Releasing the Death Grip
Last Fall I bought a mountain bike. Nothing fancy…a good, basic beginner bike. I had never ridden off-road before; paved streets and sidewalks were the only terrain I needed to navigate growing up in the city.
I’ve been riding this bike quite a bit in the last few weeks. It sat idle all summer while I was on my road bike, and the cooler weather has prompted me to ride it again.
On Tuesday I was riding a connecting trail that runs from the street to the main trail and I was thinking about the first day I rode this bike, which also happened to be on this same stretch of single track.
I remember it was a chilly morning when I put the new bike in the car, and headed northwest with two friends towards a spot where we could hop on the network of trails that run along the river, winding through forest preserves. It’s perfect for an off-road rookie: mostly flat, nothing too complicated, goes for miles, and also happens to be really beautiful.
We parked and unloaded the bikes. I didn’t say it out loud, but I was nervous. The bike was new. I had never used SPD pedals before. Would I make a fool of myself in front of these two experienced cyclists? Oh brother, what had I gotten myself into?
Off we went. We crossed the street to the opening of the connecting trail and they told me to go first. It was now or never. Go!
Everything about this was totally foreign to me. The way the bike moved under me. The way my legs felt pushing through. Feeling winded after such a short time.
And I could hear instructions from behind me: Look ahead. Keep pedaling. Let the bike move. Release the death grip on your bars. Relax.
I emerged from that section onto the main trail and my heart was pounding out of my chest, although I know it was more from the adrenaline than the effort. I was smiling like crazy and for some reason wanted to squeal − which I did.
We rode for two hours that morning. There were spots on the trail that were still wet from previous days’ rain, and both my new bike and my legs were full of mud splatters . I wore them happily. The smile that I started with stayed with me long after we finished riding.
I still have so much to learn and I’m fortunate to have someone in my life who is very experienced – and very patient – who is teaching me new skills along the way. I consider getting over my first log somewhat of a milestone, as was riding right off the trail into the bushes!
So, I’m still on “bunny” trails, and I’m sure it will be a while before I move on to anything more technical. And yes, there are still moments when I find myself with a death grip on my bars.
I suspect that may be happening for some time to come.