Plus Runner Note: Please welcome today’s Guest Poster – the gloriously talented photographer, writer, and mountain biker, Hannah Roberts! (Photo credits to Aaron, Hannah’s husband!)

Cycling is great fun, especially with a fast road bike on a paved trail with the sun shining and birds singing happily. Even on an unusually warm and beautiful January day, this ride would be nothing like that. I slowly churned the pedals of my seldom-used mountain bike up the first long, steep, gravelly hillside of the day. As I got off the bike to walk the rest of the way up the hill, I felt the strong desire to give up already. From the trailhead parking lot to this point, just an eighth of a mile, my heart rate had gone from 90 to 140. I was embarrassed to be panting and red-faced as I dragged myself to the spot where my husband and his friend had been watching the deer and examining a trail map for some time.

There was some consolation in knowing that the map indicated this section of the trail was rated blue/intermediate (at least I wasn’t wimping out on an easy trail), but I really was out of my element. What had I been I thinking taking this on? Don’t I know that fat people don’t ride trails like this? – just look at that young, muscular girl in the group that just passed me. I had never done anything like this before and I felt silly in my spandex. Hikers were passing me and I thought surely they must think me a fool, constantly switching gears and having to walk my bike so much. I told the guys maybe they should go on and I’d meet them back at the truck if I decided to quit. But they would hear nothing of it and waited a good ten minutes for me to regain my composure and soldier on. That was the first of countless trailside rests to come.

I had wanted to believe that that was the top of the hill, but it was only about a fifth of the way up it. The trail turned and ascended another 2 miles of green and blue trial to a point that overlooked the quarry in the valley. Again, by the time I arrived, the boys had been there for a while. But I was feeling warmed up and more hopeful about the odds of surviving. From here it looked to be downhill – a relief but for the fact that I have a fear of riding on gravel, especially downhill. This fear dates back to a childhood bike race on my pink Huffy that ended in a bad fall. Now I felt a little shaky as I watched the boys streaked by like lightning. I carefully navigated the ruts and bumps and rocks, applying the brakes often to avoid losing control. In my head I kept flashing back to the crash and the road rash in my distant past.

But I didn’t fall and as I reached the bottom, my mind quickly moved to the next challenge. Ahead of us was the entrance to the quarry, an almost vertical set of 18” wide steps carved into the rock. The park was busy and a large group was making the climb ahead of us. The boys scrambled right up the steps of course. I gave it a valiant effort, pushing my bike up the rock in front of me, only accepting help at the last few steps. The quarry was really something to see. We took a good 30 minutes to sit and enjoy the sun and the view. All around us were people with children and dogs and bikes, even a few scaling the rocks with climbing gear. For a moment my troubles were forgotten.

But only for a moment, then time to move on. It was another steep rock scramble out of the quarry, then a half mile of winding trail through snow, ice, and mud. The boys blazed through it but I was nervous, walking through the worst of it (where a fall would mean a nasty tumble downhill through thorn bushes), and slowing at the corners for fear of running over a pedestrian. The next intersection offered several choices: a long blue trail – downhill mostly (toward the parking lot), a long scenic blue/black heading uphill, or a blue/black very technical uphill leading us to a long downhill. I was in no state of mind to make such a decision and told the boys that I was so far out of my comfort zone that I’d follow them wherever. Guess which one they chose – the very technical one of course! But at this point I didn’t care, I was determined to get back to the truck, even if I had to crawl.

At first it didn’t seem so bad and even if I wasn’t keeping up with them, I was at least staying on my bike.  At one point I was standing on the pedals to get through a tough spot and my gears popped unexpectedly. Thinking I would fall, I tensed up and strained a muscle in my back that had only healed up the week before. I stopped for a few to stretch it but I was worried about pinching the nerve again. We had come to the technical section and I was only too happy to be walking over the tree roots, mud, and rocks. A woman hiking with her dog shook her head as she passed me, “I’d never try to bike this! You’re braver than I am.” I laughed, “The jury’s still out, I may never do it again.” But the truth was, that even in my silly spandex with my red face, I felt triumphant to have made it that far. Up ahead my husband gave quite a show, riding all the way to the top of the hardest part and I cheered him on. When I caught up to him I could feel the fatigue setting in and warned him that I had found my limit. “You’re doing great! This next little bit is the last of the black trail.”

Sure enough, the next intersection offered the option to take a mile of blue downhill and the promise of only one more short uphill section before coming back to the truck. By now I had made huge strides to overcome my fear of crashing and I was only a short distance behind the guys. The wind in my face and the joy of flying along the trail rejuvenated me just enough to tackle the last tough stretch. This section was green but very steep. I opted to trudge on foot to the top of the hill that looked down on the truck. What a sight for my sore eyes (and backside)! The ride down felt victorious and I half expected a cheering crowd and a finish line at the bottom. I had survived 5.5 miles of technical mountain bike trial!

Later as we drove away from the trailhead, my husband was beaming as he said, “I’m so proud of you for doing this with me, Babe!” I had exceeded his expectations and my own. Apparently fat people do mountain bike sometimes and you never know, I may just do it again.

4 thoughts

  1. Although I am a photographer and the place was extremely scenic, I was way too preoccupied with basic survival for taking pictures and all credit for the photos in this post goes to my husband, Aaron.

  2. What a great story Hannah. So inspiring. A couple of months ago I did a hike 3-4 miles only but went from 500 ft to 3,000 ft elevation. Those same words of “What had I been I thinking taking this on? ” were repeating in my head over and over. The group I was with would wait for me to catch up and when I did, were so supportive. Watching people trek past me only made me feel worse but someday I hope I can pass someone. When I do, I will turn back, give them a big smile and tell them they are doing a great job! Thanks for sharing.

  3. great post, Hannah! even my limited mountain biking experience is enough to relate to those same fears, and also the joy/relief of getting back alive. how do two wheels make for such hard work–shouldn’t they just roll?! but what a beautiful place!

  4. Jane – I admire you for hiking with a group. I am intimidated by that myself. When I ran my first triathlon it was so awesome to have encouragement from those passing me.
    Kristin – I recall thinking that it would be so nice if my bike had a little engine and I could blaze through the hardest parts. No pain no gain I guess 🙂

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