“The trails are pretty technical,” Colin, from the Maine Sport bike shop tells me, “a good place to cut your teeth.” I, having never ridden a mountain bike that didn’t come from a yard sale, was suitably spooked. To a beginner, “technical” sounds a lot like “I hope you bring an arm sling.”
This potentially hazardous adventure started because I was trying to make friends with my coworkers. This upbeat guy, named Ross, and I have been talking about mountain biking. He rides and I love trying new things, so we decided to go after work. Nothing could be more convenient for us as Maine Sport rents mountain bikes and there is a two mile loop starting and finishing in the parking lot. Of course, I received Colin’s warning only after committing to biking with Ross, having signed on without knowing what I was getting into. Probably should have looked before I leaped, but what fun would that be.
On the day of the ride, I get setup at Rentals with a full-suspension mountain bike and the all important helmet. Ross had already set out on the trails so I was headed off on my own. Now I’ve ridden a bike before, but my experience of rocks and roots is that they need to be avoided. This time I was purposefully setting out to ride over those obstacles. I granny pedaled my way along the trail, dismounting and walking the bike when an obstacle looks too “technical.” After a few small loops, I find Ross with his ever-present grin. Now the fun and exploration could begin.
Having someone who is much better waiting up for me and giving advice is very helpful. And the fact that he would be watching whenever I bailed encouraged me to ride a little better. It’s best not to look too stupid in front of a new friend. But I’m sure he had a great time listening to my running commentary when I was surprised by bumps and obstacles. Everything was unexpected.
The trails behind Maine Sport are a series of loops that allows you to chew off as much as you want. Our first loop was small and there were a few times I walked, a few times I fell, but more ground that I maneuvered on the bike. In going for the second loop it was amazing how much more confident I felt going over this recently familiar terrain. Telling myself “Hey Ethan, you had to walk over that root the first time, good job.” However, more important than celebrating these wins is remembering the golden rule of trying new things: laugh at yourself.
At a certain slope I am thoroughly reminded of this rule. Ross conveniently again has a front row seat. I pedal as hard as I can up a small hill and as my front wheel leaves the ground I start to fall backwards, but aha, I am a quick thinker and I grab this log to steady myself. It was a good plan, if only the log wasn’t rotten. What happens next can only be compared to the end of Die Hard:
The log breaks off in my hand and I become Hans Gruber, flailing my arms as I fall in slo-mo down this hill. I oh so gracefully land in a heap with the bike on top of me and my head bouncing off a log (thank you helmet). I look up to a concerned Ross, give him a thumbs up to say I’m alright and crawl out from under the bike. What else can we do but laugh.
Trying new things requires the ability to dust yourself off and keep pedaling on. You’re going to fail frequently so you might as well laugh it off. In most things, and especially in mountain biking, failing is inevitable. But soldiering on is the best part of getting better. Maybe I just have a sick sense of fun, but I like failing and improving. I guess I enjoy beating my head against a wall (or logs in this case) until I have a breakthrough.
Riding back into the parking lot was a relief after the ride; my hands were raw from gripping the handlebars, my legs weren’t use to pedaling and I was tired from being on edge. Mountain biking is really scary but incredibly fun. When Ross and I high-fived I noticed he was fully clean while I was covered in dirt, but we were both smiling from ear to ear.
Ethan Merrifield is a reader, a runner and, now, a writer. Always active and looking for ways to challenge himself – outdoors and intellectually – he has returned to Midcoast Maine after college and is searching for his next adventure.