As I got my car packed up, I felt myself fighting off urges to make an excuse not to go. I ended up arriving to the unfamiliar parking lot super early and was feeling the butterflies as I waited for more riders to arrive. The feeling reminded me of the first time I went riding with the NEMBA crew, who I now join regularly on Thursdays. I was outside my comfort zone. For years I listened to the urges and made excuses not to go on group rides. Now I consider it a valuable and enjoyable part of life that I wish I started earlier.
Last week my schedule shifted and I was going to spend time with my son on Thursday rather than my usual Wednesday. That meant I wouldn’t be able to make my usual group mountain bike ride on Thursday night. I know that one of my friends from the Thursday night rides does another group ride on Wednesday, so I asked if I could go along with them.
The group ride isn’t for everybody. It requires a certain level of skill and fitness. If you’re a racer or an expert rider you may find them too slow and boring. If you’re a total beginner you might find them a bit overwhelming. If you’ve been riding for a little bit and you like it and want to push yourself, it’s something you’re going to enjoy. The group ride is a great place to help punch through the comfort zone.
My reservations for going out on these rides included: everyone would be better than me and I’d hold them up, it would be quicker for me to just go out and ride by myself, I’m not sure how to get to the meeting spot and don’t want to get there and be clueless, meeting new people, not having the right gear, having good gear but not having the skill to go with it, and generally not having time to get ready for or make it to the ride in time for the start. You do have to put a little planning and schedule modifying, but you can usually make it work at least once. Don’t think you’re signing yourself up for any long term commitment. I have a flexible schedule and can work it so I can ride with the same group a couple weeks a month. And that works for me.
I spend a lot of time on MTB websites, YouTube, channels, magazines, etc. Too much time. I get good information but am also exposed to a lot of advertising. The marketing folks who craft those ads are highly skilled at painting a picture of what Mountain Biking should be.
There are young fit riders pedaling around on the latest $9000 pastel covered carbon fiber rocket ships and sailing gracefully across pristine and dramatic landscapes in exotic locales underneath brilliant blue skies. For some reason that is what my minds eye pictures what mountain biking should look like and likely is the reason for my feelings of inadequacy because of my inability to fit into that image.
The reality of mountain biking is much more rich if not so idyllic. For the most part, the age of the d rider in the ad doesn’t match up to the buying power required for the bike they’re riding. I know there are exceptions, but in general the math doesn’t work. I was 33 when I bought my first real mountain bike and that was a used Specialized Enduro. That cost a fraction of what the latest and greatest featured in the bike magazines go for, which was still a lot of money, and I had a decent job, wasn’t married yet; and no kids. I’ve seen a few of the really nice bikes out on the trail, but especially here in Southern New England they are rare and it often belongs to someone who has already put thier kids through college and has disposable income again.
And even though I’ve been riding in this area for a few seasons, I still had misgivings about gear and skill inadequacy as I pulled up to the group ride last week. Of course they were quickly dispelled as more riders arrived and I could see they were mortals just like me. Well, some of them were. I was towards the back of the pack most of the ride and honestly can’t tell you what the riders in front were up to, immortal or otherwise.
This may be more characteristic of New England mountain biking and New England in general, but here it’s not about” check me out”. Some folks are on newer bikes, some on older ones. Some have the latest kit and some have sneakers and gym shorts. And one of the guys with whom I had previously engaged in a bike vs car version of a Mexican stand off in the parking lot even had the same pair of mountain bike shorts I also own. He also had gray hair like me and reminded me of someone who might have been my neighbor in the big suburban house I used to live in. As he was calmly assembling his gear and bike into ride mode, he lamented about his awful day at work, but not in a painful or languishing tone, and concluded, “and now I’m here and all I have to do is ride my bike all of that other crap doesn’t matter.”
We mountain bikers have snagged a golden ring in life”s merry go round. We’ve found a truly unique way to engage in a great sport, with great people, in the great outdoors. And though the Siren calls of the marketing mavens sing a pretty song, when it all comes down to it, riding is about fun. A group ride is a modern play of our primitive social dynamic that is part of our common ancestor’s’ story of survival. In a group we find strength as our primitive relatives did to fend off lions, tigers, and bears. Getting together snaps us out of our troubles as we shed our worries and go and and play in the woods for a while. And while It’s nice to have a solo ride to clear your head, it’s really fun to ride with a group.
It is uncomfortable to step outside our comfort zone. How about that for insight? But it’s often so rewarding once we do it, that we wondered what we were ever so anxious about. So this week my adventure was going on an unfamiliar group ride. Not exactly what I was shooting for when starting this blog, but certainly an after work adventure nonetheless.
And as I write this, a package rests in the front passenger seat of my car. I picked it up today and inside lays what hopefully is the last piece of gear I need to gather for a bikepacking overnight mission. Upcoming blogs should include an introduction to bikepacking and detail how I plan out, prepare for, and execute my first mountain bike touring expedition. Depending on weather, I have a few ideas for more localized expeditions in between the bikepacking as well. So, if that sounds more like an after work adventure you’d like to read about, please stick with me. It should start getting good.