It’s been nearly two months since the greatest thing in the world walked into my life.
Or, I guess I should say, with the help of my friends at Adventure Damascus, it rolled on in.
And let’s clarify – it is not an it. It is a she. And her name is Violet.
From the moment I saw her, I knew we would share some amazing times together. I was a little fearful at first and, to be completely honest, I still am, especially when it comes to downhill. It’s been said that mountain biking is where kayakers go to get hurt. After just two rides with Violet, I found that statement to be 100% true. If I’m not flying OTB or crashing into rhodo, chances are the backs of my calves are studded with bloody imprints from my feet flying off the pedals.
And yet, as twisted as it sounds, I kinda dig that. If you’ve picked up this month’s issue of the magazine, you may have read my piece on gratitude. In the article, I give thanks for the uncomfortable scenarios in life, especially within the adventure realm. Beat downs, swims, the raccoon that ate your food, the flat you got ten miles from the trailhead… Those bumps in the road, the times you think “are you f*cking kidding me?”, I’m grateful for those moments.
I know. It’s strange. But allow me to explain.
While I certainly get my fair share of humbling episodes from the cockpit of my kayak, those “oh shit” moments come a lot more frequently in the saddle (likely due to the fact that I feel entirely out of control on a bike). But it’s in overcoming those challenges, in staring fear and doubt straight in the face and saying, “step aside,” that I feel the greatest sense of achievement and purpose. No matter the humiliating spread-eagle-sprawl I seemingly always revisit on my rides. Who cares that my boof stroke looks more like an intentional attempt at a piton? The extremely overplayed statement of “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” may be cliché but it’s damn near spot-on. What appears and oftentimes feels like the biggest failure is anything but – it’s an opportunity to learn and charge harder next time.
I’m lucky. Violet is a patient teacher. She doesn’t mind that I essentially ride the brakes anytime there’s downhill movement. She doesn’t mind that my friends are whipping around berms while I’m struggling to simply stay on the trail. I’m sure she’s a little frustrated with my weenie-dom, but she never lets on.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, memories of childhood are, for me, largely defined by time spent in a saddle of a different sort. I grew up on a racehorse farm in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia, and by the time I was two years old, I had my own pony – Misty (who, amazingly, is still kicking it). I did the Pony Club thing, showed in events, rode horses that cost more than my Jeep Cherokee, got dumped by horses that cost less than a Deuter pack, but ultimately found my peace sans-saddle, galloping through the empty hayfields in my backyard.
Horses are expensive though (and they would likely die if you left them in a garage for months on end while you went kayaking), so, upon entering college, I ditched the horse world and enveloped myself in outdoor recreation. While I love kayaking and climbing and all-things-outdoors, there’s still a large part of my soul that will forever be in those hayfields, yearning to gallop free.
That’s why I like biking. Riding a bike is, in very subtle ways, like riding a horse, except, a bike doesn’t need food and water (also, bikes have brakes…a pissed-off mare does not). When I go for a bike ride, something latches onto me from within and pushes me to press on, no matter the burning in my thighs or the intricate sprawl of roots and rocks that lay, seemingly impassable, before me. What I love about mountain biking is that it reinforces a fact I often lose sight of in daily life – there is a way. There is a line, a path of least resistance. This doesn’t mean that way is necessarily easy, or that in choosing that path, you won’t be affronted with a new set of hurdles. But it’s comforting to know that there is a way nonetheless.
There are options, too, and no one path is the same for everyone. You can look no further than the tip of your nose and deal with the bumps as they come or you can scan ahead, strategically choosing your line before you ever get to the starting gate. You can barrel through and hold on for the ride, or you can take your time and pick your way down. Heck, you can even get off and plop down in a pile of sun-crunched leaves and not move a muscle if that’s what you’re feeling.
As humans, we have an immeasurable amount of freedom in our lives that we too often never fully take advantage of. We start our lives wild and free, letting the magic of the world around us guide our days. As we grow older, we rope ourselves in, reining back that sense of limitless possibility for a structured work week of self-imposed expectations, responsibilities, worries, disappointments. My time outdoors, whether it’s scaring myself on a trail with Violet or taking a quick hike, is my only means of combatting that cloud of confusion and contradiction. It’s my only means of bursting through the doubt and reminding myself that if there is one thing in this world that I have total control over, it’s me.
I’m no expert here, on a bike or on life, but I’ve experienced enough of both to know that some days everything falls into place, everything seems easy, “meant to be,” if you will, while other days feel more like someone glued a bad-juju-magnet to my forehead attracting every single mishap I can possibly fathom. It’s on those days, during those times of helpless frustration and angst, that I head to the hills. When it’s just me, my bike, and I, I remember that there will always be roots and rocks and obstacles unforeseen, but that there will also always be a way.
Said friends, riding said berms. From Bent Creek to Pisgah, Tsali, Deep Creek, and Lake James, Violet’s been getting a lot of trail time in western North Carolina.