I timidly got into mountain biking after a few friends started to subtly convince me and after my uncle, an avid cyclist himself, acquired a free bike from a friend. The bike was from the early 90’s, almost as old as I am. A now vintage Serrota frame with some of the best parts in the business, or so my gear obsessed friends told me. I felt excitement when I first saw it. With new grips, tires, and fresh break cables, it was perfect.
I took my first ride in the San Luis Valley, where my uncle lives, on a narrow dirt road all bundled up because it was about thirty degrees in temperature. My dog Dharma had never run next to a bike and I was slightly worried that’d I’d be falling over to keep from running into her. Once I hopped onto the saddle and started pedaling, she caught on quickly and we were zooming down the road unitedly. A big grin spread across my faces as everything seemed to come together.
Once I left the quiet bubble of the San Luis Valley and journeyed back into the Front Range, my excitement started to clash with this perception of being “uncool.”
There were plenty of people in the Front Range on fancy full suspension bikes, with shorts that matched their helmets, and jerseys that matched their sunglasses. I felt incredibly out of place, being a bona fide beginner. I kept riding because I liked it, and because my dog obsessively loved it. I think she was one of the biggest reasons I continued. Seeing how excited she got when the bike came out made me excited.
In January I ventured out to Tucson with one of my good friends who’s an avid cyclist. We rolled into town in the late afternoon and picked a trail system not too far from the city. As we drove up to the parking area, I couldn’t help but feel completely ecstatic as we kept passing innumerable saguaro cacti. This was my first time in this region and I’d always dreamt of hanging out with these prickly giants. Now I get to ride my bike amongst them; I was dumbfounded.
I changed into more biking appropriate clothing in the cramped bed of my truck, and filled up all of the water containers I could carry. With my camera in my handlebar bag, and my face slathered in sunscreen, we were ready to roll. My heart swelled with every saguaro we passed. They were so much larger up close! I couldn’t get over it. I was trying to keep myself from stopping every couple feet to snap photos.
Groups of friendly cyclists passed us on the trail and the betraying feeling of self doubt crept in again. I didn’t look like I belonged there. And I definitely didn’t ride as well as everyone else in the trail system, having to walk a lot of sections. I felt like a climber on a mountain bike, a fish out of water.
As the day went on, I had a nice abrupt meeting with the ground and split my left elbow open. Feelings of anger spread throughout me as I sit on the side of the trail heaving out sighs and clutching my arm. I eventually convinced myself to get up and get back on my bike so I could catch up to my friend and the dogs (making some pretty hilarious sounds, might I add). When I catch up to everyone, I throw my bike down and hold up my gushing elbow, apparently unable to talk. Bewildered, my friend just kept telling me how badass it was. In that moment, I did feel pretty badass. I traveled over a thousand miles, through snow, and mountains, and desert to get to this place right here. I brought a bike with me across the country even though I had only been riding it for a month. And there I was with my dog and one of my greatest friends in this absolutely wild landscape, with a battle wound, just having the best time.
We rode through the saguaros as the sun set. Watching their flesh dance with golden light as the sky turned hues of purple; the coyotes sang to us. I took a few deep breaths and couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was to be there. At the end of the day I didn’t care about how “cool” I was. All I cared about was having experiences and memories of wild places. Places that might not be there in the future.