I have a couple of high school friends to thank for getting me on a mountain bike, and for an early introduction to the concept of just getting on with it. As a kid I had pad asthma, so sports were something from which I was sheltered. When I started mountain biking with friends, we had a lot of fun, and I saw I was able to push myself harder and further than I had thought possible.
Pretty quickly, bikes turned into a key aspect of my life. I ended up taking a job as a bike mechanic at a shop. I built trails both on a volunteer and paid basis. I travelled through eastern Africa and Europe working as staff on bicycle tours. I started writing about bikes and riders, and occasionally shooting photos of bikes. I went back to South Africa for more bike fun. I covered cycling for the London 2012 Olympics, and Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. I’ve developed my life around this core of cycling.
And somewhere along the line I got discouraged and more or less stopped riding.
In fact, it’s happened a couple of times. In the first instance, I bought a new bike and used the whole “I have fancy new gear,” thing to kickstart my interest again. I couldn’t really afford the bike at the time, but bought it anyway.
More recently, I haven’t been willing to make so rash a decision, so I’ve made things fresh by switching to flat pedals after 17 years of riding clipped in. It’s actually made some of the old challenges easier, while adding in a fun new element that makes things feel like a fresh start.
I also took part in the Quebec Singletrack Experience – a seven-day stage race on trail networks surrounding Quebec City. I went in underprepared, and basically rode myself into shape. I was forced to do distances and elevations that seemed wildly out of reach. But I made it to the end of every stage, and rode some amazing trails. I met some great people and had a lot of fun. At the end of each hard day, I felt more and more like I belong on a bike, like I can legitimately call myself a rider.
That same week, I got some horrible news that a friend had taken his own life earlier in the week. He and I had loose plans to ride in August or September. He was also a person who was there for me when I needed it, though his help went unrecognized.
The next two days of riding in Quebec went at a snail’s pace. At what would normally have been moderate speeds, I was making dangerous mistakes because I was thinking about my friend instead of the riding. After nearly going headfirst into a rock garden, I realized I needed a time out. I slowed down, and soft pedalled everything while I looked to refocus on the riding. The focus came in fits and starts, and then would vanish again. Finally, on the last day of riding, it came together. It wasn’t the best riding I’ve ever done, but was great to push a little and have some fun.
The last few days, I’ve gotten out for a couple of rides, and have found greater endurance and skill than even just a few weeks ago. I’m having fun again, and it shows. After riding on Monday with Marc, he texted to say, “glad to see you smiling at the end. You rode great.”
It’s easy to get hung up looking at the roots and rocks right in front of you on the trail. You loose momentum, and falter. You can start to doubt yourself. But take a longer view, keep pedalling, let the bike run, and soon enough, you’ll find you’ve gone a long way through some difficult obstacles.