I’m sure everyone has that embarrassing elementary P.E. story. To this day, I grow red from my cheeks to my collarbone when I think about a particular game of HORSE in third grade. I literally couldn’t make a basket to save my eight-year-old self from school-yard shame. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t like being bad at things. But even worse than being bad at something, being bad at something physical in front of other people—woof.
Flash-forward to 2017, nearly twenty years later and my co-workers invited me to Moab on a mountain biking trip. I'd ridden twice before when I lived in Tahoe and loved it—but money, car-lessness, and NZ life prevented me from pursuing it seriously. I liked these friends, I wanted to get to know them better and I’d never been to Moab. They assured me I wouldn’t hold them back. So, I went for it.
Bartlett and Jedi Slickrock are epic geological features that drained every thought, every breath and filled me with only the beauty of all that lay before me. These mountain biking trails aren't actually trails--they're like solidified, russet waves that flow high above a shadowed canyon floor. The route is made from Entrada Sandstone, a fine-grained fiery orange rock that makes for a playful grip and an eerie grace. We climbed high over a valley on rock so smooth it seemed to ooze below us—like the muddy floodplains they once were. After pedaling hard and high, we were on a plateau riding alongside a steep drop off to the canyon floor below. Around us, clouds undulated and metamorphosed in a prismatic sunset. It was hard, but the swells made me feel like I was riding water.
Without a path to follow, we made our own trail, choosing whichever dips, drops and rises we wanted to take. Sometimes I picked a course and then realized, with a trembling stomach, that it led me to a gigantic slope and harsh descent. Like with climbing and so many other physical sports, the second I faltered, the moment I doubted myself, was the moment my bike wobbled and I fell or lost momentum enough to be forced off my bike. Like so many things, biking was about seeing the move I needed to make and then forcing myself to take it without fear or trepidation. In the end, I'm nearly always capable--I just need to trust myself enough to take the risk.
For better or for worse, I am constantly in my head. I often feel like I live behind a mirror of my own experiences—observing everything from a reflection of the real thing. As a writer, when I walk to work I am plotting, arranging character's wills and desires with every step. It’s one of the reasons I like to walk the 4 miles to REI every day—uninterrupted, blissful headspace. But when I’m mountain biking, or climbing, or hunting—I lose my mind. In a great, orgasmic way. The ego in me lessens. My mind retreats to a hidden crevasse and this body, this body of me who quavers at climbs and flips at descents, replaces everything. There’s a beautiful magic that comes from such intense focus. It's a lightening, a loosening. I feel free.
I am not a good mountain biker. Yes, there were times I was embarrassed because I couldn’t send a tough feature while everyone watched. And yes, I did go over my handlebars (although, in my defense the sun was nearly gone and the light concealed a three-foot drop that I wasn’t prepared for!). For me, courage has been finding the will to do things I’m bad at. To be the new person. To be the girl who’s not afraid to look like a fool among people who’ve been biking/climbing/skiing/hunting for years (that's a lie--I am still terrified to look like a fool, but I force myself to be one anyway).
It's hard to be a woman in the outdoors but it's also hard to be the new kid in an insular community. Don't let creative industry marketing fool you--finding space within the outdoor community is difficult. Especially if money and opportunity have previously prevented inclusion. Even just getting out there takes courage and significant effort that is often underestimated by its general participants.
I'm hesitant to offer any suggestions on how to live your life. But I know so many women (and so many people new to the outdoors) who are afraid. Afraid to be bad. Afraid to be just beginning. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm not saying you won't be embarrassed. I'm simply saying: try. Forgive yourself when you fall down. Laugh when you make a complete ass of yourself flying off the handlebars. I used to apologize for slowing people down but I don't do that anymore. Now, whenever I feel uncomfortable or self conscious about being a newbie I try to sit that with the feeling, embrace the uneasiness and move on.
I don't like the fact that I'm twenty-seven and just now discovering what it is I really love. Sometimes I feel so behind. But, then again, I'm in awe that I'm getting to know myself at all. That this is a struggle I'm willing to contend with. That there's this whole human in me who is only just now emerging.
A woman I'm willing to acknowledge, understand and release.