When I was a kid I absolutely detested peanut butter. I'm not sure where this repulsion came from, but I refused to eat it in any form – PB&J, ants on a log, peanut butter crackers – it didn't matter, I wouldn't let even a smidgen of those smashed up legumes into my mouth.
I was reminded of this childhood memory the other day during a group ride. We were discussing possible route options, and I suggested incorporating one of my favorite trails into the mix, a mile long, sinewy stretch of singletrack full of tricky root sections. It's not very steep, and the sudden sharp turns keep the speeds down, but getting through it without dabbing, especially when it's wet out, can feel harder than juggling four flaming chainsaws. I think that's what draws me back to it – it's still challenging, and requires being fully engaged in order to stay upright even after years of riding it in everything from snow to sun.
“I hate that trail. It's the worst.” Wait, what? I'd expected a completely different response from this particular rider, and the level of disgust for what I consider to be a near-perfect example of a mountain bike trail caught me off guard. But then I thought back to my first few months in the Pacific Northwest, before I'd grown accustomed to the deep puddles and slippery roots, and remembered just how awkward and frustrating it had all felt. Those initial rides were humbling, and made me realize I had a lot to learn in order to be comfortable in my new home. I had to reset my perception of my skills as a rider, and work on acquiring a taste for riding technical trails in nasty weather.
When someone says something is 'an acquired taste' it's easy to dismiss them; there's a tendency to think that our palate (or riding style) is as evolved as it will get. I certainly didn't believe my parents when they told me that I'd like peanut butter someday, and I clearly remember thinking that downhillers were crazy at one point in my riding career, confident that I'd be a cross-country rider forever. I don't recall exactly when it happened, but I eventually came to accept peanut butter as something worth consuming, and by the time college rolled around it was a staple in my diet - there were multiple climbing and biking road trips where it was nearly my sole form of sustenance (other than Ramen noodles and oatmeal cream pies). And somewhere along the way I ended up with a downhill bike and a season's pass to the bike park - go figure.
The concept of 'acquired taste' also works for trails that are initially frustrating, whether that's because they're full of awkward turns, punchy climbs, or slick off-camber sections. Over time, the secrets begin to reveal themselves, and flow becomes easier to achieve - the bitterness they once caused turns sweet. So the next time you find yourself ready to toss your bike into the woods in anger, take a few deep breaths, and know that one day that section of trail may end up being as satisfying as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a five hour ride.