My legs shake as I contemplate the upper rock garden section on the Jim Branch trail in Dupont State Park for what seems like the hundredth time. For the past week, I announce to anyone who will listen that my summer goal is to make it to the top. Secretly I hope to conquer the climb sooner.
Straddling my bike, I look up and see with perfect clarity the line I want to take –
slightly to the right to avoid the biggest rock and then straight up the center, hitting the smooth part of the steepest rock up to a larger jumble of jagged grey rocks.
The tips others give me about getting to the top lo0p in my head. Scoot forward on my seat when the trail steepens. Weight my front wheel. Pull my elbows in and my handlebars toward me, but not up. Scan the line I’ve committed to and then look up, scan, look further up and repeat. Keep peddling through uncertainty.
I push off with my right foot. My bike wobbles until I gain momentum. I peddle ten feet up before my front while spins on the surface of a rock without traction.
Ughh, I forgot to weight my front wheel.
I go again. My every thought is about getting forward on my seat and weighting that wheel. This time I get a little further up the trail when my wheel gets stuck in a rut between two rocks.
Damn, I was so focused on scooting forward that I forgot to look up at where I wanted to go and got stuck.
I curse the rocks, hating the feeling of being stuck. Nothing seems to work. Self-doubt creeps in and I wonder what’s holding me back from the top.
Is it my technique or fitness or mindset?
I wish for a magical fast forward bottom, where my skills and muscles and thoughts all colluded to get me to the top. I consider giving up, but in the end I stay the course.
I keep trying until my legs give out and I’m falling before I even start the climb. I leave with several scrapes and bruises.
On the drive home I feel surprisingly good about the afternoon. I didn’t get much closer to making it to the top and I may never get there at this rate. The only way to find out is to keep trying.
I promise to go back the next day and the next. Every time I return to that rock garden I’m showing up for more than just mountain biking, I’m showing up for my life.
I decide on a new mantra.
I ride, I fall.
I ride, I climb.