One beautiful October day last fall I was out for a mountain bike ride near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. I was riding with my usual mountain biking buddy, JQ. We got off to a slow start as it had rained the night before making the first section of the trail muddy and slippery. Our pace picked up as we reached some smoother single track. Eventually, we got very near to the amphitheater itself and the single track became very groomed and un-technical. Maybe that was why I let my guard down. As I crossed a road and jumped over a water bar, I landed all wrong. As I was sent sailing over my handlebars into the air, I saw that I was headed face first toward a group of large boulders, strategically placed next to the trail as a barrier. The only thing I had time to do as the precipice of a rock rapidly approached my face was roll my head back toward my shoulder blades. This slight movement prevented me from breaking my face, but the full force of the impact was taken in my chest. I was not wearing a chest protector. And I don’t have a lot of “cushion” in that area, if you know what I mean.
I laid in the weeds wondering if this was going to be the crash that I didn’t walk away from. As I tried to catch my breath, I began to wiggle fingers and toes. I tried to call out to JQ to stop and wait for me, but it came out as a whisper. I slowly sat up and continued to gasp for breath. Eventually I stood and was shocked and pleased that everything still seemed to work. My bike was laying in a heap about ten feet away. It, too, still seemed to work, so I climbed on and started to pedal in the direction of JQ. By this time she was coming back to find me. We took the shortest route back to the cars, which was up Morrison Road. As the adrenalin started to wear off, the scrapes and bruises started to voice their discomfort. I had an x-ray the next day which showed a bruise to my sternum. I was told I could ride again when I was able to do a push up. I was back on the bike about four weeks later.
Four weeks after the crash puts us in November, and I didn’t ride the mountain bike much through the winter. In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing more mountain biking as I gear up for summer races. As a result of that crash, I’m a little gun shy of riding over boulders that normally wouldn’t even give me a reason to pause. It’s so frustrating to know what you are physically capable of only to have your brain bring it to a complete stop.
JQ and I recently went and rode at Alderfer/3 Sisters Park outside Evergreen, Colorado. The trail system there was great because there were many shorter loops you could connect into a substantial ride. We started on some flat trails with minor obstacles. Normally I have to try and chase JQ down to keep up with her, but that day, she held back and talked me through lines and over obstacles. I guess she, too, had observed my mental block on previous rides. Before I knew it, I was rolling over boulders like nobody’s business.
It would have been easy for me to let my pride get in the way of being open to her coaching. But I decided when I started this cycling journey that I would have to listen if I wanted to learn. I’ve learned so many little gems along the way because of that decision. And those lessons often come from unexpected sources.