The Bakery: Hollow Victories, Winning Failures

Mar 14, 2018
by Danielle Baker  
Bakery Logo

Seven years ago, I was bike packing from North Vancouver to Canmore when I crashed and was found unconscious on the highway. I was lucky to be found by some quick-thinking motorists who saved my life, and after three days in the hospital, I was released. My brain bleed was healing itself and my broken bones would do the same. But instead of reveling in the small fact that I was still alive, I could only think about finishing the ride.

I have always been taught that you get back on the horse as soon as possible to avoid developing a lifelong fear of whatever it may be that has traumatized you - or simply undermined your goals. This was literally the case when I was seventeen and in Mexico. My friend Kelli's horse stumbled on some eroding sand, panicked, and bucked her off. Kelli's foot was jammed in the stirrup and the horse dragged her down the beach and through the waves before it could be caught. Our guide made Kelli get back in the saddle and continue riding - something that seemed barbaric to me at the time but has probably saved Kelli years of horse-related therapy.

Any time I've had a decent crash on my bike, I've immediately registered the feature, the section, or the whole trail as something to be overcome. This mindset is what first drew me into mountain biking; finding satisfaction and pleasure in overcoming obstacles. For many years, this was how I progressed as a rider; I simply chased the release of the self-congratulatory serotonin that accompanies these kinds of accomplishments. And it was effective.

In the year following my highway accident, I made two attempts to complete the ride to Canmore. One was foiled by weather, the other by logistics. Each time I was heavily disappointed. Even though my original motivation for the trip had long since disappeared, this new drive to prove something (to myself or maybe to others) was ever stronger. When people expressed their happiness that I was still counted amongst the living, all I wanted to talk about were my plans to succeed. It was important to me that they knew I wasn't going to let it be. I would complete the ride. But other life priorities continued to put the trip on hold and more time passed.

As it would turn out, the further I got from it, the more perspective I gained. I could see the bigger picture and how the accident - and not the completion of the ride - had become an important part of who I am. I couldn't quite decide anymore what defined success in this case; was it completing the mountain pass where I had crashed or the whole ride? If I made it from North Vancouver to Canmore on a different route, would it even count? With the confusion, the idea began to lose its emotional pull. Somewhere along the line, I realized that getting back on the horse may be the right approach for some situations, but in my case failing to accomplish this goal may have more to offer.

Finding the Flow in Fruita
My brush with death had caused me to place a much higher value on everything in my life, from the good in complete strangers to the ability to shower with two working arms. It also forced me to slow down - you aren't going anywhere quickly when sudden bouts of dizziness drop you like a drunk teenager. In the moment, these changes were profound. Like anything else, over time they have become more diluted, but the essence of these lesson has forever changed my outlook. When I mountain bike now, I'm less attached to the ideas of gaining and succeeding. My desire to be a more capable rider now comes from a passion for enjoying my ride, and not a need to prove anything - not from my ego.

The idea of completing the ride still pops up in my daydreams from time to time, however I now realize that pedalling through that section of highway again, picking my way through discarded bottles of urine, praying that the transport truck drivers see me, and crossing my fingers every time the shoulder ends, won't bring any more value to my life than it already has. In this case - as in many - the accomplishment would be a hollow victory; the failure was the true reward.

There will always be a need to get back on the horse to stop fear from creeping in. But we won't know which obstacles we can fail at and which we need to overcome until we try.

