How Teaching My Wife to Mountain Bike Changed Our Marriage
When I heard guttural, animalistic screams, I knew I had messed up.
It was a humid summer afternoon and the sky over Pisgah National Forest was bruised purple-pink with glints of honey-yellow lightning. Mighty oaks swayed, flashing the whites of their leaves like gleaming teeth. A storm was coming. Which is why I had decided to cut short the mountain biking adventure my wife and I were on.
Rather than finish the nine-mile loop we had intended, I juked left at a fork and took us down a black diamond. The shortcut, I figured, would shave two or more miles off the day. Selfishly, I also wanted a taste of gnar—even if my wife, Ashley, wasn’t quite ready for it.
About a year prior, I had introduced my then-girlfriend to the bloody, sweat-soaked world of mountain biking. After a quick lesson, Ashley hopped on an old bike of mine and, slowly, ever so cautiously, pedaled down a loamy trail, scrupulously averting every single pebble, twig, and rut in sight.
I was impressed by her self-preservation. To me, mountain biking was a form of masochism—the more cuts and scrapes I accrued, the more badass I felt. That being said, I quickly grew bored of our very careful, painstakingly slow rides. I lusted for adrenaline—the dizzying blur of waxy green rhododendrons and paprika-tinted clay.
Sure, I could’ve left my dearest at home. Or snuck in a ride or two when she was at work. But, as is typical in most budding relationships, I wanted to share everything with her—hobbies, tattered socks, and even that very last artisanal donut with the lemon-herb filling. (Upon second thought, maybe being single is better?) So, I reined in my rides.
On our days off, we stuck to gentle singletrack and gravel forest service roads. All the while, I taught her the basics: body positioning, braking, shifting, trail etiquette, and how to pick a line. After a month or two, Ashley came to love the sport. But since she was still hesitant, we never white-knuckled down menacing trails.
But then came that fateful day in Pisgah. As thunder rolled and lightning cracked, I made a split-second decision and veered toward the quicker, more pucker-worthy route.
“Is this trail hard?” My wife shouted from behind, her voice wavering.
“Nah,” I offered sheepishly, squaring my shoulders and preparing for knee-deep ruts and roots the size of my thighs. “It’s not too bad.”
At this point in the story, you’re probably judging me. And that’s OK. Go ahead and call me an asshole—because I am. I knew I was the Pied Piper of a soon-to-be wrathful lesbian. But I just couldn’t keep denying myself adventure.
This is the stuff of life, I thought. This is what my soul needs.
So, rather than ride my brakes, constantly twisting my head backward to make sure my wife hadn’t impaled herself on a spruce snag, I let loose and allowed my bike to careen down the blushingly steep incline. As the tires kicked up dirt and fist-sized rocks, I giggled maniacally. This is the stuff of life, I thought. This is what my soul needs.
My joy was short-lived though. As I navigated a tight turn, the forest let loose a beastly bellow—something akin to a dying cat or shanked boar. Instantly, I skidded to a halt, blood thumping loud in my ears.
I waited, thinking maybe the cry was a manifestation of my subconscious. But when I heard another howl, I tossed my bike into the laurels and started sprinting as fast as I could.
Luckily, she wasn’t seriously hurt. Minus a gashed leg and some bruises, she escaped unscathed. As for her trust in me? That had taken a decent blow.
About half a mile up the trail, my wife lay in a pile of bramble, nursing a bloodied shin. Between expletives, Ashley explained how she had lost control and went over the bars. Luckily, she wasn’t seriously hurt. Minus a gashed leg and some bruises, she escaped unscathed. As for her trust in me? That had taken a decent blow.
“Lauren,” she shouted, sweat dripping off her forehead, “what were you thinking? Were you trying to kill me?”
Stewing in guilt, all I could croak out was a barely audible “I’m sorry.” I knew the gravity of my blunder. Overcome by a selfish desire to shred, I had forced my wife to tackle something she wasn’t ready for. And, in doing so, I had put her in harm’s way.
But as we walked our bikes back to the car in silence, I realized I had made another mistake months back: I had lost myself.
Compromise is normal in a relationship, necessary even. Yet there’s a fine line between giving too much and giving too little, and I had crossed that line. In the starry-eyed zeal of the honeymoon stage, I had stopped riding how I loved to ride. I had dropped my pace, started picking more palatable trails, and even eschewed my almost daily post-work adventure for nights in.
Now, let it be known that my wife is a very understanding and supportive person. She would never ask me to change any aspect of myself. But when you enter a marriage, it’s very easy to get caught up in the “we” and forget the “I.” Your independence gets overshadowed by partnership. Over time, that can cause you to make some dumb decisions, like taking your spouse down a life-threatening stretch of singletrack.
Luckily, we made amends. In the months after that mountain biking incident, Ashley and I made a pact to do more stuff by ourselves. Now, I’ll go for a ride or hike while she reads or watches a movie. We’ve learned an important lesson: Aloneness can bring two people closer together.
After the incident, Ashley and I made another pact too: Whenever we do go mountain biking as a couple, we always stick to the pre-planned route. No shortcuts, ever.
Cover Photo: After saying “I do,” the author learns the importance of solo rides. Photo By the Author