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Not Afraid to Fall

Outside my car window, the Sandy Ridge trailhead parking lot is sparsely populated and motionless: SUVs, Subarus and compact sporty cars, most adorned with Yakima and Thule racks, the sheen of some vehicles indicative of a 3,500 square foot lifestyle to match, others bearing a film of grime, stickered back windows, nicks and dents acquired from years of compulsive back road travel. Beyond this concrete circle a young evergreen forest canopies a playground of 30+ miles of well-maintained mountain bike trails, an old logging road dissecting it: the only artery to the top.

I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my own Suby, my essential gear to my right contrasting the all black interior, and my trusty steed laying prostrate in the back, car seats down to accommodate, dog fur cushioning her frame. My window is down to let in the air and I hear the car crackle as it’s old engine cools.

I’m here alone, again, something typically reserved only for the hard-core boys. Wilderness mountain biking is a risky sport, especially for a beginner like me. As smooth and flowy and fun as a downhill run can feel, in a second a slippery root could send you ass over handlebars or head-on into a tree. But I ignore the risks, modify my expectations, accommodate, because I am in love: with this bike, with the dirt, with the dance between body, bike, and earth that forces your mind to give in, flow with the dance of it, or fall to the ground.

As a beginner, falling is inevitable as you negotiate obstacles, test your body’s natural suspension without overthinking it. But sometimes her voice takes over. My mom. She is intimidation when I meet fifty times more boys than girls on the trail and I slow to let them pass. She is my hands hitting the break, slowing to a halt at a rollover boulder I know I can handle. She is the mind fuck that forces lists of backup plans in exchange for the life I want to live; the belief that nobody wants to hire you as I send off resume after resume post-layoff; the impending doom of money running out because you are a fraud, a no nothing, a zero-talent fake. She pulls the brake. Pulls the God Damn brake.

As I look back I realize how often I’ve pulled that brake. How often I’ve wavered between intuition and fear. How many years I’ve wasted letting her voice stifle mine. Ass over handlebars.

I reach over to grab my shoes from the passenger side floor. It’s March and I’m not in the shape I want to be. My arms are fat. My skin is pasty white. I feel unfit. But my heart is beginning to race with anticipation, as if dressing for a first date.

Outside a breeze has picked up. The pines above have sprinkled a film of needles onto the windshield. I study the curved glass in front of me, focusing in on the copper color of the pine debris now obstructing my view. Tracing the glass, I find a small crack in the upper right side I hadn’t seen before. Compulsive back road travel.

The clouds have opened up and a streak of warm sunshine hits my face. You can’t get there unless you put in the work. Three laps, minimum, fast and loose and flowy. You’ve got this. I look over to the trailhead and I welcome the butterflies in my gut. I know today I can keep her voice quiet, I can instead listen to the rhythm and the wind and my body. Today, I’m not afraid to fall. I have the scars to prove it.


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