Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Zen and the Art of Mountain Biking #1

Okay, so there is this real rooty tree at Hanchurch, where I go mtbing with my boyfriend, it was always one of those obstacles that bumped my heart up into my mouth, but just lately it really seems to be making a nuisance of itself to me. So what is a girl to do when a little ole tree gets bigger, greener and meaner than the hulk on steroids?
Hanchurch Woods is a really popular spot for mtbikers from all around the region, even coming from further afield for some great, technical single track trails. It's been a long-term, firm fave of my boyfriend so it was only natural that he would want to us bike it together. We're lucky in that it's only a 20min/10km road-ride and we're there. In the 3months I've been mtbiking we've been there a couple of dozen times and every time I love it. I can easily see the attraction that draws local mtbike clubs over on a weekly basis, among the many more riders we pass by each and every time. There's a challenge for everyone in the varied forest terrain.
A quick snap of Dave at one of his fave spots

The single-track trail is a mtbikers delight left by the trail fairies in the middle of the night, it's packed with steep climbs, windy descents and plenty of technical obstacles to keep you on your toes. Admittedly, I baled on many a climb in the beginning, but as soon as I knew I my lungs were not going to implode halfway up I started to attack each ascent with gusto - including The Damn Rooty Tree (The DRT for ease of reference in future). I'm sure you all know the kind (and probably fly past without a thought), it sticks it's roots out most inconsiderately - creating a 2ft high doorstep to get over, followed immediately by a u-turn to avoid another large root, if you navigate correctly and maintain the torque you continue up a steep, sandy climb ('The rooty climb' on Strava), it's a great challenge to get the adrenaline pumping. I've ridden this particular patch god knows how many times, which made it all the more frustrating when my problems all kicked in about 3weeks ago.
I had my 1st fall a couple of weeks before my issues with The DRT began. I'd been riding clipless for a couple of weeks and had been waiting for my 1st fall while clipped in, to be honest after it happened I felt relieved and a little bit invincible! I'd built it up as something short of horrendous, life-threatening, so when it finally happened - I hit a ditch and bounced across the road on my behind and straight up onto my feet, then back on my bike. 'Is that it?' I thought. After that I suppose I got a bit cocky and more than a bit careless (my boyfriend will agree - I even got a bit cocky with him). Slowly but surely, the accidents began to happen, silly little slips and I almost came a cropper once or twice, but when I hit The DRT and fell something happened...I remembered the bloody thing didn't I?  The more I tried to forget, the more I seemed to remember and make a bee-line for it. 'Stop thinking about it!' Dave would say, as my blood and tensions rose; 'Duh! You don't say?' Poor Dave got the unfair ear-bashing and The DRT got the wheel-bashing, again and again. I just couldn't get it out of my head, until it became an issue larger than life and everything else was just filling time inbetween hitting The DRT.  I could do this part, I had done this part, what the hell was wrong with me?
To say I'd hit a psychological brick-wall (The DRT - my nemesis!) was an understatement. My confidence took a nose-dive (and I'm not the kind of person that oozes loads of the stuff to begin with) and I began to suffer anxiety on approach to The DRT, tensing up to the point where I could barely see straight. Granted, I've only been mtbiking a short time, I realise I can expect to come up against these challenges frequently, but when I say this root bummed me out, I mean, it really bummed me out! Then last week a funny thing happened; instead of stomach-churning anxiety, I started to feel angry, I was not gonna let a poxy root get the better of me - I know I can push my bike whenever I want, but I don't want! Just a tiny touch of the red-mist put things back into perspective and all the issues that had been swimming, murkily around my head cleared, and I could think straight again - I was able to focus on the things that I needed to be focusing on, and not just the giant mental image of The DRT, waiting to be hit! It was awesome, I rode it perfectly, almost in slow motion, in perfect control of my bike. I felt on top of the world, we had a great night in Hanchurch that night, I tackled a couple of steep, rooty descents that to be honest with you scared the pants offa me, while I was still riding on the adrenaline buzz...and then I came back down to earth and lost my bottle again! But, before that I had rode down two really technical descents that I wouldn't have attempted otherwise, and now I know I that I can do them, for future rides and I had one of the best rides yet...but better still, I had faced my nemesis and won!
Hanchurch Woods

It's true...ignorance really is bliss. When I 1st started mtbiking I simply followed my boyfriend (an experienced rider of 20 yrs-ish) along blindly, tackling everything that he tackled. No, I'm not expreienced. Yes, I've only been mtbiking a few months. But, I know that in some cases too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing, sometimes you need a little blind faith and a drop of courage to go on. I know I certainly spent too much time in thought over The DRT, until I had demonized it out of all proportion and I was left feeling demoralized under a cloud of defeat. It was only when the red-mist of frustration and anger descended that my mind finally cleared itself of the monster, reducing it back down to size; to a root!

I suppose the point I want to make in this post is for any fellow novices that happen to be reading, I want to say don't give up. This has been a big learning curve for me and I've learnt that if you want the skill for the art of mountain biking then you need the zen; you have to be philosophical when you fall on your ass (my boyfriend will love to see me saying that - it has to be one his most-used phrases to me during this period), you are going to fall, but if you love mtbiking you will get back on your bike and if you come up against your own Damn Rooty Tree, you'll beat it...eventually. Happy riding.


  1. Hey Debby,

    good going. There is always one single point where you start. that is the most difficult. Keep going at all accounts: for me the secret is to be at peace with the surroundings (terrain, weather, ligh,t temperature, strain, breath, muscles etc) and take every moment in. There is never anything wrong. Dont fight it, feel it and you will enjoy a far deeper level than just " working" out. "Chain all the way to the right" as we say here in Germany. Take Care. Dominik

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Dominik, you really hit the nail on the head there. I really did need to bring everything into perspective and capture that feeling before I could get past the gremlins that were messing with my head (you say it with so much more finesse though)! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. :-)