A Rider Is Born

Flashback I’m 8 years old in Southeast PA, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table eating a big bowl of Frosted Flakes before school when my Mom asks me the question I had been longing to hear all week “what do you want for your birthday?” The was only one thing I wanted, a bicycle.  The following weekend a shiny blue 5-speed bicycle shows up at my house, and I was so enamored by this gleaming new bike that I could hardly speak for several minutes before I hopped on my cool new two-wheeled machine and bravely rode off down the street in search of new adventures.  Never had I known freedom like this before.  I could go further than I had ever been and it was so exhilarating to zip through the neighborhood at a high rate of speed and feel the wind whipping through my hair and across my face.   I rode that bike everywhere, and because of that bicycle a new world opened up to me, and I felt far more independent and grownup because of the new found freedom that bicycle afforded me.

We lived in a rural area of Pennsylvania, with miles of vast open rolling hills and farms everywhere, so there was ample opportunity to explore by bicycle.  My first attempt at mountain biking was taking that little 5 speed to a cornfield across the street from my house, and navigating my bike up and down the field and then plowing down a little technical trail at the end of the rows of corn that dumped you into the road.  The child in me did not know that in my adult life I would become all consumed with cycling and develop an addiction to this incredibly healthy and outrageously fantastic sport.  I knew back then that I was in love with riding bicycles, but it was not a full-blown addiction until I heard the two words that would change my life: mountain biking.

Fast forward four years later to California, the land of warmth and sunshine and what’s a better way to enjoy the California sun than on a rad new bike.  My parents bought me a new silver Schwinn road bike and better yet, this one was a 10 speed!  I hopped on my new bike, and again the feeling of being fast and stealth took over me as I glided effortlessly down the neighborhood street on a  splendid summer afternoon.  I found that when I shifted into a harder gear, I could accelerate quickly and deftly navigate my 10 speed down the road, between cars parked on the curbside and this is when I first learned how to hop curbs.  In my mind, this ten speed was a real bike, a grownups bike- the kind of a bike a real rider rode.  Although I loved my reliable little blue five-speed with all my heart, it was always a little bit short of being a full blown race machine, and to me, this new steel beauty was the real McCoy!   I remember the day my Dad took me down to the local bike shop to buy new handlebar tape, black- to replace the junky tape that came on the bike.  I  proceeded to ride this bike everywhere, up and down the streets of my neighborhood, to friends houses, down to the ice cream store and to school and back.  This lasted until I was about 15 when I decided that driving was cooler than riding a bicycle.  Sadly my flying silver race machine was left to the cobwebs in the dark corner of the garage in favor of my new Honda Civic.  This was to be my favorite mode of transport for the next few years. Until……

My obsession with mountain biking started when I was going to college.  I remember the exact moment-  I was lying around a pool on a blazing hot summer afternoon blasting music when I heard a radio commercial for a local bike shop that was having a sale on mountain bikes.  The idea of mountain biking had not occurred to me until that afternoon in my backyard, but for some reason, I really wanted to go down and buy one.  A Specialized Rock Hopper was my weapon of choice!  My very first ride on this bike was just down the local paved bike path in my neighborhood, but that trip exhausted me, and I remember getting home and just lying on my bed for hours because I was so beat but at the same time I exceedingly thrilled to be on a bike again. I hadn’t ridden since I retired my silver road bike in favor of my teenage desire to bomb around in a kick-ass car so you could say I was a little out of shape but the lack of stamina or fitness didn’t dissuade me from wanting to ride more.  The next ride I attempted was on a trail above my house on some guys farm where he allowed people to use the trails at their own risk.  I rode about an hour, and  I was exhausted but so happy and so in love with this sport called mountain biking.

Each time I rode I got quicker and quicker until I realized that I wanted a higher end bike with more top-level components and I was beginning to feel like this was a sport I could get serious about.  After riding and honing my skills for about a year I decided to venture into racing, so I entered my first local race, did reasonably well and had a blast!   The rest of that year I entered several more races and just pretty much rode as much as possible, but I had no idea about proper training methods for racing or even gave a second thought to what I was eating.  I remember this one particular time I went riding after a night of partying and pounding down drinks until 2am, I awoke that morning feeling pretty crappy but nonetheless I still wanted to venture out on my bike and do some climbing.  I arrived at the trailhead haggard and nauseous from my night of indulgence but proceeded up the trail anyways.  I got about two-thirds of the way up the climb before I got an overwhelming feeling like I was going to spew my breakfast right there on the trail.  Unfortunately, I had to turn around and call it a day, now realizing that if I was to get serious about my riding, I was going to have become more aware of what I was eating and drinking. That’s when I began researching training plans, studied what the pro women riders did and read training books about becoming a better cyclist. I saw a marked improvement in my riding, fitness and generally grew faster on all my local rides. It showed in my race results too-I joined a team and moved up to sport and then into the expert category. It was all becoming clear to me that my diet and everyday lifestyle had a significant impact on how I functioned as a mountain biker.  I still allowed myself the periodic Saturday night brewpub fun but not as often because after all you still have to fun on the weekends! Mountain biking has a learning curve, and early in my riding I was learning how to become a better rider, and I am still finding new ways to improve my riding and training. You never stop learning every time you through your leg over the saddle.

I think the allure of mountain biking to the many that become attracted to it is that mountain biking is spiritual.  It awakens our senses, pushes our limits, creates independence and makes us feel alive.