Fear

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.

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The wiggle bridge of doom.

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.

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That fear face…

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.

On my latest ride, I got freaked out and ended up using all of these strategies all together.

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.

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Next time!

Short People got no Reason to Live

It’s no secret that I am vertically challenged. As discussed in the post about finding my bike, I am a whopping 5’1″ on a good day. This definitely has day-to-day challenges like not being able to reach anything in the kitchen, struggling to keep up with people walking, and being used as a leaning post by some of my taller friends. It definitely has affected my biking experiences as well.

As already discussed, it was a little bit difficult finding a used bike in my size as many of the people selling them are men and taller than me. When actually riding I’ve found out that I really need to be careful about what the geometry is like for the top tube. Firstly, if the top tube is a smidgeon too high (like my bike is now) then I have issues being able to touch the ground.  This leads to me hilariously falling over when just standing there. So I whip down treacherous trails with no issue and then stop to wait for someone or just catch my breath (usually the latter) and while standing there just lose my balance and fall over.  The absurdity of it is super funny when it happens and luckily hasn’t landed me careening down a mountain side… yet.

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The other top tube issue is a bit more – ahem – personal. I learned the hard way that if I brake too suddenly or hit something that launches me forward on the bike I end up in a painful situation that Ryan has dubbed a “clam jam.” My god is it painful and it’s a massive lesson in learning how to land when taken by surprise.

Now that I’ve gotten the TMI stuff out of the way, we’ll move onto the mundane. Getting my bike on and off my car. I would like to point out that the car itself is a Mazda 3. In no way is it a terribly high car. If anything, it’s too low. During the most recent snowpocalypse I was unable to go home for two weeks because the snow down the centre of my street was too high compared to the carved out tire tracks and it would lift the car off the ground.

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As soon as I bought the car last year I added roof racks to it because I knew I needed a bike solution that I can leave on all the time. What I didn’t anticipate was being too short to load bikes onto my car! I can sort of lever them up there but I can’t reach the arm that goes over the front wheel.

I’m writing this just in case others are having the same issue. I see a lot of shorter people coming out of SUVs with roof racks so I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this. The solution? A cheap, Canadian Tire step stool that folds down and I keep in my car.

Sure, I’ve been laughed at when loading or unloading but a couple of women have stopped me to tell me what a good idea it was and that they would be getting a little stool of their own. Hopefully if someone reading this struggles with the same problem as me they find my solution helpful. Just make sure you get one that can withstand the sometimes extreme temperatures of a car interior left in the sun (or snow).

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No step stool needed

Little step stools are already a staple for me as I can barely reach anything in my kitchen so that solution came easy, but I’m wondering what you guys struggle with? Are you short? Too tall for some things? What are your little everyday height related issues and fixes?

*I would also like to note that hopefully nobody was offended by the title of this blog, it is a reference to this song.

How We Learn

Everyone learns things differently. Some people like to jump in feet first and soak up all they can which is fantastic. I, however, am a bit of a school junkie and respond super well to more formal classroom-type settings. Learning how to ride my bike was no different. I was out looking for some kind of instruction and at an outdoors show in Vancouver and I found just that! At one of the booths set up there I met Tammy from Escape Adventures. They normally run kids’ programs and camps but were rolling out an adult mountain biking course and it sounded perfect! (You’ll have to forgive me but I didn’t take any pictures when I was taking the course so this blog will have some randoms.)

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This was definitely a foundations course covering a range of topics including: basic bike parts, body positioning, cornering, how to chose lines, climbing techniques, and more. It is very safe to say that I went from barely being able to ride in a straight line to starting to be comfortable with cornering (which terrified me previously). The climbing tips that were taught to us also have helped me immensely in my ability to drag myself up the mountain.

The course started in the safety of a flat lot where we learned a bit of the basics of body positioning and form as well as some tips for cornering. We practiced getting on and off our bikes safely and quickly (a huge improvement on my previous technique of stop, fall over, and hope to land on my foot), played some games to help master cornering, starting and stopping, and even got to ride some skinnies in the parking lot.

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After that, we moved to real trails on the North Shore. I am absolutely not good at climbing. My endurance is garbage. I felt a little bit intimidated when everyone else seemed to be able to zip ahead and, magically, weren’t red as a tomato, completely drenched in sweat, and panting like their lives depended on it. I was nervous about being so far behind but Tammy always made sure to loop back to check on me and make sure I wasn’t killing myself. She even rode along with me for a while. When all else failed, I got off and walked.

