What is it about the unique nature of human beings that leads someone to attempt the same stupid thing – repeatedly.
As highly evolved animals we certainly have the potential to learn from all our experiences weeding out the negative, painful, embarrassing ones, never to be repeated. I use the word potential advisedly….
For example say there was once a cyclist, a female mountain biker, maybe she even wore a skirt, who tackled a particularly tough trail one day, fell off and injured herself so badly she was bruised and broken for 9 whole months.
Now, learning from that, a clever person might say that mountain bike + gnarly trail + catastrophic injury = a good reason not to ride again, most especially that trail. Why not take up a safer hobby such as knitting and save future untold pain?
Or they could say…..
“Oh Crap, what on earth was I thinking?”
Bike to one side, standing on the edge of an alarmingly steep slope all I can see are the twisted, vicious roots writhing below me, dropping away with the gradient.
It’s nearly 18 months ago since I was last here but my arm throbs annoyingly as if to reinforce why, whilst my heart is beating a tattoo in my chest; breathing hard, I’m trying and failing not to go into an embarrassing full-blown meltdown.
Picking my way gingerly down the trail on foot I can still recall with alarming clarity the physical sensations of terror and panic mixed with the exquisite pain of a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist.
Until now I’ve studiously avoided this area. Nine months of that at least was spent healing, the rest has been spent building up strength, confidence and bike skills again.
In all other areas I’ve been making up for lost time on the bike though and since January I’ve ridden over 1000 road bike miles and pushed Bob the mountain bike to both our limits during 5 trail centre visits and one 24 hours race. I’ve ridden up and down mountains, I’ve jumped things, dropped off stuff, bounced, skidded and careened down steep rocky, muddy slopes in the pouring rain but what I’ve not done is gone back to that little patch of heathland that caused so much pain last year.
Now it’s time.
The idea took shape when a small group of us booked a couple of lessons with a local bike coach. We’d each had our fair share knocks and falls lately so the plan was to help develop our skills and make us safer/better/more in control riders.
A Herculean task for Thomas our poor coach, but one which he had tackled with both patience and humour. Over the course of a few short hours he’d miraculously infused us all with enough belief and a few skills to see us progress from blundering down obstacles with a quick prayer and shrieking brakes to some semblance of control and finesse.
Steep hills became drop offs, flown over not nosedived down and, most excitingly even a few dirt jumps had us soaring (briefly) through the air in a non-limb threatening manner.
Finally, all that remained was my nemesis, the crash site, something I wanted and needed to tackle if I was to progress on the bike. I was also fed up of avoiding a huge swathe of my usual riding ground in case I went near it.
Standing at the top of the trial though, trying and failing to control the panic, it wasn’t seeming like such a good idea. The steep, gnarly slope was made significantly worse when sitting on top of a bike whilst the line of descent required bouncing down and over one, two, three large tree roots in control enough to avoid slamming into a mass of others.
Route plotted, weight back, bounce steer, bounce steer, the other 2 people in the group made it look, if not easy, then at least do-able. But try as I might I couldn’t ride it.
It’s probably a credit to evolution that my mind is imploring my body not to do the ‘ouchy thing’ again. It’s maybe also a testament to human stubbornness and stupidity that I’m trying to override it.
I could leave it, come back another day, but I know in my heart if I don’t do it now it will be near impossible in the future.
Gritting my teeth I wobble up to the edge, look over and stop. Teetering on the brink. It’s no good, I need some momentum to carry this off, not too much but enough. I pull back and try again, slow pedal, slow pedal and. Stop.
I can’t do it but I can’t not. Aargh.
Trying to hold it together, in a last ditch attempt, I ask my fellow groups members and the coach to line themselves along the trail on foot. I’ve no idea if they would catch me but I feel safer somehow. All credit to them they do as I ask.
Deep breath, circle, turn, pedal and suddenly I know that this time I’m going down.
The lip of the slope approaches and the roots rear up, legs braced, weight back so that I’m hanging over the rear wheel and the bike is descending, bumping down over each root, arms and legs absorbing the impact text book fashion. Roots cleared I swerve and skid past the last of my ‘catchers’, yank on the brakes and half climb, half fall off of the bike in to a small, shaking heap.
Mission accomplished. I’m vaguely aware that I’m crying very un-tough girl tears but I don’t care. Mostly, I’m crying with relief but also with adrenalin and fear and I’m crying because the person with whom I most want to share the achievement is no longer around for me to tell.
Following on from my last post , it’s moments such as this that remind me so keenly of Andy’s loss. Afterall he was the one who first kindled my love mountain biking and he was the person who was with me when I crashed last year. He was with me when, broken limbed, I piloted the specially designed tandem disability tricycle and more happily on my first rides after healing. Despite his absence though I have a sense that somewhere, somehow, he knows.
All done it’s been a strange, exhausting and completely exhilarating experience but on the whole also a very cathartic one.
And finally, yes, there is a lot to be said for learning from experiences both good and bad and yes, maybe knitting would be a safer way to spend my time, but, maybe learning from an experience doesn’t always involve giving something up?
When you love doing something maybe learning from an experience can also mean learning in general. On the bike for example, for me it means learning how to become a better rider, more skilled and more confident certainly but also how to do things in a safer way and how to develop some much needed patience alongside ability.
So, I won’t be rushing back to my roots anytime soon, once was enough for now but they also now no longer hold the same fear they did which is liberating. Who knows, with all that extra coaching, maybe I’ll just start tackling those black runs instead…..!
Thanks to Thomas at Jurassic Coach for his expert knowledge, teaching and photography and to Mike, for being there to catch me when I need it most.