“We sat down with a blank piece of paper and drew out our ideal life,” Eva Surls says as she turns her Sprinter van loaded with our mountain bikes into Dupont State Forest.
I like her already. That combination of dreamer and take charge attitude in order to create a life conjured from one’s imagination is exactly the type of person I strive to be, it’s a characteristic I admire most in friends.
The sun warms my elbow sticking out of the passenger seat window and the first blue sky in a week makes even a non-singer like me want to belt out a few Jack Johnson lyrics.
I’ve just met Eva and don’t want to scare her off so instead I ask her more about how the Bike Farm, the base camp she owns with her husband, Cashion Smith, that caters to bikers wanting to explore the area.
“We knew we wanted a piece of property big enough for friends and family to stay, and the concept evolved from there.”
Eva parks at the trailhead for – and checks my fit on the bike. Before we start riding, she quizzes me on the front and rear brake and demonstrates the ready stance.
We coast down a gravel road and she looks over her shoulder, her long braid off to one side, and says, “Elbows pointed out and heels down.”
Eva stops before in front of the trail and talks a little about how to find the right gear for climbing and explains about shifting from the front to back of my seat depending on the steepness of the terrain.
I follow her over some roots and then we turn back around and try it again to find a different line.
After our second climb she reminds me to look ahead where I want to go instead of fixating on my front tire.
Midway up she says, “Remember to look ahead at where you want to go.”
I pick up my glance, which has been fixated on my front tire for the past few minutes, amazed at her to know where I’m looking given that she’s riding in front.
We happily chat about trail running, dogs (her), and kids (me), as we ride by the river flowing below.
Eva lets me know that the trail becomes more technical ahead. We climb over some more roots and negotiate some turns before the trail dips and we ride over the biggest root yet.
Scared, I put my foot down right on top of the gigantic root, seemingly guarding the top of the hill.
Eva stops her bike and says, “Good job getting this far. This root is bigger than the rest. Given what I’ve seen you ride so far, I know you can do it. Let’s session it for a bit.”
I watch her ride it a few times and studying the way she stops pedaling a few feet in front of it, how she eases her grip from the handlebars as she approaches the root and how she presses her peddle a slight turn forward to keep her momentum once she’s crested it.
Then it’s my turn. Eva is smaller in stature than me and she makes it look effortless so I figure I’ll be able to do it too.
My first go I hit the root square on, my pelvis throbbing from the impact.
The second time I stand there, hesitant with the realization that indecision could lead to physical pain. Eva tells me to take a minute to collect myself and take a deep breath.
I think of my four-year-old son.
Right now he would say, “Mama, be brave at this root.”
He has this thing of misusing prepositions in a way I find adorable so I don’t correct it. Besides, it lends a certain insight that I often miss. He realizes that we don’t have to be brave globally, in all situations, that it’s enough to pick one very specific thing and direct all the courage we can muster toward that.
I tell myself I will be brave at the root as I ride and shift my weight in time so that my front wheel climbs over the wheel but then hit my pedal on the side of the root. The same thing happens the next dozen tries.
I keep focusing on my line, on where I’m looking, on where my feet are, and my body weight.
On my last go it all comes together. I approach the root at the right angle and unweight my front tire, while still keeping my gaze ahead. Once I’m over it, I pedal forward.
“I did it!” I say at the same time that Eva shouts, “you did it!”
I can tell from her tone that she’s as proud as I am. We high five and ride the rest of the trail.
Eva echoes my son’s wisdom. “Every ride, pick one thing to work on and session it. Spend ten or fifteen minutes trying the same move.”
The rest of the week I try rolling over things on my bike. It’s such a small thing, getting my tires across a rock or a root. Even so, I swell with pride ever time.
As the week goes on I notice that I’m feeling more focused as I tackle a negotiation or difficult discussion in my business life, too. By keeping focused and asking myself to meet a discrete task with a courageous attitude, I’m becoming brave at life.