No matter how far or how high, my bike always seems to make it to the top of the trail, propelled by the stubbornness that is a hallmark of my genealogy.  Theoretically the most difficult part, one that I relish and that others dread, climbing prowess is my personal cosmic chuckle.  Because once at the summit, there is only one way home:  down a circuitous, rocky, off-camber, blind-cornered, loose hellscape.  Despite countless miles laid down in a variety of terrain, regardless of my increasingly daily habit, I still found mountain biking, and specifically descending, to be terrifying.  Each ride was masochistic exposure therapy to a fear that did not seem to abate.

A collarbone break in aptly-named Endo Alley did little for my nerves and I settled into years of a familiar rhythm.  I’d get cold waiting for others at the top and then ride my brakes super hard on the descent, bringing up the rear of every group ride.  Fatherhood, work responsibilities, age, these all became convenient excuses and justifications for my decidedly mediocre approach.  I’d watch my ride partners grin ear to ear in the parking lot, buzzed on the freedom of letting the wheels spin, a feeling that I knew from powder days, but which I struggled to find in the warmer months.  Bike videos were a tortuous viewing of what I could never have.

And then.  An old friend (not elderly, we are the exact same age), a dear friend, and two new friends (one not then yet my physical therapist), without doing anything other than being themselves, changed my entire outlook.  The first time we went downhilling, it was greasy as all get out, my shoulders were intermittently popping out of place, and my mood was dark as night.  But I watched them adapt to the conditions, be stoked regardless of my poor attitude, and tackle terrain that I wished I could ride properly.  They had, and probably have, no clue how much that one day inspired me, humble and sweet as they all are.  But in the lee of that day spent absorbing their positive energy, I resolved to do better.

At my first PT session after this realization, I demonstrated how guarded I had made my shoulders, again through fear, but of a different kind.  When I could blatantly not lift my arms above my head, he thought I was kidding, although did a good job keeping his professional visage.  He quickly intuited that my recovery was not going to be purely physical, but have a serious psychological component as well.  Innately exuding trustworthiness, possessed of copious technical knowledge, and sensing my apprehension, he not only prescribed me a rehabilitation regimen, but much more importantly, imbued me with a confidence that I had been sorely lacking.

The next time we hit the hill, my shoulders were actually beginning to function and I was feeling so much more comfortable.  Still pretty reticent, but trying to let it go, I did my best to follow wheels and get into the flow of the group.  They hit jumps and ripped berms and dropped rocks.  Through it all, they made me feel like I could do it too, with nothing more than their implicit support.  Lost in the rhythm and the belief, I was astonished to suddenly be cleaning features that I used to walk, riding trails that I would have previously avoided.  The confidence that the crew granted me was magical; literally, transformative.

In the ensuing month, I have had the amazing fortune to not only ride with some of that gang, but to also ride with others that have continued this confidence-inspiring trajectory.  Through a kind word or an invitation to ride a lap or a simple high five or even just a smile, these new riding compatriots have put forth a vibe that has put me onto another plane of enjoyment.  The fear is still present, but healthily in the background.  I have even had the temerity to get a little air here and there.

What could possibly go wrong?  I can’t think of a simple example in history where overconfidence ever got someone in trouble.  At least if the worst happens, I know that I will have people who can help put me back together, physically and mentally.  It’s a valuable commodity for which I could not be more thankful.