My heart pounded, my forearms burned and my legs trembled: Clearly, this was the stupidest thing I had ever done for fun.
And I have done a few dumb things — hiking through lightning storms, inching up cliffs and wading across flooded creeks.
But biking up this hill with a pack on my back from the Pine Trailhead marked a new low — at least for the moment.
I was just a mile or two from civilization, so what was the big deal?
This section of the Arizona Trail is well traveled, marked and free of mountain lions, at least that I could see. The sky was clear of clouds and two good friends led the way.
Doesn’t matter. This is awful.
Dumbest thing ever.
A hiker bounding happily downhill stopped to take in the sight of me.
I was loaded down with a 40-pound backpacking pack headed straight uphill on a mountain bike. I can’t say if I was really pedaling, just edging painfully forward trying to not topple over. If not for my brakes, I’d be rolling downhill backward.
The pack prevented me from putting my head back, so I sank lower in my seat and pedaled by the hiker.
“Wow, and you have a pack on,” he said.
Yep, I was crazy.
I’ve spent a decade mountain biking, without actually getting good at it. I dodge every jump, ride around every log and get off if I even think I might have a pedal strike. And I am not really in shape for the sport.
Fortunately, I read author Karen Rinaldi’s book, “It’s Great to Suck at Something: The unexpected joy of wiping out and what it can teach us about patience, resilience and the stuff that really matters.”
Her advice for a rich life involves trying things that scare us by pushing us out of our comfort zone, even if we downright suck at it.
Rinaldi loves to surf, but hasn’t gotten much better after 20 years of effort, but loves it just the same.
She says that sucking at something rewires our brain, cultivates grit and brings joy.
“I want to share with you just how great it can be to suck at something: to really, really struggle to do something unremarkable, uncelebrated and without much to show for it,” she writes. “And to do that unremarkable thing with love and with hope in your heart. To do it with joy.”
OK. At the moment, I can’t muster joy. In fact, I’m kicking myself between gasps. Why can’t I keep up with the guys? Why am I afraid of a jump? Falling would hurt, but I might also make it.
But, I knew, I didn’t want to take the risk.
“Let’s just turn around and go home,” my sensible self whispered.
I teetered to a stop to gather my breath.
I wanted to scream for my friends to come back and take my stuff so I could walk up unhindered. But they’d forged on ahead out of sight. I was on my own with my bike.
I knew there would be a reward if I could just keep going.
So I walked, pedaled and staggered on to Milk Ranch Point, our campsite for the night. I pulled in just as a warm summer sunset spread across Pine to the north and the Granite Dells to the south.
We set up our sleeping bags under a sky so welcoming I sat down on a tree stump just to take it all in.
We didn’t need a tent, with the monsoon still weeks away. We sat around a campfire — with fire restrictions also weeks away — and talked about how we could lighten our loads if we bought more expensive gear.
After a day of suffering, I felt happy. I had made it. Sure, it sucked getting there, but I had made it. The memory of the pain would fade, but not the glow of triumph.
Later, I read this passage and it captured that moment:
“Our lives are far from perfect, except for fleeting moments when the perfect wave comes through, and your body and mind are both ready for it, and for a moment you hitch a ride on what feels like a ripple on the silk of life itself,” Rinaldi writes.
I thought about that on the long, scary ride back down — life rippling like silk.
And finally back at the car I realized — I’m finally getting the hang of sucking at something.
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