They are a familiar sight on the trail: one in the lead, face bright with exertion as he pedals up the hill, followed by another rider walking the bike.
One’s attitude is tenacious and his pace undeterred by the incline, the rough rocks or the heat. The second rider, meanwhile, looks murderous – or rather, capable of murder if he or she could only catch a breath. This stereotypical pair appears again and again: one is goading, the other struggling. Why is it such a common sight?
Admittedly, if my husband and I were to go mountain biking, I would be the one concocting arsenic-based casserole recipes as I struggled along. I’m not at ease on a bike. I’d be huffing and puffing, stopping far more frequently than he’d like and walking every uphill-downhill-bumpy bit. Luckily for me (and our marriage), we’ve never given this a try. Instead, my family and I taught him how to ride a dirt bike. I had the advantage: by the time we put his six-foot- three frame on an XR100, I’d been riding for a decade. It was immediately apparent, though, that while he was cautious he was also a natural. It did not take long for him to graduate to a better-fitting bike. Soon he was navigating technical spots on his own (as much due to skill as necessity because his bike was now too tall for me to take through tough spots). It was at this point that I began to think about our dynamic on the trail. Had my husband learned to ride earlier, I imagined, he would be in the lead, encouraging me to try something new and challenging. I told him as much as we sat on a rock overlooking town on the Slickrock Trail. I tapped the dirt bike wheel with my boot as I explained my theory.
“You do seem more confident … more ‘gung-ho’ than me,” I finished.
“More confident?” He laughed, brushing sand from his hands as he straightened up. “Are you kidding? I’m holding on for dear life! You make this look easy.”
“That’s only because I’ve been doing it for a while,” I said, shrugging his comment off. “And the trail I know pretty well at this point.” Even so, I thought, you must notice when I take an awkward line, or hit a ledge wrong…
“Fair enough,” he interrupted my thoughts. “But you sure look comfortable to me.”
Our conversation highlighted three necessary factors for riding, or for any sport: interest, experience and personality. For my husband, interest in riding with me and an eager, venturesome personality made it possible for him to overcome his lack of experience. At this point in my life, I have interest in and experience with riding, but perhaps not the personality for it. I’m cautious to a fault, and had the experience not been handed to me at a young age, I would likely not take up dirt biking today.
Just recently we had another sports-related conversation, this time about a friend’s trip to the Caribbean. On this trip she went diving for the first time.
“We should try that someday,” my husband ventured.
“Oh God, no. No, no, no thank you,” I countered. “Not for me.” He raised his eyebrows.
“Have you ever tried it before?” He asked.
“No, but the whole idea freaks me out,” I said conclusively. My husband chuckled.
“So it’s a ‘no’ then?”
Yes, it was an instant, knee-jerk “no.” My lack of experience and careful personality had blotted out any interest in diving, yet the idea stayed in my mind. How would I feel about diving had I grown up with it? Am I only able to enjoy those things which I first learned at a young age, when the fall to the ground was shorter and the bounce back easier? If I followed that rule, then the next 60 years would be fairly uninteresting. It was then that I thought back to that stereotypical pair on the trail. It seems that along with the huffing and puffing, the second rider has something I need: nerve. He may not have experience. He may not even have keen interest, if the ride was a friend or partner’s idea. But he does have the desire to try something new, even if that means feeling intimidated, out of his element or just really, really tired.
Honestly, I probably won’t attempt ocean diving anytime soon. I’m not quite ready for a fish to sneak up on me. But on dry land it’s time to go up against the unfamiliar. It’s time to feel, at the end of the day, the satisfaction of having made it back in one piece. Mountain biking, anyone?
Suzanne Klein is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.
“At this point in my life, I have interest in and experience with riding, but perhaps not the personality for it.”