The trees blur around me as the trail unfolds at a dizzying speed. My eyes focus a few feet in front, on the front tire just far enough to anticipate when I need to turn, shift, or pull up on my handlebars to clear a rock.
When a guy asked me on a mountain biking date, I jumped at the chance. I’ve wanted to try it for years. Mountain biking is so much more practical than kayaking – the trails are within a few minutes drive, setting a shuttle isn’t required, and I don’t have to hustle up a crew in order to ride.
At first my nerves get the better of me. My hands hover over the brakes and at times I go so slow that I wobble and tumble off my bike when I try to negotiate even the slightest obstacle. Every thought turns to maneuvering my bike more gracefully, of letting go of my hesitation a little bit more.
My date balances on his peddles and looks over his left shoulder. “Turn onto Easy Breezy up here.”
I relax at the name. Even on the easiest trail, though, what I’m doing more closely resembles day hiking with a mountain bike than actually riding. The trail, studded with rocks, humbles me.
I try to stay on the bike a moment longer each time the trail steepens until I ride up and down my first ditch-like embankment.
My date notices and says, “nice job!”
I beam with a sense of accomplishment, remembering the upside of being new – small successes come rapidly, one milestone after another. I’m gentle on myself. I have no expectations or past experience by which to measure my present self against.
We ride for a while without talking, and I enjoy the abiding joy of being in the company of another without the pressure to converse. Without the need to shape my thoughts into something comprehensible, ideas flicker, my mind meandering from one half-thought to the next.
The date ends over pizza and beer, and we realize that we’re best off being just friends. I go home disappointed that the date itself fizzled out, but excited about the opportunity to be a beginner in a new sport and the chance to forge a new relationship with the woods.
I’ve always wanted to sign up for the Captain Thurmond’s Challenge, a multisport event in West Virginia that involves kayaking, mountain biking, and trail running, but have balked at the mountain biking. This spring I’ll cozy up with the saddle, in some small way I owe the decision to a date that had a happy ending different than the one I had in mind.