So far, I have really only used this blog to report on my races – however, while racing is challenging, exciting, and fun, it isn’t the only reason I’m passionate about bikes. Last weekend I was able to go on a long mountain bike ride with my dad, and it reminded me why I got hooked on this sport to begin with.
My dad turned 50 on Friday, and he isn’t much of a celebratory type. He usually keeps it quiet, enjoying cake and presents with the family, and often we eat his favorite meal of meatloaf. He would rather have a small family meal than get a big gift to celebrate, so I was surprised that he had an answer when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He told me that to celebrate, the thing he wanted to do most was go on a long mountain bike ride in Pisgah National Forest.
My parents are the main forces behind me getting into mountain bike racing. Growing up, my dad was into adventure racing, where teams use orientation skills to find checkpoints on a map, and then get to those points by running, biking, or paddling. He took me on long rides in Dupont and Pisgah that pushed me, but he never pressured me to be competitive or do better. It was always for the challenge and fun of it. My mom also worked hard to organize youth mountain bike races for me to compete in, because she knew that biking was something that made me happy. My parents have always supported and encouraged me in the sport, and they still do today with my collegiate and open racing.
The idea of going on a long ride with my dad again was exciting – I hadn’t been home as much because of college and traveling a lot for races, so it had been a while since we rode together. Initially in life, the aspect of mountain biking that appealed to me most was the thrill of exploring a new place and feeling that sense of adventure on the trails. The route dad wanted to take was certainly an adventure, but I didn’t quite realize the extent of what we were getting into.
Dad wanted to drive to a trailhead in Marion, and ride a 25 mile route that would go up and over Wood Mountain on a bike-friendly section of the mountains to sea trail. He told me there would be about 3000 feet of climbing and maybe a couple sections where we’d have to push our bikes. Turns out he was 1200’ short on his elevation estimation, and we ended up carrying our bikes over fallen trees or pushing up extremely steep sections more than I could count. The whole ride took about 5 hours, but only 3 ½ hours of that was moving time. This was double the time I expected the route to take us, and not to mention I had my first cross country mountain bike race of the season the next morning, so this overdid it a bit for “openers”. The only prediction I was happy we proved wrong was his estimate that we wouldn’t get back to the car until dark. I underestimated how long it would take, how tired I would be, and how steep the trail was, but the most important thing I underestimated was how much fun we had.
Dad wanted an adventure for his birthday, and he sure got one – but I got a gift too. Not only was I able to spend a whole day in the woods on my bike with my dad, but I was also reminded why I spend so much time dedicated to this sport. With cycling, it’s easy to get caught up in numbers. I tend to be a fairly type A and anxious person, so numbers are something that I can quickly get hung up on. Is my heartrate in the right zone? Did that ride have a high enough miles-per-hour average? Do I weigh the right amount? Am I putting out enough power? Should I train more hours this week? Riding with my dad that day we were able to just think about the fun of biking in the moment, enjoy the weather, and relish the challenge of a long day spent navigating and riding.
Trying to reach the “right numbers” sometimes clouds the real reasons that I ride. Cycling is empowering, exciting, adventurous, scary, fun, tiring, and exhilarating. My bike has taken me to places I would have never gone to if not for the opportunity to race there, and training has pushed me beyond what I thought my limits were. My dad’s birthday ride wasn’t a particularly grueling day as far as “adventure rides” go. We rode hard, but we also stopped often, took snack breaks, snapped pictures, and joked throughout the ride. It didn’t end with some miraculous story of accomplishment or memorable tale of enduring a bad storm or mechanical issue. Instead, my dad’s birthday ride was important because amongst all the numbers and training and racing, it reminded me how crucial it is to go on rides just to remind myself of the adventure and love that make cycling worth it.
The car parked at the end of the trail was a welcome sight after a long day. We loaded up the bikes feeling accomplished, even though there had been no target heart rate reached or new power threshold set. I was told once that the act of riding a bike is just the relentless pursuit of balance, but that’s what all of life is in the end. You have to set aside time in life to devote to training, but too much focus on the numbers and you forget to live. On the drive back I was able to reflect on some of the opportunities that riding has given me, and about how biking enhances my quality of life by giving me both happiness and a continual push to be better. I feel lucky to be able to ride and race, having a support team that enables me to continue pursuing the balance of biking and living. Dad and I headed home that day sweaty, stinky, salty, and smiling.