Mountain Biking Changed My Life #1

I frequently find myself resisting the urge to bike-evangelize. Mountain biking has been nothing but a force for good in my life, and in my naïveté, I think, Everyone will understand and try it and love it, if I could only make them listen!

I’m not sure if it’s the bulging vein in my forehead or my death grip on their shoulders, but I haven’t had a ton of success, so I must be doing it wrong. Maybe I should give other people the soapbox to tell their stories of transformation. 

Girls Rock rider Alyson’s journey came to my attention through a Facebook post she wrote, listing ten things she’d discovered in her first year as a mountain biker. What struck me was how happy and accomplished she sounded, even at this early stage in her journey; I just had to find out more about her story. So I sat down with Alyson to talk about how mountain biking changed her life:

Alyson at a recent  Bell Joy Ride Santa Rosa  event at Annadel State Park.

Alyson at a recent Bell Joy Ride Santa Rosa event at Annadel State Park.

Grace: How long have you been riding?
Alyson: Since August 2016

G: And how did you get into it?
A: My friend, Heather Cooper! I moved to Oakland in May 2013 from Chicago. I spent that summer road riding with two friends from work (Clif Bar), Christina Schroeter and Heather Cooper. By Summer 2014, Coop had converted Christina to mountain biking but I was way too intimidated to even consider it. A year later, I found myself intrigued. They sure seemed like they were having fun! Plus, I really missed riding bikes with them. I decided to register for a REI beginner class. It was super fun! And, that's despite the fact that I went over my handlebars! I spent that summer traveling around to the California Enduro Series races with Coop & Christina, working as a volunteer. Looking back, that was the turning point. It blew me away that this community welcomed me and made me feel like I belong, and I didn’t even ride! I wanted in and bought a bike! Our epic winter halted my progress because I spent most of my weekends on the slopes but I’ve been riding regularly since April. In other words, I spent 2 years "thinking" about it and now officially “riding” for almost a year.

Alyson at at her beginner class with Rei

Alyson at at her beginner class with Rei

Heather Cooper (left) and Alyson at a california enduro series race

Heather Cooper (left) and Alyson at a california enduro series race

G: What have been some of the hardest moments in your journey so far?
A: No contest, the HARDEST moment was what I’ll call my “first ride”. It was the day I demo-ed a Santa Cruz with my friend JD about a year after the beginner REI class. The climb was so hard. I felt like I totally sucked and maybe I wouldn't be able to do this mountain biking thing after all. At one point, JD pedaled up alongside of me, put his hand on my back and pushed me up the hill. I remember thinking "Wow, this is amazing. I wish he started doing that earlier!" and also thinking "I suck. This is so embarrassing." After what felt like climbing "forever", we left the exposed area and darted into the woods and I recall shouting out "I think you're overestimating my abilities!" I was tense, stressed and afraid the entire time. That was the low point. The high point was when we sessioned sections. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to practice and move past my fear. We rode nearly 4 hours… in hindsight, WAY TOO LONG for a beginner like me! I was EXHAUSTED. Which made me timid on the downhill. At one point I said to JD: "My tank is empty." He replied: "Well, I can't leave you here." It was time to rally and push onward. So I did.

G: That sounds like a really tough start. Who or what has kept you trying?
A: 1. The incredible feeling of accomplishment! I love that feeling on the other side of stretching myself to do things I didn’t know I could do! Plus, it builds my confidence.
    2. Riding bikes feels like playing! It’s FUN. 
    3. I love sharing this with friends, old and new!

G: Tell me about that moment of epiphany when those ten points of wisdom rained down on you. I love it, by the way. I was going to call this post “A Beginner’s Creed” but then I realized that those points were relevant to all mountain bikers, beginner or not.
A: I penned this list immediately following a ride with a fellow beginner. I had just turned a corner in my progression a few days earlier and riding with her helped me see how far I have come in a relatively short amount of time. Plus, she was being incredibly hard on herself! I could see myself in her. I do the same thing. It made such an impression on me that I couldn’t help but reflect and think…

  1. I’m capable of far more than I think I am!
  2. My inner critic is loud and a mean girl.
  3. Age is just a number. You’re not too old to {insert whatever}.
  4. Learning how to do something new is humbling and requires patience.
  5. Be kind to yourself.
  6. Time and practice really do fuel progress.
  7. Being outdoors is… amazing and deserving of its own list.
  8. I have the most supportive, encouraging and inspiring friends!
  9. Yay bikes!
  10.  I won’t be a beginner for long… ;)

G: What mountain biking-related thing are you most recently proud of?
A: I’m really proud of my progress over the last 4 months! I’ve been riding consistently, gaining confidence and improving my skills. I am more patient and kind towards myself. Collectively, these things make it way more fun!

Another thing I'm proud of is having the courage to ask others, who are way better than me, to ride with me. My hesitation comes from not wanting to hold others back because of my slower pace. But, it's helping me become a better rider and enabling me to ride consistently. Making mistakes and being paralyzed by fear in front of them, that's a vulnerable feeling! But their support and encouragement has been overwhelming. And they keep saying "yes!" when I ask them to ride. Go figure! 

If you’ve got a story or experience to share on Mountain Biking Changed My Life, we’d love to hear it. Email Grace Chua

Do you agree that mountain biking is a force for good? Would you like to see more legal trails? Lend Mountain Bikers Of Santa Cruz your voice and resources.

Grace Chua is an escapee of Advertising, saved by mountain biking. She now pays it forward through volunteering with Girls Rock. Follow her love for bikes, cats, food and travel here