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Dig In: Lessons From Being Lost in the Night

Tiffanie didn’t really start mountain biking until she took up adventure racing nine years ago. That’s a bit of a back-door (and very difficult) entrance into riding, but it stuck! Here, she tells a story from her adventure racing days (2005-2010), and how physical hardship can translate to powerful life lessons.

By Tiffanie Beal, IMBA Finance Administrator

Have I raced through the night? Tons of times. Faced hypothermia? I think four, distinct times. Thought I was going to drown? Almost, just once. Hung off a rope, dangling in mid-air, wondering how I was ever going to get myself out of that situation? Yep, been there. No sleep? 48 hours straight is my record. Crashed my bike off a cliff? I remember desperately hanging onto my bike beneath me as I clung to a root above.

I have stories upon stories from my adventure racing past, yet one of my most profound memories comes from being completely and unnervingly lost.

As an adventure racer, I confronted many fears and pushed myself to do things I wouldn't normally agree to do. One night in Durango, CO, taught me an awesome lesson about the world and about myself.

It was midnight, and I was racing up the Purgatory Ski Resort. This signaled the beginning of the Durango Adventure Xstream 24-hour race. A new moon hovered above my team, denying any helpful shine to our narrowly defined headlamp lights. Race beginnings are always hectic, and it was once again a frantic scramble to the first checkpoint. With a map and a compass and nothing else, we set out to find it.

It is interesting that sometimes what you set out to find isn’t what you always get. Four hours into the race, in the darkest part of the night while bushwhacking through the Colorado backcountry, we managed to turn ourselves around so much that I had absolutely no clue where we were. If you showed me the entire map at that point, I could not tell you where I thought we were on it. Seriously, I could not even have put my finger on so much as a quadrant to take a guess.

As the horror of this realization set in, I remember finally coming to a stop and finding my race partner's eyes. Coming to terms with this understanding is a feeling I don’t think I can ever fully describe. Blackout darkness enveloped our sinking hearts, and I felt isolation in the core of my soul. The feeling of being completely alone in the wilderness with no trail, no daylight, no perspective, and no bearing was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I finally realized how powerfully big the world was, and how small I was in it. As my reality shifted, I felt the undercurrent of something larger than myself, and I still feel its effects today.

Looking back, I use this experience to learn and adapt all my struggles in life. What do you do when you've hit rock bottom and don't understand which way is up, which way is right, or which direction to go? We sat in the silence of the dark wilderness for a few, long moments. We grounded ourselves internally, then did our best to retrace our steps to our last known point, even though it look a long time and a ton of effort. Eventually, finding a bearing, we continued on to complete the full 24-hour race.

Coming away from that night, I know there is a depth to this world that is unfathomable, and we only get glimpses of that during our lifetimes. You can count on yourself if you slow down and listen. Sometimes, the best way forward will be a few painful steps back, as I realized when we were forced to do so much backtracking.

Most of the time now, I leave my phone behind when I adventure out, and I don’t GPS my mountain bike rides. I like to disconnect and try to listen to my surroundings, find my way, and understand the world I am navigating by bike and my feet.

I hope to be an 80-year-old lady still rocking it out on her bike. I will ride strong and I will “ride like a girl.” I promise myself to get out there and get on my feet for a trail run. In the winter, I will break out backcountry and Nordic skis. The most important part being to just get out there and enjoy the trails and the lessons nature can bring.

+ New to Dig In? Read the introductory post.

+ Did you miss Tiffanie's profile? Check it out here. Then join us next week to meet Wendy Sweet, a customer service specialist with IMBA who just completed the Ironman Boulder and will write for us about riding with kids and families.

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