We all make bad decisions, some of us more often than others, but the important thing to remember is that you have to own those choices. If you don't, they're just embarrassing moments that we try to forget; if you do, they're opportunities to learn a few things while still being really embarrassed.
I've just come home from yet another ride where I discovered more singletrack that's been sanitized by so-called "mountain bikers" so that the trail better suits their skill level. A few months back it was a handful of live roots being sawed out of the ground, roots that were maybe two or three inches in diameter and stood barely that same height above the dirt. Then it was a bunch rocks that a "mountain biker" took the time to dig out of a different trail, and today it was an entire tree that's gone missing so that a "mountain biker" could have an easier time of climbing up through what any of us would have already referred to as an easy section of trail. And, just to clarify, these trails that are being vandalized - that's the best word to describe what's happening - are already blue and green level singletracks, so it's not like these "mountain bikers" are modifying sections of trail to make them easier for the masses. The masses can already ride them, which is great, so it's the vandals who need to find another hobby so that the masses can keep enjoying this wonderful sport.
The shame that should be attached to the above actions, actions that are happening on trails all over the world these days, just isn't present. So what the hell is going on? I think I know what's causing this problem: no one likes to suck, and no one wants to eat humble pie.
|None of us want to struggle or feel like they're not as good as someone else, neither of which are key ingredients to having a good time. People just want to have fun, and, unless you're a bit of a masochist or have a closet full of leather and ball gags, fun usually doesn't involve suffering, pain and humiliation.|
That's too bad, because getting your ass handed to you is likely one of the most important things that happens during our lives, and it's the sort of thing that we shouldn't be bummed out by. We're supposed to fail miserably at things. A big, warm slice of humble pie is good for you, but the key to proper pie tasting is to actually learn something from it, and to realize that the pie you're eating was likely baked up by you and only you. If you don't, it's just another embarrassing experience that you'll file away; if you do, you can try to convince yourself that you've improved yourself because of it.
But who really wants to have a difficult time, though? Do you want to sit in rush hour traffic every time you drive anywhere? Do you want to struggle at work? How about arguing with your significant other every time you spend time together? No, of course not. We all want things in our life to go smoothly, but if they did we'd also all begin to think we're hot shit and end up with Kanye-sized egos and Kardashian-like morals. We'd also never learn anything, never get any better at living, and probably end up being ridiculously bored. I'm not just talking about mountain biking and all those sanitized trails that I always moan about, either, because there are all sorts of corny parallels between our sport and day to day life.
You're probably at your cockiest in your late 'teens and early twenties, a time when responsibility levels are low and fun levels are high, and this is when you feel pretty smug about yourself, despite the patchy facial hair and questionable clothing. This was around the age that I managed to (barely) get my driving license, two years after I first tried and failed miserably. And, like most new drivers, and especially new drivers that happen to have a penis, I thought I was real hot shit... and then I drove my family's car into a tree while trying to impress a girl. There were no injuries, thankfully, but the car was a write-off, as were my chances of starting a family and living happily ever after with the female passenger, and I learned that I had about as much in common with Ken Block as I do with Oprah Winfrey. I went from hero to zero in the time it took for me to lay down two tire width patches of rubber about fifty feet in length, but those few seconds taught me more than I took in over the previous few months. Humble pie was served, it was steaming hot, and I had to eat it without a fork on that night.
Lesson number one: girls aren't impressed by you doing donuts in your family's car. Lesson number two: don't try to do donuts in your family's car. I'd like to think that I long ago stopped riding my bike to impress other people, just like how most of us don't drive like we did when we first got our licence, and anyone who's seen me ride would probably agree that'd be the last thing that would ever of happened anyways. What I'm getting at is that I've moved past the point of feeling pressured to hit a jump or drop, or to go faster than I actually want to go. Sure, I'll still end up eating shit on many (most?) of my rides, but at least it won't happen while I'm trying to impress anyone. These days, if I want to do something questionable, I'm doing it because I'm pretty good at making really bad decisions. I'm not saying to stop pushing yourself, but I am saying to only go HAM if that's actually what you want to do.
The author with pie on his face at the 2015 BC Bike Race. Photo by Margus Riga.
Much like being nineteen and having a penis and driving license will make you feel invincible, preparing for something to the nth degree can also have you being pretty smug about your success. Being ready, or at least thinking that you're ready, often counts for shit, however. Life will teach most people that fact by the time they're an adult, but that doesn't stop us from doing things like studying, working hard, and training to be better at whatever it is that we do, even though those efforts often count for about as much as your vote does. I was reminded of exactly that fact a few months ago while "training" for the 2015 BC Bike Race.
After procrastinating about getting my act together, I hired a coach to make up for lost time, and I even went as far as to actually follow his instructions. I ate less candy than usual (still too much, obviously). I even remember stretching on one or two occasions - crazy, I know. Pre-BC Bike Race, I felt like I could show Nino and Julian a thing or two about climbing, and I was more worried about people accusing me of doping than how I'd actually fare in the race. It turns out that I may have well of been smoking some really good dope, because not only did I not meet my own expectations, I exploded spectacularly. Have you ever ridden so poorly that fellow racers who pass you like you're going backwards end up telling the medical team at the upcoming checkpoint that they should take a look at you? Yeah... it was that bad, and that was just on the first day. Granted, it was insanely hot out, and I hadn't had much practice riding my bike on the surface of the sun, but my detonation spoke more about my bravado to brain ratio being way out of line than anything else. Things just got messier when, on the third day, I found myself being held up behind a European racer who's own bravado to brain ratio was skewed in the exact opposite way. So, rather than relaxing and recovering like someone with some common sense would do, I used that time to crack my helmet into a few pieces and knock myself senseless. The feeling of slinking away from the six hundred person strong BC Bike Race campsite after pulling the plug a few days later, right in the midst of everyone else getting ready for their morning start time, was pretty humbling to say the least, and I had only myself to blame.
The taste of that humble pie taught me a few things. First, it reinforced the fact that I'm not good at racing bicycles, and that no amount of training will change that - it's just not in my DNA. I think I already knew that, but it was good to reconfirm it. More importantly, it reminded me that things can go south regardless of how much time and effort you've put into your upcoming mission, be it a bike race, a big project at work, or just you trying to cook a nice dinner for once, but also that it doesn't really matter in the end.
I crashed that car into a tree, and I didn't finish the BC Bike Race this year, neither of which I'm proud of, but I am going to go for a nice ride with a few friends this afternoon. We're going to skid a lot and have tons of fun, which is all that really matters. And, if I do something dumb and break body or my bike, I'll have only myself to blame, which is fine with me.