it’s just a trail

Recently I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Tasmania with a bunch of guys to ride mountain bikes for a week or so. Yes, indeed, I do realise how privileged I am to be able to do so. It was an amazing week.

We rode in two places, Blue Derby (which I’ve ridden before and know and love) and Maydena Bike Park. If you like riding bicycles on dirt trails among rocks and trees, you should put both these incredible places on your list.

Now before the rest of this will make sense (if indeed it has any chance of that) you should know that when it comes to mountain biking, I’m relatively average. I ride regularly at local trails around my city and suburb, I have a nice bike, and I enjoy it – but I’m not particularly special. I’m not the kind of guy you’ll see on those YouTube videos hurtling down some vertical descent, or starring in World Cup or Enduro World Championship races all over the globe. I also don’t really do jumps…I like it when my tyres are in contact with the ground. Really I’m just a guy who goes riding with his mates and has a good time. If I don’t crash, I’m generally happy. I even made my own hashtag to describe my level of competence: #veryaveragetrailrider

So when preparing for Tasmania, it was with a certain degree of trepidation. This is “proper” mountain biking country.

Yes I’ve ridden in Derby before, and loved it…but they’ve built some new trails since I last visited – and one of them (called Air Ya Garn in a delightful twist of Aussie lingo) looks like a cross between insanity and just about the most picture perfect ribbon of dirt I could imagine. Watch this video and join me in my fear and admiration:

And then there’s Maydena. 800 vertical metres of downhill, then jump on a bus, ride to the top and do it again. And again. And again. In the MTB world it’s called a “gravity park”. All I had heard about it featured words like “steep”, “intense”, “rough”. There are a couple of green trails, and a few blue (MTB trails follow a similar grading system to snow skiing runs) but mostly black diamond (forget it) and double-black diamond (you must be joking) trails. To say I was a little afraid of Maydena with my #veryaveragetrailrider skills and my very standard mountain bike is a little of an understatement.

On my first day at Derby we had a great morning, riding some brilliant trails that were right in the zone for me – stretching my skills a little, but within the realm of “normal” that I inhabit. I loved it. And then just after lunch I found myself at the trail entrance to Air Ya Garn….my mind filled with images from YouTube clip after YouTube clip of massive jumps, big air, steep chutes. I was a “little” anxious. But then I reminded myself I’d travelled a couple thousand km’s to get here, and if I had to get off and walk some parts of the trail, there could be worse things in life….so heart-in-mouth I rolled in.

It can’t have been more than 100m down the trail, with adrenaline pumping as my bike accelerated down the gradients that a thought popped unbidden into my mind: “it’s just a trail, you know how to do this.” In that moment I remembered that I know how to ride a bike, and I know how to ride a bike down a trail (and had ridden plenty of trails before), and this was, for all that it was littered in jumps and steeps, just a trail. I had brakes, tyres, suspension, pedals, handlebars…I was in control. The anxiety didn’t totally dissipate, but I was able to relax enough to completely enjoy and love the ride…and to head back up and do it again.

A couple of days later I dropped into a black diamond trail called Roxanne littered with rocks and technical features far harder than my regular local MTB haunt…and once again the message came to mind “It’s just a trail.” Sure enough, I made it. I mean I wasn’t fast, and I sure wasn’t pretty, but I made it, and I loved it.

Again and again it happened at Maydena too – even though I was on trails steeper than anything I’ve ever ridden…they were just trails, and I was in control.

Don’t get me wrong…I didn’t even feel slightly tempted to attempt a double black diamond trail or the even more outrageous “Pro Lines”. I can’t imagine doing that to myself. Those trails are insane.

But it did serve as a powerful reminder that sometimes (many times?) I/we let our imagination run a little riot, I/we build up anxieties about all sorts of things that in reality are nowhere near as impossible as we convince ourselves.

As I reflect on my job, I’ve had similar experiences. Moments where I was almost paralysed with anxiety about a particular task in front of me…only to find that if I took it steadily, deployed what I knew…it would work out ok in the end.

The truth is, in mountain biking as in life, if we prepare well, if we deploy an appropriate mix of confidence and caution, if we use all our prior experience plus the tools at our disposal (in this case brakes/suspension/tyres/pedals/handlebars…but in another case maybe an entirely different set of tools) we can often tackle things that might feel initially beyond us.

And if push comes to shove there’s always the option to get off and walk. As long as our ego doesn’t get in the way of making that choice.

How about you…ever had an “it’s just a trail” moment in life?

Now, just for fun…if you want to see what “Air Ya Garn” looks like through the eyes of a #veryaveragetrailrider here’s my perspective (you’ll see it’s slightly different to the video I’ve included above!):


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