My recent foray into road cycling is changing the way I think about all kinds of biking. Mountain biking is such a grind: climb up over rocks and roots and hope the dusty, rutted-out trail is forgiving when it turns steep so you don’t lose all your momentum. When climbing on a mountain bike, it’s not unusual to have hikers passing you. It’s a tad demoralizing.

But slow and steady finishes the ride in mountain biking, and it’s a mantra so many mountain bikers need to adopt if they are to succeed in the mountain biking life. Seven uphill and technical miles on a mountain bike can take up to two hours, especially if you stop for food and rest. Think about it: most anyone can walk faster than that.

But mountain biking, except when you’re racing or blowin’ out, is not a speedy sport. It’s a sport with lots of work and little reward, and enjoying the scenery rarely happens, except during those much-needed breaks.(Note: there are people who do not stop for breaks during a ride and honestly, I don’t know what kind of VO2 max these folks have or what kind of macho trip they’re on, but riding with them is not really all that fun.)

Enter road biking, the opposite of mountain biking. You can road bike for 15 miles and not even break a sweat. You can ride for 30 flat miles, pedaling almost the entire time, and not pass out at the end. In fact, any reasonably fit mountain biker can put in 50 miles on the road bike (as long as they’re not mountainous) with relative ease. The biggest obstacle is the butt-numbing that happens somewhere around hour three in those hard saddles.

Adjusting to a hard saddle is one transition hiccup; handling a squirrely, ridiculously lightweight bike is another. Mountain bikers with competent technical skills in the way of balance and the ability to change directions while doing a trackstand and on rocks adjust with a little practice. That mountain biking skill allows fat tire folks to handle tight turns on a road bike while descending.

And there’s the rub, readers. When you work hard while you can (i.e., when you’re young and able), then challenges that you take on later in life will feel less like challenges and more like new, cool things that you do. This is true of sports, studying in school, and succeeding in the workplace and job market. Work hard as much as you can and while you can so, like a road biker who’s reached the top of a tough hill or mountain, you have earned the right to coast.

SheSpoke has also written about life lessons learned on the mountain biking trail for TrailsEdge.


Conventional wisdom is stupid. Conventional wisdom for those of us who spend much of our time playing in the outdoors is a special kind of stupid. In order for conventional wisdom to work, the intended recipient of that wisdom is usually a dilettante or a newbie or a weekend warrior. Conventional wisdom I like to ignore:

Never ski/ride/hike/surf alone

Carry a GPS device with you

Ski/ride/hike/surf with those better than you–it will raise your game

To those purveyors of outdoor recreation wisdom I say “hogwash” and proffer this up instead:

Know thyself

Do go out alone, especially if you’re in very familiar territory and need some alone time to reconnect with nature, your thoughts, your soul, or all of the above.

Do not venture out alone if you are just getting started in this sport. The chances for injury/getting lost are high.

Do not carry a GPS device unless you are geocaching. Instead, read your maps, use a compass, or go with someone who knows where they’re going.

Do not rely on GPS devices to compensate for your lack of preparation.

Do challenge yourself by going with others who are stronger at the sport than you are. They can show you that catching that wave/riding those trees/navigating that rocky singletrack is possible.

Do not always go out with those of better abilities because you will be constantly catching up and out of breath, and this particular sport will cease to be fun for you.

That last point rings particularly loud for me. I spent most of this snowboarding season going with other folks, all of whom were better than me. It felt really good hanging with folks who are considered experts, and it did a ton for my confidence.

But I was always huffing and puffing, always wanting to head back to the lodge, always needing water. I was often grateful for the long, cold, windy lift rides so I could catch my breath. Meanwhile my present company was usually yukking it up, talking about the sick trees I didn’t dare drop into or the steep drops I rode around.

I often felt on the verge of collapse or control, and my legs were often begging me for a respite, both that day and the next (and the next). We can be challenged away from a sport if we have too many experiences like these.

My field hockey coach in high school called me a tiger. My skills were barbarous, but I could keep up with any mid-fielder, and I just went after it. I even tried to argue with her when she took me out of a game because the rock-hard ball had pierced my skin, right through my shin guards.

I love a challenge. I love brainy challenges, athletic challenges, and professional challenges. (For the record, I HATE interpersonal challenges, although I am getting better at them.) I swear I’m gonna teach myself the basics of Sanskrit grammar some day. I look forward to scuba diving and finally taking up downhill skiing. I will turn my (mis)adventures into a travel memoir, even though conventional wisdom tells us that that genre is a difficult one both to write and publish in.

So here’s to the comfort zone–the ability to have sustained confidence in your abilities because you’re going at your own speed and are staying within your limits. You look around when you’re in your comfort zone, taking things in instead of having them rush past you. In your comfort zone you can concentrate on your strengths, paying attention to the little things you do well. Getting better at the things you do well, so next time you head out with those higher up on the skills food chain, you will huff and puff less and learn and enjoy more.