SeriesKeeping Fear at bay means riding into it without brakes.
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I am sitting at my kitchen table, my front door and windows wide open to let in the fresh mountain air, enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation with my best friend, Christiane, on the other side of the country, when the topic of fear came up. “You should write about Fear, you have experienced it so deeply, and live daily with it nipping at your heels.” I laughed wryly, “Yeah, Fear is definitely camped outside my door waiting for an invite to come on in.”
Pausing to think if Fear is rabbit hole I really wanted to dive into today, two dogs burst into my kitchen. Neither one of them belong to me and as I chase them out Christiane hears me shout, “Get out! Out! This is not your home, you don’t belong in here!”
“Hmmm”, she says, “It’s as if they arrived on cue to spark that response! Those words could easily apply to fear as much as to the those dogs.” A cosmic sign? Or just two overly curious and cheeky canines looking for some free food? To me, Fear is the summation of all the undefineable things that throw up resistance to change, roadblocks to experience, and an inability to love unconditionally. Not a fan of roadblocks of any kind, fear is not a companion I am willing to share my time, or my coffee, with. I have experienced it keenly as rape victim – brutal violence and violation that left me in a broken heap in the dirt. I endure its nearby presence daily as the founder of an international non profit that hasn’t yet turned the corner financially, and as a single mother that risked everything to fight for women’s rights in conflict zones like Afghanistan and at times has to choose between groceries and phone bill. I know how closely Fear is shadowing me.
The trick is to recognize Fear, to say hello as you would to the paranoid Tea Party supporter you see at the coffee shop every day, but to not make friends with it. If you simply try to ignore it, it tries to engage you in conversation, sucking you into the abyss. But acknowledging it sets boundaries. “Hi, I see ya, but I’m too busy to chat today.” Move along. I’ve got things to do.
It’s the same on a mountain bike. I have donated my fair share of blood and skin to the Gods of Dirt and Rock along with a cracked rib and broken elbow. One particularly pricey donation came while bombing down the backside of Hall Ranch chasing a much faster, and experienced, friend. I washed out on a slab of rock covered in a veil of loose dirt and ripped the better part of my forearm and elbow off. I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out what was me and was rock, and I know that by continuing to ride, donations like this are part of the contract. Fear whispers, “Slow down, use your brakes. Dismount before the rock garden. Don’t try to lift your wheel over that ledge, you’ll get hurt again!” But what Fear doesn’t realize is getting hurt is part of the game. No one is invincible, we’re not built that way. Life is meant to PLAY.
The therapy I get from two wheels, one gear, and miles of singletrack, overwhelmingly outweighs the risks. The combination of a clear head, burned out quads, and dirt in my teeth far exceeds the occasional bodily appeasement to the deities. The irony is that by conquering Fear on my bike, I keep the daily Fear of life at bay, much like the old song, by Little Richard, “I hear you knocking but you can’t come in,” I call out.
The little victories on the bike translate into confidence and courage and then equals bigger victories off the bike. Choosing to get back on the bike knowing it may draw blood is a choice, and one I make willingly, even happily knowing that 95% of the time I’ll come off my bike, sore and dirty, but also gloriously happy.
I embrace the risks I’ve taken, without them I wouldn’t have ridden my singlespeed across the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan. I probably wouldn’t have started mountain biking in the first place. I wouldn’t have lived abroad for ten years. I wouldn’t have started a business, or a non profit. I wouldn’t have entered the fight for women’s rights. I wouldn’t vacation in war zones. I wouldn’t have fallen in love. Twice. Hell, I wouldn’t have even become a mother, by far the scariest thing I’ve done to date, as anyone that has stared down a three-year-old’s tantrum can attest to.
Sorry, Fear, but you have to stay outside with the dogs.