What are you afraid of?

Mountain biking give us plenty of opportunities to face fears. Perhaps the most stark form of mountain biking is dirt jumping. The jump face looms ahead, all tall and steep and imposing. You’re either going for it or you’re not.

After many years of trial and error (and a still-broken collarbone), I have grown to love dirt jumping. It’s physically so simple — just row though the takeoff and anti-row in the air — but emotionally … you have all the wrinkles of confidence and apprehension and faith and risk, plus there’s the DJ Paradox: You need strength and power, but it must be delivered through a supple and carefree body.

Valmont Bike Park here in Boulder, CO has some very nice dirt jumps. The lines go XS, S, M, L and XL. The XL is made of wood, so it can’t be scaled up, so the L line has been rebuilt into the XXL line. The lips are very steep, the distances are pretty big and the gaps are consequential. Last night I watched a bunch of young elite DJers sessioning the line. Wow. The air, the smoothness, the joy. So good.

I haven’t hit that line in two years, since the day my buddy Alex overshot #2 and I took him to the hospital. The line was in my head, then it got rebuilt bigger and badder. The other day I decided to ride it.

Today I met the same Alex out there. We rode the pump track and the M line, then I worked the XL. I wasn’t happy until all traces of tension were gone from my body. Dirt jumping like that — with a loose body and a sharp mind — is one of the greatest feelings in MTB, and probably in Life.

Time to step up to the XXL. I hit #1 perfectly. Then #1 and 2. Perfect. I got off my bike and looked at #3 and 4. They are built so well … just like #2. But I was afraid.

As I rode back to the start hill, I considered my feelings. Is there anything about the jump I should be afraid of? Getting catapulted over the bars? No. I know how to pump a lip in perfect balance. Coming up short? No. I know how to absorb impacts. Looking bad? No. I’m way past that.

So why the fear? Two years ago I was diagnosed with severe depression — with a sprinkle of anxiety, self loathing and general shittiness. It’s been a hell of a challenge learning to 1) accept the diagnosis, 2) ride on the meds and 3) use riding as the Best Antidepressant Ever (while staying safe). I feel like my body and mind are compromised. So I’ve become more careful. But careful doesn’t lead to Flow, and a lack of Flow creates more depression, so around and around we go.

As I walked up the start hill, I realize something important: I’m not afraid of anything in particular. I’m just plain afraid. As much fun as I’m having, there’s a trace of malaise, of underlying shittiness, that has me feeling unconfident and worried. But, dude, I am not afraid of these jumps. And maybe part of living with depression is accepting that sometimes you feel shitty … but that you still need to do your thing.

So I roll in.

#1 was perfect. I got a huge pump on the backside and sent #2 a bit too long. I threw in a pedal and there was #3: tall and vertical and imposing. It felt like a brick wall ahead of me. When I rowed up the lip, the bricks melted into a rainbow, and as I arced through the air I felt little eddies of happiness swirling around me. It was perfect! Number 4 was completely subconscious: a true Jedi moment.

Wow! Pure Flow. Joy.

I expected to break through a physical barrier, but this was purely mental. Emotional. Spiritual. If you know me, you know I see the bike as a teacher for Life. I pledge to, on the bike and at work and in my family, have faith in my abilities, acknowledge that sometimes things just feel shitty, then seek joy anyway.

How about you? What are you afraid of? Even better: Where are you seeking joy?


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