correct spot. I found myself riding through sharp turns and through big patches of roots that I had been walking over just a few weeks prior.
For a while I had pretty much been convinced that mountain biking wasn’t for me and that I was never going to feel comfortable in the woods, but being forced to ride with our NICA team changed all of that for me. It forced me to face my fears up and actually spend some time on my mountain bike. It required me to keep my cool when I was tempted to panic on certain sections of trail. Coaching the kids gave me real motivation to want to be better and learn more. If it wasn’t for my coaching role with the NICA kids I may have somewhat given up on mountain biking, but thanks to them I discovered a new set of cycling skills and a growing love for riding in the woods.