When you dismount a mountain bike going uphill, you end up doing a sort of bow. As you step off and swing a leg over the seat, your head naturally points down as you are admitting that the trail has you beat, this time.
After years of saying “I suck at fast/gravity/downhill sports,” I bought a mountain bike a few weeks ago. I have two goals:
1) I will not crash my new mountain bike hard enough to break anything on my body.
2) I will ride my new mountain bike enough times in the next year that its expensive-to-me-but-apparently-relatively-inexpensive-in-the-world-of-mountain-bikes price feels like an investment and not a foolish endeavor.
I’m a climber, I tell myself. I’m no good at these outdoor sports that require fast reactions: tree skiing, mountain biking, kayaking. I’m in my early 30s, too, which is old enough to know I don’t have to do shit I don’t want to do, like eat cauliflower, get regular haircuts, wait 30 minutes after eating to get back into the swimming pool, or ride knobby-tired bicycles on steep mountain trails. That’s the great thing about being an adult.
Which is also the bad thing about being an adult: thinking you know everything. You know what you can do, and therefore you know what you can’t do, too. I’m a bad cook. I can’t fix a car. It’s too late to go back to college. I don’t dance. I’m not a mountain biker.
The last word you’d ever use to describe my friend Elizabeth is “arrogant.” Three years ago, I would have introduced her as a boulderer, and a good one. Every year since I met her, she’s tried something new: Two years ago, she learned to snowboard. Last winter, she learned to tele ski. This year, she says she’s going to learn to roll a kayak. I admire this.
I remember learning to snowboard when I was 26, falling on my ass, and my face, repeatedly, cartoon-worthy crashes in the middle of blue runs while 9-year-old kids flew by me carving the hell out of everything as I wondered if I’d just given myself a concussion. I was humbled, to say the least. That year, I was able to tell myself, as Elizabeth does every year when she takes up something new:
I am going to try this, I am going to suck at it for an indefinite amount of time, and other people are going to see me fail, repeatedly.
My friend Jeff Weidman started learning to play the guitar at age 46, and everyone said he was starting too late in life. He stuck with the lessons and kept practicing, as his career brought big changes almost every other year. Nobody said it was too late in life when he played Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison” at his first-ever open mic six years later.
The earlier you can admit you don’t know everything, the more time you have to learn new things and make a richer life. The later you admit you don’t know everything, the less time you have. And if you don’t admit it at all? There’s a song lyric that says, “The older I get, the less I know, and the more I dream.”
Is anybody inspired by the guy who knows everything? I’d rather talk to the fat guy at the gym who has finally decided to do something instead of slowly dying in front of his TV, the divorcee going on her first first date in 25 years, the shy single guy at the cooking class, all the folks bumbling through our first time in a foreign country and stumbling through a new language, and non-teenagers crashing our new bikes, skis, snowboards, and sheepishly standing up again and believing you can teach an old dog new tricks.
I’m 4-for-4 so far on rides on my new bike without crashing. A couple weeks ago, I swear I caught two inches of air off a small bump in a trail near Fort Collins. If you were standing there and acted quickly, you might have been able to pass a sheet of paper between my tires and the ground. One friend of mine says we peak as bicycle riders at age 13, after which you start to get afraid to jump your bike off things. Another friend says 30 is the new 13.
Brendan Leonard writes Semi-Rad.