Outdoor Beginner Goes Mountain Biking

Before a recent work trip to Fruita [FYI this is my day job], the grantees we were meeting enthusiastically offered to take my boss and me mountain biking. We were going there to learn about a trails project we helped fund, and let’s be real, maps and schematics around a conference table only go so far.

Except I’ve never been mountain biking, and I’m kind of a scaredy-cat.

Sure, I bike to work on what could technically be classified as a mountain bike. But I ride on pretty flat, and more importantly, paved surfaces. Also, I don’t like going downhill quickly.

Being an anxiously polite person, I didn’t want to say no, and I definitely didn’t want to back out since I’d already said yes to a bike ride (because, like an idiot, I assumed he meant on a paved bike path.

Being an East Coast transplant with a complex about not being a “real” Coloradan, I didn’t want to wimp out. Being a person who works for an outdoor recreation-oriented organization with a very high standard of customer service, I didn’t want to turn down our grantees.

But I also didn’t want to make an ass of myself.

So obviously I said,  “Yes, of course, we would love to go mountain biking!!!!” and asked my MTB-experienced coworkers what the likelihood of me breaking my collarbone was. I also crossed my fingers that my boss would not fire me when she realized what I had just signed her up for since she had not ridden a bike since third grade.

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Spoiler alert: We both survived, collarbones (and pride) intact. It certainly helped that we had some of the most genuinely delightful people to ride with who were eager to help us learn, which is all any beginner can hope for.

They made sure we knew not to ride the left-hand brake lever, since that wildly increased our chances of flipping over. Much to my chagrin, they also emphasized that you need speed to get over rocks, and lack of speed also increases your chances of flipping or falling.

This was actually exactly how our grantee’s wife had flipped her bike and broke her elbow. Which she told us the story of as we drove to the trailhead [cue me getting fear-sweats in the backseat].

Despite the harrowing tale of the shattered elbow, this woman was a literal godsend. I would argue she was the sole reason I got through my white-knuckled four-mile loop and was pretty sure I had a great time. Her enthusiastic cries of “Trust the bike! Trust yourself! You’ve got this, you’re doing great!” buoyed me through the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced, ranging from:

“This scenery is stunning and I can’t believe I am here.” (Everywhere I looked)

“I’m going to die, I’m definitely going to die.” (Anytime I went downhill, around a turn, or over a large rock)

“I am such a badass.” (Immediately after not dying in any of the above circumstances)

“This is so fun! I totally get the appeal.” (Flat surfaces with minimal turning)

Fortunately, I ended on “I’m really proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and for trying this.”

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Willing to babysit me through my first mountain biking experience AND take pictures that make me look 1000% more hardcore than I am? Guardian angels are real, y’all.
I’m not sure I have the… gumption to really get into this sport. But I also thought I would never be one of those idiots who ran up trails instead of just walking, and now I genuinely enjoy trail running.

Which reminds me, just like in trail running, mountain biking’s best-kept secret is that they walk too! The phrase “If you aren’t hiking, you aren’t biking!” was uttered more times I can count, and there was a section of trail that no one in our party biked because it was over their heads.

The biggest learning curve in mountain biking is all the mental effort that goes into it. Steering, shifting gears, maintaining momentum, picking your lines – it’s a lot to think about. When you run, you can just zone out for the most part and put one foot in front of the other. Not so much with mountain biking.

Oh, and my boss? The one who I thought was going to strangle me for suggesting this hair-brained idea in the first place? She crushed it!

The very last part of the trail we rode was a lot of rolling, sweeping turns that were mostly downhill. I was freaking out for most of that section because, as I mentioned before, I am a big baby about going “fast” downhill [see: the number of times I’ve cried while learning to ski].

My boss had a blast and was totally into it, while I was still trying to figure out whether I had enjoyed what we just did or was just riding an adrenaline rush from doing something that pushed my boundaries. We could both agree on one thing, though. Mountain biking is totally badass. And we never want to leave Fruita.

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