How to be a Respectable Newb

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Learning an adventure sport as an adult is like trying Indian food for the first time. You usually don’t know what most of the words mean, you’re too embarrassed to ask, so you take a leap of faith and order “whatever s/he’s having” only to realize, mid-meal, that your palette, or your gut, just can’t handle the heat.

At least, that’s how I’ve felt for the past few months on my bike.

For whatever reason, it took me until last summer to finally invest some energy into mountain biking. It’s not like I have an aversion to riding bikes (or, in case you were wondering, curry) — in college, I used to ride 20 miles one way on a dinky Trek to my job at Adventure Damascus.

But prior to this past year, my only memory of truly mountain biking was back in 2013 when I followed some of the Brevard area’s best riders around DuPont State Forest for a story on “Wheels and Waterfalls.” I’d never written about mountain biking before, never ridden a mountain bike on anything besides sidewalks and paved roads. Knowing this, my editor assigned me not only to write the story but to also experience it. So I grabbed a loaner from Sycamore Cycles and hit the trail.

At the time, I was so consumed with not wrecking and landing on the thousands of dollars of camera equipment on my back, the only thing I could think was mountain biking sucks. Roots, rocks, switchback after switchback. My hands were so gripped on the brakes I couldn’t hold a pen right for days. I vowed to stick with kayaking after that.

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Fast forward to last May when I hit the road full time. As days turned to weeks turned to months, I began to realize that I was spending more time by myself than in the company of others. The thought that maybe it was time to pick up a new hobby started taking root. Logistically, going kayaking and climbing by myself was just not an option. Running hurts my knees. I hate hiking. I’d rather lay by a lake and read than swim across it. Yoga’s great when the weather sucks. What else was left but riding bikes?

Enter Violet, my beloved 29er I picked up from Adventure Damascus.

To say that mountain biking has become my latest addiction would not be an overstatement. Now, that’s not to say it doesn’t scare the complete shit out of me. But on a nice day, I find myself debating whether to ride or to paddle. I dream about flowy downhills and (manageable) drops. I crave long rides in the saddle watching the scenery fly by and the miles rack up. Heck, I even enlisted the help of mountain biking guru Sue Haywood to help me get in shape for my first-ever races, Six Hours of Arrowhead (which was just this past Saturday), the Big Bear 2×12, and the crowned jewel of the summer (for me at any rate), the Captain Thurmond Challenge in the New River Gorge.

Despite all of this, I still suck on a bike.

Photo by Chris Jackson Photography.
Photo by Chris Jackson Photography.

As I stood at the ready waiting to start my first lap on the Arrowhead loop last weekend, I eyeballed the other racers in their matching kits and clipless shoes with envy. Maybe they weren’t great riders (I was never fast enough to find out), but at least they looked the part. Clad in baggies, a cotton tee, and flats, I’ve never felt more like a poser in my life.

What am I doing? I thought ten miles in, already red in the face, exhausted, and soaked in sweat. I have no business being here.

Six hours later, I realized I had every right to be in that race, novice or not. Sure, my laps were a good half hour slower than the top riders, and yes I did wipe out and rub elbows with trees, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about picking up new hobbies “later in life,” it’s this: there are two paths of rookiedom — you’re either a newb or you’re a noob.

If you’re unsure of the difference between the two, I’ve consulted the definitive resource for slang definitions, Urban Dictionary, to clear the air.

Newb is the abbreviation of Newbie, a term describing someone who is new at a game/forum/activity. Not to be confused with noob, an annoying ignorant bastard.

Newbs are meant to be nurtured and cared for, lest they become a noob. If you deal with a newb carefully, they may become a respected member of any community.

In short, it’s okay to be a newb. Just not a noob.

If you’re going to suck, do it right. Here are seven ways to be a respectable newb.

1. Spread the stoke.

Everybody loves people who are stoked, especially if you’re just getting into a sport. Nothing makes for a good-day-turned-bad like an epic beat down and a sour attitude to boot. So, yes, you may get your ass handed to you more often than you’d like, and yes, there may be some elementary-age teasing reminiscent of those childhood memories you’d all but suppressed, but keep a smile on your face and it’ll all be good. And don’t worry. There’s no such thing as too much stoke…usually.

2. Bum gear.

Don’t go out and buy the priciest, top-of-the-line stuff you can afford the day you decide you’re going to pick up kayaking. If anything, it’ll only heighten your reputation as a noob if you swim through a rapid in an Immersion Research drysuit and lose your matching, brand spankin’ new Adventure Technology paddle in the mix. Newbs bum gear and borrow boats or demo bikes. Your bank account will thank you.

3. Feed the fear.

There is nothing pleasant about starting from ground zero after you’ve already become competent in other hobbies or sports. It can be frustrating, degrading, humbling, humiliating. But more than likely, you’ve decided to pick up a new sport for cross-training purposes, to have an off-season option, in light of a recent injury, or for the simple fact that you’re bored. It’s good to be scared. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Embrace that fear. Don’t shy away from it, but listen to your instinct. You should be with people who support either decision.

4. Repeat after me: you don’t know it all.

Really, none of us do, but especially if you’re a newb who pretends to know it all, you become a noob by default. Seek out advice and be patient with those who supply it. You may have to decipher the bro-talk later.

5. Don’t apologize.

Even the Chris Sharmas and Sue Haywoods of the world were considered amateurs at one point. Everybody has to start somewhere. The more you apologize, the less likely you’ll receive an invite back. Take your carnage, pick up the pieces, and carry on. Your apology is not accepted.

6. Buy the beer.

After all, it’s the least you can do for the crew that waited for you at every trail intersection or chased your gear downstream. Nothing says “thank you” like an ice cold beverage.

7. Walk the talk.

In the paddling world, we call them “club boaters.” They’re the people who have all of the gear, follow all of the forums, talk all of the talk, but rarely paddle. Don’t be the club boater of your sport. Get out there and take your lickings. At least you can say you tried.

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Have any other suggestions for newbs? Leave ’em in the comments below!

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