I’ve been riding a mountain bike for a few years. I use the term “riding” loosely because my experience often includes “pushing” my bike over boulders, “walking” it down steep slopes, and “scooting” across narrow bridges like a toddler on a toy. So more accurately, “I’ve been ride-push-scoot-walking a mountain bike for a few years.”
My eleven-year old son, Sam, rides too. And until this year, I held back so Sam could keep up.
But there comes an unexpected moment in a boy mom’s life when her cuddly, kissable, rough and tough little guy turns into a man-child. Like over night. Seriously, he goes to bed in footed pajamas and wakes up emotional, awkward, and aromatic.
Sam is suddenly fearless and built like a draft horse. He dominates on a mountain bike and doesn’t bother to hold back, so I can keep up.
He takes on roots, rocks, bridges, and loves the thrill of the down hill run. Which leaves me eating his dust until….We go up that hill.
He doesn’t like the incline. He moves his bike over, and makes room for mine.
And may I say… I totally kick it on the hills. The obvious reason is I’m old and hills are slower and safer than flying down the trail at mach speed risking injury to my vital organs.
But the real reason I can handle the hills is that I’ve learned endurance. I know to let the slope make me stronger. I’ve realized the purpose is not to flatten the hill, but to simply make peace with the climb.
I don’t know how long or high the hill will go, but I’ve trudged up enough mountains to know they don’t go on forever. Eventually, I reach the top. When I do… I get to enjoy the incredible view. I look back and down, over my shoulder, feeling satisfied (and even a little smug) that I didn’t give up. I catch my breath and take a big inhale before I start the next leg of the journey.
When I’m on my bike and in my life, I approach each hill in a similar way. I gear down, take my time, vet out the smoothest route, keep a steady pedal- rotation after rotation.
But the most important thing I’ve learned is to change my inner dialogue. It’s drastically different than it used to be- which was reckless and rotten.
Nowadays, I openly cheer myself on. I don’t care if it sounds silly. It’s wonderful and it works. If you come up behind me on a hill, you’ll experience me panting and saying something like…
You can do it, girl. (insert: grunt) You can do this! (insert wheeze) Good job! (insert: gasp) You will make this hill your bitch! (insert: serious biker growl) Keep going! (insert: spit) You’re almost there. (insert: grunt again) Almost… Almost… Almost… Awesome! (insert: heave, gasp, heave, gasp, repeat) You did it! (insert: 2 finger kiss lifted to the sky like I just won Olympic Gold).
(Ah-hem. Describing this to you now, I realize the more likely reason my son lets me go ahead of him on the hills.)
No matter. It’s my process and I’m owning it.
And I wonder, what is your process for climbing hills? Do you take them slow and steady, gearing down, being kind to yourself?
Or do you climb hills like I used to- kicking and screaming, berating and belittling yourself, trying to flatten the immutable?
If so, can I extend you an invitation?
Pull over to the side.
Break this stride.
Reassess your process.
Because hills are an inevitable part of life, right? So why not do them well?
I remind Sam, “We have to go up to enjoy the ride down.”
But what I really want to teach him (barring the exasperated sigh and eye-roll) is that, “The downhill coast makes you a good rider, but the uphill climb makes you a great one.”
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photo by Eric Haidara