12 Apr 2018

MOUNTAIN MESSIAH

WORDS & PHOTOS x Sarah Sturm

It turns out mountain biking is the new mountain biking. In a post 90’s boom, bike enthusiasts and all-around riders have started turning to more diverse methods of entertainment. Or rather they are able to turn to other niches. Being a mountain biker doesn’t have to equate to wearing a mean set of neon lycra or a full DH kit anymore. We have found meaning elsewhere…

For this style of mountain biking you don’t have to be the fittest athlete, you don’t have to have the skills of Rachel Atherton, and you don’t even have to have the latest and greatest gear. What you do need is a thick skin and an ability to file your complaints and discomfort way far away. You need to be tough. You have to be open. Your ego needs to be buried in the same place you store those complaints. You have to be positive and smart. It’s also helpful if you like beer. This checklist might seem simple, but put all of those ingredients into the pot, wake them up at 4am, threaten them with thunder, lightning and crashes and you might feel differently. That’s what makes these adventures so very tasty.

This sport is for the spirits that seek constant improvement, those of us who (to a fault) are always striving for more. For me, it was the bike race that was the best way of fulfilling those desires. And for some, racing is the answer. For the rest of us, the ones who dabbled but were never fulfilled we just float along the outskirts of niches. The fringe of sport, the ones who are a bit different than the logo adorned peddlers. Where do we find that feeling of winning a race without ever pinning on a number? Where can we find challenge, physical and emotional?

Where can we push ourselves to the brink? In the mountains. Alone.

There aren’t any photographers, reporters or really anyone who cares if you finish. There are no sponsors or coaches who are invested in watts, gear or professionalism. No one will know if you finish or crash or flat. That’s the challenge. Can you do something for the pure reason of doing it, without anyone but yourself invested in the outcome? It requires the most humble, focused and driven mindset. It is a skill that has to be practiced and earned. Perhaps it is the most challenging for the mind that was once wired for the world of approval via number.

Approval is pinning on a number to earn a number, a time linked with your name that holds all of your value, self-worth, goals, and hard work. That number is so much more than just digits. I think the greatest athletes are able to work beyond that but I never was able to. I hold a deep respect for the men and women who have the ability to embrace the undulation of wins and losses, they see the bigger goal and move on. It’s an incredible skill that some people have and should earn a spotlight just as big as their physical wins. This jedi-mind control is something that I learned I have but in a much different context.

The adventure ride calls upon your legs to pedal, your lungs to burn as you breath thin air, your arms to absorb the shock of a sudden boulder field descent, your core to stay strong under the weight of your packs’ 3 liters of water, rain gear, spare bike parts and food, it requires your mind to be sharp and not give into the doubts that will inevitably creep in. Every insecurity you’ve ever conjured up will be brought to the surface and waved in your own face. Your mind will try to trick you into doubting what your body is doing and will bring along everything else that’s going on in your life. Your strongest tool is your biggest enemy and that is the battle you’re faced with.

This ride will pit you against yourself rather than against another racer. You can hate yourself as much as you want, you can bring the doubt and the self-loathing and spread it on as thick as you can but in the end, it will be you who has to dig out. You are your own mountain messiah.

You become your very own liberator and it’s a beautiful thing. Humans are wired in a way that requires some amount of self-confidence to succeed. Maybe that confidence comes from failing miserably, being as low as the grime in the shower in which you’re crumpled and then somehow getting back up. The knowledge that you have lifted yourself from those depths is stronger than any drug on the market. Maybe we aren’t even talking about a bike ride anymore.

Confidence learned amongst the trees, the rocks, and dirt will transcend the trail. It infiltrates the rest of your life, you get to carry some defense to the brutal world of computers and office chairs, self-doubt and gossip, political and environmental despair. We get a glimmer of hope through the confidence we harvested with our very own body and mind. And now we are free.

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