Trial by “Fire” Mild Heat
The first time I took a friend mountain biking was a disaster. Instead of being a good pal and taking an easy jaunt on the beginner trail, I simply said “follow the little black diamonds and you’ll be fine.” One endo and hundreds of cactus needles later, I found out that my friend and I had very different definitions of the word “fine.”
The second time I tried was a little better. This round my older brother was the victim, but somehow he didn’t come away from the experience ready to buy a bike like I’d hoped. Perhaps it was the vomiting. Or maybe he just didn’t like the way the frame bent after he decided to bail on the edge of a bluff.
Actually, I think the real problem is with me. I wish I could say these were isolated incidents, unique in their utter failure, but that would be a lie. From dragging my father along a 19 mile ride on some Not-Designed-With-Bike-In-Mind trail in Colorado, to getting lost in a maze of cedar trees with a group of zero-experience friends (and hitchhiking back to the trailhead), I always manage to turn someone’s first outing into a minor epic. I won’t even go into my attempts at introducing climbing to others, nor the time I tried to get my friends into ultrarunning. In fact, I think I’m a pretty good deterrent of the outdoors in general.
But maybe it’s not entirely my own fault. Don’t get me wrong, I’m way too ambitious when it comes to showing someone a new sport, but that’s just the way I was taught. The first time I went mountain biking was on the expert trail at Reimer’s Ranch. Picture one of those dads trying to fit on his kid’s tiny bicycle, knees out wide sitting hunched over, and you’ve got a pretty decent idea of what I looked like on the 23-incher that I hadn’t ridden in God-knows-when. And yet, I loved it. The more I crashed, the more I couldn’t wait to get back up and give it another go. The sport was made enticing by the very fact that I didn’t know what I was doing.
For most people, a bad experience the first time usually makes it the last time. That’s why guides are so important in establishing a solid base to work up from. They go to enormous lengths to ensure that the first outing is an enjoyable one, hopefully sparking up a passion that was previously unknown. But I wonder if we have gone too far. Perhaps the rough parts are necessary as a little warning. Like “hey, at some point you’re going to fall and it’s going to hurt.” People need to know just what it is that they’re getting into. Maybe that would help cut down on the number of only-used-once bikes and climbing gear seen on Craigslist these days.
Of course, “Trial By Fire” probably isn’t the best way to get someone to fall in love with the outdoors. “Trial By Mild Heat” may be the more appropriate method. Next time you take a first timer out to the trail, or crag, or whatever it may be, don’t make it so easy on them. I’m not saying start them out at 5.12, but give them a little challenge. Make them work for the downhill. Let them try and figure out the beta on their own. Show them that they are capable of more than they thought. Because that’s the real beauty of these sports. Every ride, run, or climb represents an opportunity for growth. We overcome obstacles, push through pain, and set aside fear to reach a preset goal. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, each experience we have in the outdoors is a lesson in perseverance, and that’s what is so addicting. That’s what keeps us coming back.
Besides, that friend I first took out mountain biking? He loves it now.