This story starts on the road.
About 5 years ago, I bought a bike. He was an Avanti hybrid, cost me about $600 and his name was Mike. I hadn’t ridden since I was 8, I’d never used gears or handle-bar brakes, and I was pet.ri.fied of everything. Christy and I decided to train for a duathlon and a fun ride, so she and her road bike and me and Mike used to head out around the bays in the mornings. We usually went about 10k, which was enough on a hybrid! Once, Mike and I had a big adventure, going all the way around the bays and back. I packed lunch in my backpack, and must have thrown a drink bottle in too. To get from my house on Roxburgh Street to “The Bays” I walked Mike down the Hood Street steps, crossed at the pedestrian crossing, and headed out from there. I avoided traffic lights, and I rode back home along the (shared) footpath. I didn’t like to travel downhill any faster than about 18kph.
It wasn’t long before Mike got upgraded. A friend who was getting into tris had a new road bike, so I got her slightly more-roady hybrid for a while. Although she was a lot more confident on the bike, I was in good shape, so we could ride together happily. We’d head around the bays, with me following her through traffic, and we’d always do an out and back, avoiding Kilbirnie entirely. I was still using flat pedals and braking all the way down even the easiest of hills.
I got my first road bike (Christy’s) in 2006. That year, I started using clipless pedals and completed my first three triathlons. At the New Plymouth tri, I found out how fun it was to cruise downhill without braking (ok, without braking “much”). I was still terrified of stopping, and at all of races that year I had some form of slightly embarrassing dismount. In terms of training, I stuck to the Bays. Whenever I went somewhere else in Wellington I wound up regretting it. But Phil and I also did our first hundred k ride in the Naki, and I started to like the bike.
2007 was about the marathon. The bike stayed on the trainer, while Phil took his out for massive adventures in faraway places I couldn’t even imagine going. The Akas, Haywards and Blue Mountains all sounded like fun, but the motorway, traffic lights, downhills and lane changes put me right off.
In 2008, I upgraded twice. I gave Christy’s old bike to my sister and starting riding the road bike my friend had upgraded to in 2006. I finally got used to making my way around by myself, and managed a few adventures with Phil. I was still terrified of hills and traffic, but I got used to them, and started to feel my confidence improve. I upgraded my pedals, and my speedplays increased my confidence immeasurably. I rode down the steepest freaking hill in Wellington on an unplanned detour and while I cursed Phil and just about burst into tears over it, I made it, and all of a sudden the windy bits coming down from the prison didn’t seem so bad. I bought Eric late in 2009, broke him in quickly, and raced the Rotorua Half Ironman in December.
I’m still not a confident cyclist. My speeds are abysmal. I still can’t get up a hill without going all out. I have to psych myself up to drink (hence the long ride Camelbak), and opening and eating a whole muesli bar on the go kept me celebrating for a good ten minutes. I certainly can’t “attack” on a steep hill. Before I ride with or without Phil we drive the course or discuss it at length, analysing every little “tricky” bit. I ask “so, when do I change lanes?” and sometimes (including last Sunday) I whimper “never mind I can’t do it, I’ll just call you and you can rescue me.” I still usually have a quiet moment of nerves before setting out.
But now I do it. When I’m going up a steep hill I remember how Tarawera Road felt on bonked dead legs. I don’t pike out because it’s raining and I don’t sit numbly on a trainer for two hours because I’m too scared to ride alone. Every ride I do is a small victory and I’m getting better and better.
So- mountain biking..
I suck at mountain biking. I spend at least the first half hour of every ride refusing to believe in my gut that a mountain bike can actually ride over roots. Even big ones. I grip the handle bars and grit my teeth, and I spend the whole time entirely focussed on the trail. I get passed by little kids and get frustrated when I can’t get started again. I panic at the top of (very wee) hills and walk down them, and sometimes can’t get the momentum to get up the other side. I brake even when it’s utterly counterproductive. I’m lucky if all I have is a flash of nerves instead of an all out pouty tantrum.
But it’s only been a few months since I won the bike (it doesn’t have a name yet, which means it probably never will), and by the end of every mountain biking excursion I feel like I’ve improved, just a tad. And with all of the small victories adding up, one day I may be as confident on the MTB as I am on the road, and on a further day still, I may actually be a bit good at either of them.
All my life I’ve been good at stuff and if I haven’t succeeded, I’ve given up. I go mountain biking to remind myself that I can do it. Whatever “it” is.