A mountain biking addict reflects on That Feeling when your confidence gets shaken to the core
By Sarah Hansing
Over three weeks off of the bike; just shy of a month, actually. That’s how long it has taken me to heal up enough from my last crash to be able to get out on the trails and pedal around for an hour or two. It isn’t for lack of wanting that I didn’t get out before, either. For the first time in a really REALLY long time, I had a crash bad enough that I couldn’t just ride through the pain. A typical crash for me leaves some bruises, bleeding, and maybe a sprained or broken wrist. No big deal, up and at ’em and back out on the bike within a few days – just another fun war story and a little bit of residual soreness. Nothing to really take the edge off, and nothing to really make me HAVE to slow down a bit.
Not this last crash though. This last one was perhaps one of my more un-glorious crashes. It wasn’t cool, I wasn’t going fast, I wasn’t railing into a turn or bombing a rock garden. What I know was that I was in the air (not very high up, and not for very long) and then I wasn’t. I know that I landed on my head, and I know that I heard a “crunch.” I also know that those two things in conjunction are actually a very scary thing, that I concussed myself slightly, that I likely cracked a vertebrae, and that I should never ever assume that a trail feature hasn’t changed a little bit, even if it has been the same for over a year.
I jumped up like a cat that has fallen off of a table, got back on my bike, and rode another 6 miles or so back home. My bike was parked in the garage until this past weekend.
I was SO stoked when my body was finally ready and willing to hit the trails again! I had anticipated a bit of fitness loss (the extent of which I had actually under-estimated by quite a lot). I had anticipated having to do maybe some shorter, easier rides with less intensity than I had been doing before the crash, too. What I had NOT anticipated was what that crash would do to me psychologically on the bike.
A lot of us ride to help clear our heads; to put us in a better head space, and to get the feels out and the wiggles out, so to speak. I know pedaling a bike served that purpose for me, at any rate. It still does, in fact. But the reality of being hurt that badly rattled my confidence to the core. I have fear where I didn’t before. I overthink where I would’ve just acted. I am more cautious. And I am frustrated as all hell about it.
Perhaps it is a good lesson in humanity and humility to be reminded that we are mortals. But just because it is a good lesson, doesn’t mean I have to like it.
It’s been years since the fear has visited, and I hope it doesn’t stay for very long. In the interim, I have to remember that just being able to pedal again is awesome. I won’t be scared and won’t hesitate to take chances or risk getting hurt forever.
I suppose an awful mountain bike crash isn’t too different from a broken heart, really. The trepidation and fear will fade, and everything will be ok. It just takes time and a little patience with myself.
Lessons learned – that’s a big part of pedaling a mountain bike on, up, over and around the things we ride. Failure is the flip side to the euphoria we so gladly gobble up on the trail. It’s important thing to remember that getting hurt isn’t the end of the world; just a reset button and a reminder that we sometimes need.
Fat Tire Tuesday columnist Sarah Hansing has been slinging wrenches as a pro bike mechanic for 15 years (with the exception of a one year stint working for Trek Bicycles in Wisconsin.) Epicenter Cycling scooped her up as their lead mechanic and the shop’s crew plans to keep her forever. Sarah loves riding singletrack, wrenching on bikes, and hanging out with her jerk-face but adorable cat Harlan. (Who is a jerk.)