My MTB Experiment: on a mission to rediscover the joys of XC riding

My MTB journey has seen me learning to ride a bike as a child with next to no assistance or practice. I created stolen opportunities in my childhood to ride my older sister’s Malvern Star in the 1970’s, or my friend’s brother’s bike on the cul-de-sac where she lived. As a young teenager I got my hands on a second hand road bike which I took on a youth bike camp across the Lockyer Valley; I rode it on Guide ‘bike hikes’; and I laboured to ride it occasionally round the paddock where I lived in a fringe urban area that was once thriving farm land.

As a young adult I enjoyed riding my bike on the road and bike paths with my husband who was an experienced road and track cyclist. But the back and neck aches that followed made it difficult to stay motivated. Longingly I eyed off these new-fangled bikes with flat bars so you could ride in a more upright position. I was truly grateful for the new position and comfort that my new bike provided, and continued to ride on bike paths and quiet roads in my neighbourhood.

A few years gap between rides took place when I was a young mother. I didn’t feel comfortable having a baby strapped to the back of my bike, and I definitely felt far from stable or safe!

When I did finally get my bike out again, I was living in a rural area, and with no paved roads or bike paths in coo-ee, I found, quite shockingly, that it was really easy to fall off on bumpy ground, and to be covered in bruises all over. Jeepers! That put me off riding for a bit too!

Fast forward to middle age and the dilemma of continuing to be a ‘MTB widow’ vs suck up the courage and give it another go myself. Hmmmm, well it wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. But over time with support from my trusty team at home, I’ve stuck it out and have progressed my skills, confidence and enjoyment of cross country riding. I’ve discovered that having front suspension, a lighter frame, chunky tyre tread, a well-chosen saddle and good quality kit all contribute to the overall enjoyment of riding MTB.

This summer I’ve struggled to keep that spark burning. The past 12 months have seen me undertake some coaching sessions, overcome some of my fears about specific trail features, and I even entered in a couple of newbie races and went in a couple of group rides. I practised a lot and improved my fitness as well.

Then it got hot. Really hot. The flies and snakes came. I fell off a couple of times and lost a lot of skin, some blood, and most of my confidence. My son injured himself (not on a bike) and had to take a couple of months off riding, and my plans to get to the nearby trails a few times a week over the Christmas school holidays went AWOL.

Last weekend’s family ride was a good time to reflect on where I am on my MTB journey. Those voices in my head were telling me once again I’m always the slowest, least capable, most scared rider of the lot; that no matter how much I’ve ridden or how much I’ve practised over the last year, I’m still no better; and that I’m a burden on everyone who rides with me. Where’s the joy in that?! So you can see that the inevitable choice was made to give it up. What’s the point in continuing if you’re not enjoying yourself AND you spoil it for everyone else?

With misery came an empty feeling of letting myself down as well as my family who’ve encouraged and supported me in so many ways. Being with misery gave me space to reflect and hear and see things differently. There is so much I love about MTB but it seemed so far away.

As I went through the motions of watching a MTB video last night (I wasn’t really paying that much attention!) I heard a voice say that if you only get out on the trails a couple of times each week, then you’re not going to get better at riding.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

Of course, it’s pretty darn obvious isn’t it? Here I am giving myself such a hard time but really I’d only been riding a maximum of once a week for the past few months. I didn’t feel like I was enjoying it as much because my skills weren’t improving in addition to the other obstacles I’d faced – in fact it felt like I’d gone backwards. I felt like I wasn’t progressing because I wasn’t progressing, every ride felt difficult and I lost a big chunk of my inner fun each time.

So today I began the Great Experiment to test my hypothesis that by riding a few times a week, I’ll progress my skills and confidence, and I’ll rediscover the joys of MTB.

Our local trails are a long drive away, so I’m fortunate that my family has gradually been building our own mini-trail on our small rural property. I figure I can commit to a couple of practices around home each week as well as the longer family trail rides further afield on the weekends. I’ll document my experiences over the next few weeks on this blog and also by video. Stay tuned as a I embark on this new part of my MTB journey!

Uncovering ‘FUN’ in the midst of the seriousness of life

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Last year I participated in ‘Uplift Women’s Wellness Day 2015’ in Warwick. It was the culmination of months of hard work by the Community Network of Warwick team, its many co-opted members, and dozens of supporters. All the planning, negotiating, advocating, collaborating, promoting and presenting saw 80 women actively engaged in seminars and mini-workshops that promoted health and wellness. I presented a seminar near the tail end of the day titled “Navigating the Next Stage of Your Journey”. This article is based on my presentation.

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The smiling faces I was surrounded by were having a contagious effect on everyone in the room, including me. Life can be SO serious, and for me, the women around me were providing that incredibly important reminder to have fun.

Earlier in the day I had participated in a workshop session on personality. As the facilitator posed a series of questions, we were required to navigate to various parts of the room which indicated our responses. Lo and behold I found myself sharing space with like-minded “conscientious” women. One of the things we discovered we had in common was the deep and serious attitude we bring to many aspects of our lives: parenting, relationships, work and study, health and sickness, paying the bills, the state of the world – it’s all serious business! And in our serious attitude to life, we also recognised we had an appreciation for organisation and planning.

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As the wellness day continued, I heard and saw so many other inspiring ideas about women’s health and wellness that I found myself seriously [over]thinking what it is that I needed to do to take better care of me. And there is a certain pressure in this that can be counter-productive – there is a tendency to try to fit yet another activity into our already hectic lives.

On reflection, the real souvenir I picked up at the wellness day was the plain simple idea of making space for fun. Fun is not something that I HAVE to schedule in, just ANOTHER thing I have to fit into my day. Fun is an attitude that I can choose, and I can allow it to permeate the seriousness of life, bringing an experience of joy and relaxation to many things I do.

Following this moment of insight, I’ve been focusing on allowing a sense of fun to permeate my day. You could say I’ve been on a pursuit to discover more about fun!

dklhelmetsA few years ago I began mountain biking, so obviously I already know a bit about fun! But even mountain biking risks crossing the line into the territory of ‘serious business’ for those of us with the conscientious and perfectionist personality types!

Some days I need to work really hard at focusing my attitude of ‘fun’ on my inner compass. Fun can look different on different days.

Some days the best fun is simply rolling along wherever we happen to go and soaking up as much of nature as I possibly can; having a picnic in the middle of nowhere and lying back staring up into the tall trees to the blue sky and clouds that seem infinitely far away.

Some days fun can be found in the competitiveness of a spontaneous sprint up a hill to dlrockrestsee who can make it to the top first, puffing and laughing so hard that talking just isn’t going to happen!

Other days the riding is the sort that absolutely scares the pants off me and I’m holding on for dear life, storm clouds going through my mind “What the heck am I doing here? Exercise is supposed to make happy hormones, right? Then why am I so terrified!” And then when it’s all over, there’s that electric feeling of elation, knowing I conquered a fear, knowing that I’m out there having a go and living life as fully as I can while I can. And that’s fun!

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So seriously people, point your attitude towards fun. Let it take you an a journey that will colour your life with joy and contentment, friendship and fellowship, lightness and balance. There is always time and space for an attitude of fun.