Learning the trails was extremely fun. We were on beginner trails like Roadside Attraction on Fromme (where I developed an arch nemesis that I will talk about later) and practiced looking ahead, picking our lines, and keeping good form just like in the parking lot. Everyone was super supportive and it was a ton of fun.

While I was still struggling with some things when the course was over, I definitely had the foundation skills that I could keep building on. I am proud to say I can now climb up more than I could before using the skills I was taught, and I’m not terrified of cornering!

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I know this isn’t how everybody learns and some people would rather just go out on their own and figure stuff out, but I would highly recommend courses like this for developing the foundation skills that are so important. We all know how hard it is to break a bad habit so even better if you start practicing good habits early on. It really felt more like a group ride than formal classroom instruction; we all supported each other and made sure no one was left behind–not even me.

If you prefer to learn on your own but still want some support there are some really great options. Ryan Leech has some free and some paid skill development courses. If you’re looking for free, there’s a great YouTube channel called Skills with Phil. Both of these guys are great teachers and you can learn a lot from them. However you choose to learn is great as long as it works for you and you’re having fun on your bike because that’s the most important thing.  So how about you guys?  How did you learn?

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First Timers in Whistler

This is a story about first experiences for two people. When my brother, sister-in-law, and my little niece came out for a visit from Ontario I was super excited. I don’t get to see them very often and especially with the little one growing several inches every time I see her, I relish any time we get to spend together.

For as long as I remember, my big brother was a daredevil. I was definitely the scared one. He would roll down terrifying, rough terrain on his Canadian Tire CCM bike and go back for more. He did back flips into snow piles. He tried out the latest WWE moves on his little sister (ow). He got his motorcycle license and a zippy sports bike. So on this visit I thought I’d introduce him to the wonderful world of mountain biking as I figured it’d be right up his alley.

Because he would have to rent a bike anyway and was worried about a slow, out of shape climb, we made the decision to head to Whistler. Ryan has been to Whistler many times, obviously this was my brother’s first time, and it was also a first time for me. I had heard many things about this mountain biking mecca but was about to see it for myself!

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After an early morning start, we made it up there with no problems. Got Jay (brother) sorted out with a bike and gear and got in line for the lift. Now there were two things that stick very clearly out in my mind about this: one was just how lame I felt being pretty much the only person in a 100 mile radius not wearing a full face helmet. Silly how these things get to you but I was incredibly self-conscious about what I started calling my “loser helmet.” Everyone else looked so bad ass! And me? Well… not so much. But I digress….

The second thing I noticed was my feeling of dread when we got closer and closer to the lift. This was one of the most terrifying things about the whole trip! How do I lift it? What if I can’t lift it? What if I can’t get it in the wheel holder thingie? What if, because of ME, they have to stop the lift to help me get my bike on and everyone’s watching? You would think that as we made a couple of laps this feeling of terror would go down but it definitely did not. Just imagine: you’re headed up on a chair hundreds of feet in the air to throw yourself down a mountain and I’m standing in line just being terrified of embarrassing myself at the lift. Surely I can’t be alone in this.

Despite my panic, we made it up without me falling on my face or grinding everything to a halt. We did a couple of laps of B-Line, a nice, beginner flow trail for my brother to get a taste of what mountain biking is about. I was all jazzed about being “the expert” for once. Thinking I’d be the one to have to keep stopping to let him catch up. Nope! Jay held his own and zipped down the mountain at my heels. It was great but I would’ve appreciated him being just a little bit worse for the benefit of my ego.

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Me and Jay in Whistler

Unfortunately, this was pre-blog days and I didn’t think to take any video, but I have started strapping the GoPro on for rides so there will be ride pictures and videos to accompany my writing going forward. Look forward to some moderate speed fun!

After we tired ourselves out with a few runs, we had a lovely out-of-the-trunk picnic and headed back to the city.

I will be back in Whistler in a couple of weeks and then again for a longer jaunt at the end of June so expect some actual video and pictures. Perhaps we’ll see some skills improving and hopefully I won’t have a story about how I embarrassed myself on the lift.