MENTIONS: @dbaker


  • + 44
 your ego is never your amigo
  • + 2
 Too bad it took me decades to learn this. I still have to work at it. In both riding and life.
  • + 3
 @iammarkstewart: amen. as I've gotten older I've been able to tell mine to stfu. lol
  • + 2
 If you're doing it for ego you're doing it wrong Wink
  • + 10
 I disagree. We have egos because we need them. We also need humility. It's about balance.
  • + 2
 @Sshredder: Congrats on being master of your domain.
  • + 0
 @Sshredder: I don't need an ego. My quality of life has improved vastly since realizing that fact.
  • + 17
 Loved this article. It's the things we don't talk about enough. How does the average joe comeback from that one ride that put them out of commission for good? What are some tricks pros use to over come that mental block that keeps us from obtaining our peak form. When is it okay to take that walk down a super techy route?
  • + 16
 It's always OK to walk down a super techy route. Most of us are not pro racers. We like to have fun and challenge ourselves in the sport, but there isn't a requirement in mtn biking to send huge airs or ride down terrain that is beyond our skill level. You may get to the point where you can ride down it. Maybe not. But who cares? Ride and have fun!
  • + 15
 A riding mate crashed recently on a jump over a fallen tree. He's now beating himself up over his inability to hit the jump again, as he knows he can do it, he hits bigger stuff when we're out, but due to the crash he now has a mental block over this one feature. I can totally relate to this as I've had similar experiences. I find riding is such a mental game, and although it's good to push yourself, it's also important to know when to walk away from things if you're not comfortable with them, as, in my experience, you will probably get it done sooner or later.
  • + 12
 I personally fear this, “I don’t need to prove anything anymore”. It terrifies me. I’ve heard it already from 4 people, 1 of them younger than me. They mY be hPpy, it may work for them in every day life, but when on the trail, as happy as they may seem, comes the moment when the beast wakes up and comes to claim it’s part of you. And I see them fight with it, as they watch “this fast dude” trying what they would feel enticed to try just a few years ago. And they may take it if it is the fast dude. But the beast rips a part of their soul as this not that skilled happy idiot goes for it, and makes it. In those moments I don’t see the peaceful rejection of ego, coming in tune with what you can or cannot - I see repression of adventorous child that got them on the bike in the first place. We all choose our battles but we all have demons that have to be adresse and fed to some degree. One has to be careful to not turn denouncement of ego into an ego driven enterprise... I chose to embrace my monsters, give them a lump of flesh from time to time. If they grow too scary I try to outsmart them with practice. It’s hard. But the moment I think I have found the right way, when path seems comfortable, I know it leads me away from the gold.
  • + 4
 Life is constantly changing around us, and we have to be ok with our mindsets changing a bit to suit. Otherwise as circumstance and age start taking some of your skills away and other keep progressing beyond you, you will either end up a raging mess of frustration or an injured mess of desperation.

We cannot stay children forever, but that doesn’t mean adventure dies with childhood. There are so many ways to find adventure and ways to exercise an adventurous spirit (even outside of mountain biking!)

A little introspection can go a long way. If they are honest with themselves and positively motivated by shifting priorities and finding good in other elements of biking, then they are most likely happier actually listening to that voice at some point instead of always stuffing it. Which was exactly the point of this article: learning who she is right now
  • + 8
 @showmethemountains: i did not criticize her, I just meant that there is danger to this as well. At some point we all learn to manage risk vs reward balance. But we also have to balance walking away from some fights. The demon, whatever it is, it asks you for food and you feed it no matter what. So make sure you learn his ways and don’t feed it too much repression. Standing in front of a jump and thinking: go or no go, requires a lot of introspection - why the hell do I want to go? For myself? For others to appreciate me? Because it’s cool? And then you can just go or go away, at least so it seems. You may try to feed the urge on smaller jumps or use smaller jumps to build up to the big one. Yes or no, is often a go big or go home approach and it is not going to make anyone happy. Smile
  • + 2
 Bang on man
  • + 2
 I thought her closing statement emphasized the balance. That sometimes you need to get back on that horse straight away. Other times, it's ok to turn away and go in another direction. It's about taking the time to reflect on which way to go and comfortable with whatever decision is made
  • + 10
 Kind of like getting older - I don't repair so quick now so I'm not quite as crazy and, sometimes, it's nice to go out for a nice simple cruise to enjoy the experience rather than an adrenaline packed adventure...
  • + 9
 Nice unusual article. Thank's

