— By Aimee Ross, IMBA Advocacy Manager
We all experience it at some point in our practice of mountain biking (and by practice I mean my physical riding not my sweet desk job in the cycling industry)—a moment of, “That’s it, dammit! This sucks! I quit!” This is my story of that breaking point, which made up a strange, 24-hour period.
A little background: I grew up riding bikes in Michigan with a handful of boy cousins and my brother; it was what we did every day of every summer. And then I grew up, got a driver’s license and the bike became a figment of my imagination until I was about 23 years old. In my last year of college, I started dabbling with my mountain bike practice, but soon walked away again for no good reason.
Fast forward three years when I packed up my life into a Budget rental truck and set my sights on Southern California, where the grass was greener and the dirt was loose. I found myself working for a mountain bike manufacturer and very quickly needed to learn how to ride again. Things were different that time around: dual-suspension, disc brakes, shorter stems, carbon fiber frames, 29-inch wheels and clipless pedals were all new to me. I was in for the ride of my life and, I’ll admit, I’m still on that ride! In the last nine years, I’ve peaked and plateaued on several occasions. Is that even possible? Yes, Yes it is.
At that time, my practice in mountain biking was about to have the encounter of a lifetime. In 2010, I met mountain bike legend, hall of famer and four-time MTB World Champion Nat Ross. If his name is unfamiliar, I won’t think you’re a huntress if you Google him; I certainly did to find out who I was dating. Hey ... there are a lot of weirdos out there!
I was never worried about how I stacked up against him on the bike; it never crossed my mind what dynamic we might face while riding trail together. I grew up riding with boys; how could this be any different? But instead, my mountain bike practice received a big fat check from the Department of Reality. While I may have had a base of intermediate technical skill, my endurance was … umm … non-existent.
So Nat and I became great road riding partners, but struggled through demons while mountain biking together. He’s always going to be my go-to riding partner, even if we end up annoyed with one another. I would bet that this dynamic is not unfamiliar to most couples who mountain bike together. Us industry folk are no different.
In 2012, Nat and I moved to the Colorado high country. With my mountain bike desk job on hold, I had all the time in the world to work on my riding practice. Here’s where my mountain bike riding practice almost ceased to exist: Nat and I met a group of outdoor enthusiasts who gathered weekly to mountain bike together. With some hesitation, I agreed to a particular ride that I now refer to as the “death march through the high desert.”
I set out with a positive attitude and my trusty Yeti 575 (pictured right); which to that point had been the best mountain bike I had ever owned. I loved it. The Yeti gave me the confidence to descend like a missile (at least an intermediate missile), even though it was kind of a tank on the climbs. But heck, my positive attitude said, “It’ll make me a stronger climber!” Famous last words.
The ride started out great. I was hanging on by a thread, but I was smiling. Once we reached the lollipop (loop trail on one end of an out-and-back ride), it was decided the group would traverse it clockwise. I was still riding off the back, but at that point in my riding practice I had accepted—and somewhat relished—the title of the “lantern rouge” (a popular road cycling term for being in last place during a race). Anyway, I had to get used to being in the back since I was spending 90 percent of my riding time tagging along with a world champion and his friends.
This lollipop trail consisted of rolling train with short, steep climbs and even shorter descents. During a brief snack break, I was given the option to take a trail down to town while the rest finished the loop, or I could press on. I wasn’t feeling too bad and didn’t want to give up, so I pressed on.
As the group began to roll out, we encountered another rider who asked, “Why are you riding the trail backward?” I thought, “Is there such a thing on a cross-country trail?” Over the next mile or two, I began to understand what he meant as we rode along a series of ridiculously steep and long, sustained climbs with minimal downhill rest moments. I was exhausted, frustrated, over-heating, bonking and wishing I had taken the split in the trail down to town and home! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, we came upon a completely un-rideable, steep uphill for which I had to dismount from my favorite steed, lift the bike over my head, toss it up over a hill and then scramble up after the bike. I conquered that, but was furious. Nat, who had graciously been riding off the back to keep an eye on me, knew better than to stop at that point, understanding the fury I would have unleashed on him.
So what does a girl like me do in this situation?
Pull out my phone.
Say to myself, “Sweet, I have reception!”
Load the Facebook app and post the following on my wall: “Yeti 575 MTB small with XT for sale. Contact me for more info!!!”
Don’t believe me? Here it is, dated June 2, 2013, at approximately 2 p.m. mountain standard time.
I think I sat there on the trail for a handful of minutes by myself, repeating mantras in my head like, "This is stupid," and, "I hate mountain biking," and, "I’m never doing this again!"
Obviously I was serious since I had just listed my bike for sale.
In the middle of a ride.
Eventually, I pulled myself together, got back on my bike and headed off down the trail until I caught up with Nat. We continued in the same fashion—me hanging off the back and growing more frustrated with each pedal stroke. When we finally finished, I faked a smile, lied about how fantastic the ride was, and held back a few tears. Once Nat and I were alone, I proclaimed that I was done riding mountain bikes for good.
I can’t remember how he reacted. I’m sure he didn’t believe me and was probably biting his tongue in an effort to not say the wrong thing. A few hours passed and he must have seen my Facebook bike sale post because he asked when I had done that, to which I replied, “Um, some point after the one climb that no one rode and the sustained climb that was obviously meant to be downhill, only!”
I slept off my frustrations that night and when I awoke, I exclaimed that I would continue the practice of riding my mountain bike. But by then it was too late to retract my Facebook post, so I spent the morning scouring the Internet for the perfect bike (good for motivation). I was intrigued by the newest evolution in wheel sizing to 27.5” wheels, and started my search there. I wanted something that would climb like a champ, that was on the lighter side, and that would allow me to continue to master my downhilling technique that I loved so much.
I discovered Juliana Bicycles, the new women’s line from Santa Cruz Bicycles. One of its models, the Furtado (pictured left and in feature photo up top), instantly caught my eye, and I found myself falling in love with a 5-inch travel, 27.5” wheel bike. By 10:30 a.m. on the day after I “gave up mountain biking for good,” I was responding to Facebook comments asking for the price of my Yeti and what I would replace it with.
Since July 2013, I’ve been riding the Juliana Furtado. It was love at first pedal, though in general I advocate “try before you buy,” which I did not do in this instance. But after working in the industry for a few years, I knew what my dream bike was and Juliana was the first to bring such a bike to market.
Mountain biking is tough and—all at once—can be one of the most frustrating, challenging and rewarding activities you’ll participate in throughout your life. Embrace every riding experience for what it is: good days, bad days, the days you accomplish the hardest technical ascent of your practice and the days you launch yourself OTB (over the bars) because you were too far forward and not standing squarely on your feet.
I share my experience with you all because I now find it hilarious and because it was the day I encountered “the wall” in my practice of mountain biking. It happens to the best of us, and you may have experienced a wall in your own practice. There are always ways to improve, be it skill, equipment or attitude. Mountain biking is bad ass, and everyday you jump back onto the saddle and put effort into your mountain biking practice is another day you chose not to sell your bike and quit for good!
A year out, when I reflect on the experience, I can honestly tell you that I still have an adversity to steep, gnarly climbs and long, hot rides. But I have decided to embrace my adversities, enjoy my dream bike and remind myself to get “low and awesome” so that the descent will forever be my favorite part of every ride.
+ Did you miss Aimee's profile? Read it here.
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Next week (Monday) we'll meet Tiffanie, IMBA Finance Administrator and resident holder of a stars-and-stripes MTB jersey.