Little known fact – I’m an avid mountain biker. I started back in the late 1990s in the Appalachian Mountains on a GT Panterra hard tail…and SPD cleats, the cheap ones. I fell all the time. I ate so much dirt and mud and sand and concrete; I started to consider them a food group.
But I loved it. I stayed with it. In the last 20+ years, I have ridden all over the US and BC. I mostly hung with “the dudes.” I cried often. I got left behind every ride. I suffered endlessly.
I rode with a lot of different people. I discovered I don’t like groups. I have no patience for posers. I have little tolerance for a chatty-Cathy on my hip all day. And I will do almost anything to avoid riding elevation…unless there is a really sweet downhill on the other end.
But I never really sealed my bond with mountain biking until I started riding alone, every week, miles on miles. The quiet. The adrenaline. The solitude of a PWN fall morning. Mud, more mud, snotty roots, and more mud.
So it was with great reservation that I accepted an invitation to ride with a long time friend, Michael. I was a lone wolf rider…but, so was Michael. So out of curiosity and a little bit of trail boredom, I met Michael at the trail head one damp Saturday morning.
Riding alone for all those years I wreaked, a lot. However, self-preservation taught me to get back up, straighten out the alignment, and keep riding. So while I rode often and with great enthusiasm, I wasn’t a great rider…Strong? Yes. – Skilled? Not so much.
As a result, riding with Michael was a worry for me. And I told him, “Hey…Ummm, I fall a lot.” Michael was not phased and went on with some allegory about learning and falling and getting back up. We rode together for many years. Quiet companionship. One lone wolf learning from the other.
True to my statement, I fell …frequently. Stutter steps, anticipation, fatigue…whatever the cause Michael waited patiently without judgment while I righted myself. Michael learned quickly that grunts were not cause for stopping, while long sentence profanities loaded with f-bombs were a signal for a rest.
Besides all the skills, tips, and tricks I learned from Michael, the greatest gift was learning to fall in front of others. Not gracefully with efficiency…but stupid, hard-hitting wipe-outs. The kind that cost you cool points.
Michael showed me it was OK to fail…spectacularly.
With every frustrating root slide, creek plunge, end-over, and tree collision, Michael embraced the learning. Covered in mud, dripping sweat, and losing blood was an opportunity to learn and directly apply that lesson.
One thing is universally true about failing; it hurts the same the first time as it does the 100th. The pain doesn’t change. What you do with the pain does.
I think of those rides often…and falling and getting back up. I reflect on those rides every time I fail in life. I think about Michael's stories about falling, getting back up, and learning.
If you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.
So ride on, people. And Michael…Thanks for being my fail-buddy.