Fear is normal, fear keeps us safe. Sometimes fears are perfectly reasonable. We should fear rattlesnakes or bears or steep, sharp rock faces. I won’t lie, I am an anxious person. I can be afraid of anything and everything (including loading the lift at Whistler). So I’d like to talk about fear and failure today.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all wiped out at least once. We’ve all been injured, serious or not, and it can leave lasting marks in your thoughts. The second time I ever went out riding it was in Squamish on a rental bike. This bike and I did not get along all day and it culminated in me crashing, twice, on corners. I scraped my elbow up pretty good and ended up with a pretty bad infection, a tetanus shot, antibiotics, and a nice case of C. Diff. It was not fun. It stuck with me. I was already afraid of cornering and this cemented in my mind that when I corner, I will crash and it will hurt. It took ages for me get over it and realize that cornering is okay, just be careful and stay in control. Cornering is hard to avoid if I was to continue biking, but sometimes it’s not a skill that freaks you out, it’s a feature.
When I was taking a mountain bike 101 course we rode on Roadside Attraction on Fromme. This is a great beginner trail for sure but it has one feature on it which is ridiculously easy compared to a lot of things I do, but I wiped out on it the first time I tried it and now I’m terrified. To this day, this stupid feature, which I call the wiggle bridge, kills me.
I panic coming up to it, my whole body tenses up, and I barely make it across. This is extra interesting considering I don’t even think twice about features that are almost the exact same. Same thing happens on a bridge on John Deer on Seymour that I wiped out on once. I sabotage myself when I know it’s coming by slowing down way too much to be able to make it over smoothly.
I can’t tell you why these tiny traumas build up in our heads and render us knee-knocking, sweaty, hammering on the brake messes. I’m sure there’s a lovely psychological explanation but I don’t know what it is. I just wanted to express my fears and find out what gets under your skin? Is there a feature or a trail that just freaks you out for no good reason? Comment and tell me about it!
I would also like to share some strategies I’ve learned to help when these almost irrational fear moments bubble up.
The first strategy was introduced to me when I was learning how to ride a motorcycle a few years ago and then I was reminded of it during a bear situation. This is to sing! Sing quietly to yourself or really belt it out if you want to. For some reason I naturally leaned towards show tunes and spent a day in Smithers singing “If I only had a brain.” It helps keep your mind off what you’re doing just enough to cut down on the heebie jeebies of a particularly scary part of trail. You also get to surprise people standing on the trail with your tiny one person show.
This second one came from a glib comment that Laura made one day when we were riding. I was worrying about some kind of feature and was saying “but it’s so scary!” Laura looked me in the eyes and said “so pretend it isn’t.” How could something so simple be so effective? So now whenever I’m faced with a challenge and I find myself thinking about how scary it is, I just do my best to pretend it’s not. “It’ll just be a couple of little bumps and then a zoom down that hill and it’ll be done and I’ll get to celebrate!” It sounds dumb but just try it.
The last one has to do with tricking your mind as well and I use it for any wood or rock features. That would be “what if this was dirt?” followed by “pretend it’s dirt.” Honestly, this has gotten me over many a ladder bridge rolldown. If you can look at it and think to yourself “I wouldn’t even hesitate if this was dirt and not wood” then you’re well on your way to conquering the fear! Again, sounds a little silly but give it a try.
Of course I definitely don’t mean that you should just jump in and do everything that you’re afraid of. You’re scared for a reason and a lot of that reason is because you simply don’t have the skills to do something. Or you’re tired that day. Or it’s slippery. Listening to your fear is important in keeping yourself safe. And just remember, if you decide to skip something one day, that just gives you something to conquer next time.