Last year I had a tough crash on very tricky part of trail - fast descent, little drop, rocks before abrupt turn. My whole body was in deep awful scratches and big painful bruises. After one year, month ago I back to the same spot, more experienced and technically prepared. Second before hit the drop, I forgot all I know, my mind was filled with fear and bad memories from last crash... This time was less lucky, dislocated hand (wrist), two bones fracture and surgery. I was prepared technically but not mentally.
So yes, do it if you are ready and comfortable with it, don't if you just have to or being pushed by ego. Take it easy, and enjoy your ride.
  • + 7
 Adventures are about self discovery. Well my solo adventures are. I have learned is ok if I fail or plans change. What I have discovered is that the people I meet on my adventures are just as important as the adventure it's self. The important part is to get out the door and have adventures.
  • + 4
 You gotta live before you die.... pushing limits is in my bones. I see challenges as growth experiences and failure a part of it. My scars tell a story. Life is quick. Don’t play it safe, don’t take the easy route and never stop exploring. Tomorrow is not a promise.
  • + 1
 Finally somebody in the comments thread with my same mindset
  • + 4
 Went through the exact same realization almost 15 years ago. As a result, I don't ride competitively, I don't ride to prove anything. I do have individual goals, but other than those, it's just about enjoying the ride. Pretty much everyone I ride with is really competitive, but that aspect has never really been attractive to me in a sport where you are always inches away from death or serious injury. Being able to ride for the next 40 years is far more important to me than being able to go 2mph faster.
  • + 4
 Great story and better that it worked out in the end. I've found that as I've gotten older I now focus on flow coming down and pushing myself on the climb.
  • + 2
 Great sharing,people with great egos just need to find some great people to put them in their place,to tell them “hey look I can do that and still I’m nobody”,cause in this world there is gonna be somebody that’s better then you in all aspects ,but nobody like you ,so just enjoy what you have and at least try to be happy ,but if I was you I would go and ride that thing :-)))
  • + 2
 Thanks for sharing. I can sympathize with you as I have had my fair share 'events' over the course of my life. The key is like you infer; to try and learn from the experience/s and become a more complete person.

Sending some good karma your way! Smile
  • + 6
 Definitely an article a lot of riders can relate to. Thanks.
  • + 2
 After a crash that scared or perhaps injured me, I often go back and analyze what I did wrong so that I understand it and try not to repeat the error. That allows me to rationalize the crash and not be fearful. But still there are certain features on trails that I have just can’t ride often. The feature has my number and I just can’t mentally get around it.

In 1999 I crashed skiing and badly injured my knee. ACL, MCL, torn meniscus, small fracture. So many people I worked with were stunned that I was going to continue skiing. I don’t understand that kind of thinking. Knee was repaired but then I blew my other knee in 2000. I still ski. But I don’t take the kind of risks that I used to take. I am motivated by doing things well as opposed to doing things that are risky.
  • + 2
 I think Nikki Lauda had it right when he said "I accept that every time I get into my car, there's 20% chance I could die and I could live with it, but not one percent more!"
Die = be injured/be paralyzed
  • + 1
 Risk vs reward: successfully riding along a highway isn't an accomplishment worthy of the risk. Not the second time, not the first time, not ever. Ego has nothing to do with it.

Maybe worry more about choosing worthy risks to begin with. All this sounds like rationalizing giving up to me.

I know that's blunt, I'm not saying it to troll, just being honest like I would with my brother or wife or anyone else close to me.
  • + 4
 Great little specs on what it is to simply ride and loose yourself in that
  • + 1
 I'm very glad you are okay. I can't imagine what crashing like that would be either. Keep getting better and thank you for the read
  • + 3
 Great read! When ego ends, life truly begins!
  • - 1
 The idea of suppressing the ego while riding is nice. Its about you, the bike, and the experience happening right then whether regardless of fast or slow. But faster is more fun, epecially in group downhill runs where the ego is more likely to emerge. I guess it's not like meditation.
  • - 1
 What the hell you talking about !! if your a quitter then you can say that, you need Ego to keep moving forward,
or might its well stay in bed.. if you get injure on a bad crash or accident and you go and do it again the same section, jump, drop, whatever be the case without thinking thru is a recipe for failure, usually is a lack of speed & prospective.
Is Just a matter of risk vs reward a balance thing you might say !!
  • + 1
  • + 1
 Damn you strata!

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