I recently had a pretty terrible ride. It was so bad that I was actively saying things to myself during the ride like, “Why are you doing this?” “This sucks.” “You should just give up.” It was so bad that I ended up losing my lunch about halfway through the ride—not because I felt sick but from the sheer beatdown I was receiving.
Later that day, I saw a friend’s activity on Strava where he just gotten off his own beatdown. He’d commented on his own ride to say, “Some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail.”
Look, I’m not a great rider. Yeah, I love mountain biking—my family and close friends would say I’m obsessed with it. I didn’t start NTX Trails in an attempt to portray myself a super-experienced rider or mega-shredder, but rather to encourage new riders and support North Texas trails. The truth is I’ve only been riding for about two years, haven’t progressed as quickly as I’d like or as quickly as other riders I know who started about the same time I did, and I’m still quite a bit overweight and out of shape.
It’s when I have horrible rides that I have to remind myself why I ride.
The Worst Ride Ever
OK, the idea that my ride a few weeks ago was “the worst ride ever” is definitely an exaggeration. I’ve had far worse rides, including one at Frisco where I went OTB on Wolverine and was so overwhelmed by the combination of the heat and the crash that I was pretty confused for a while and had to walk/slow ride my bike out along the fire road. Then there was that time early in my MTB excursions that I went OTB on a really easy feature at Corinth and slammed my back into a tree. I laid there for several minutes fairly certain I’d broken something. I hadn’t, and thankfully those are my worst crashes to date. And I also remember my first time at Erwin Park and getting dropped like a rotten potato during a no-drop shop ride.
Obviously I recovered from those rides and just kept going. In fact, at the time of those crashes I was most frustrated about the recovery time necessary to feel like I could get back on the bike—a matter of a few days in both cases. So, what made the ride at Waterloo recently so bad that I had stray thoughts during the drive home of giving it all up and selling my bike?
Most of the issues had to do with fitness. Like a lot of North Texas riders over recent months, I’ve had little opportunity to ride trail due to the historic amounts of rain. The trails have been closed for months on end, and even though I was getting increased mileage on road rides I really wasn’t prepared for the climbs at Waterloo that day.
The greater issue I now believe after some time of reflection is my mental approach to the ride—my expectations. You see, I’ve now been riding long enough that I’ve gotten into a bit of a mindset of thinking I should be riding at a certain level by now. That day at Waterloo I came in with the idea that I’d be able to really crush the ride, based on my recent performance at a few other area trails like Horseshoe. The truth is, since I’d only ridden the Denison-based trail a couple of times and those rides had been several months ago, I’d forgotten the level of climbing ahead of me. Again, for seasoned riders with decent fitness, Waterloo is probably an easy pedal. I’m not at that level yet.
This was magnified by an unforeseen opportunity in the parking lot. We met another rider—a super nice guy—who is very familiar with the trail. He asked if we had been on the new Church Loop yet and offered to guide us through. Of course we took him up on the offer and took off down the trail. It was soon apparent when climbing Upper Bluffs that I wasn’t doing well. Our new friend was pushing the pace, though I’m sure he was going very, very slow compared to his own average pace. I was struggling and already beyond tired. The worst was yet to come as we hit the unfamiliar climbing on the new loop.
Come to find out later, our guide is an amazing cyclist with skills, fitness, and Strava times well above even the best riders in the area. In hindsight, part of my ride-induced depression was due to my subconscious comparison of myself against him. I couldn’t know it at the time, but there’s no way I’d be able to keep up with him on my best day in the some future when I have more skill, stamina, and fitness.
I’m vividly reminded of the old saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And it was so true that day. I was comparing myself against some ideal of where I should be as a rider, and comparing myself against another rider who could easily be classified as a Cat 1 cyclist, all of which I allowed to completely steal away the simple joy and pleasure of riding dirt.
The Confidence Booster
The very next day my son and I loaded up in preparation to help out with the DORBA beginner clinic at Horseshoe. I’ll admit that I only went at first out of a sense of obligation because I’d said I’d show up and help sweep one of the groups. I did my best to approach the day with a good attitude, but honestly I was dreading the ride ahead because of how poorly the previous day’s ride had gone. We loaded up, attended church, then headed out to the trail.
Once there, it was really great to hang out off to the side while the sit-down “classroom” portion of the clinic was going on. I got to talk to several seasoned, long-time DORBA members, some of which had helped create some of the trails we all get to ride and love. They accepted me as one of the MTB family and didn’t care how well I rode my bike, just that I showed up, loved to ride, and wanted to contribute. Once the class was over I even got to meet the Fat Bastard (don’t judge me, that’s the name of his YouTube channel) and tell him how encouraging his videos have been.
We set out with the beginners+ group, a set of people who’d indicated they weren’t absolute beginners and were open to sessioning some of the features Horseshoe had to offer. It was clear within just a few yards of our ride that a few among the group were completely unprepared for what was to come. Meanwhile, as the dude helping sweep at the very back of the pack (partnering with a seasoned rider who treated me as an equal) I was soon encouraged by just how far I’d come as a rider in the last two years.
In fact, the further we progressed through the trail the more my confidence rose. I did my best to not compare myself to these green riders but keep reminding myself that I once struggled in the same way and had some of the same problems the members of this beginner group were exhibiting. Seriously, I’d forgotten how hard it can be for an inexperienced rider to simply keep the bike upright on tight turns through the trees. I’d forgotten the importance of body position and how radically my own riding had improved since my early days of riding stiffly and not knowing how to attack climbs, rocks, roots, turns, and rollers.
By the time the ride was over, I had a huge smile on my face—despite breaking a chain during a climb and getting left behind. Actually, even getting left behind was a pretty fun experience because it confirmed I’m self-sufficient enough to be able to repair my bike and catch up with the group within a few minutes. I had a blast bombing down the trail as fast as I could to catch up. Having the ability and confidence to make the run with enough speed to pass a bunch of other riders on the trail what a giant confidence booster as well. By the end of the afternoon I’d conquered some climbs and techy sections I’d never cleaned before and drove away looking forward to riding again another day.
The Redemption Ride
With my enthusiasm returned, my son and I went to Waterloo again as soon as it dried out from the latest rains. We went with the intention of putting fun first, which meant skipping the dreaded Church Loop on purpose, and simply riding at an easy pace until we ran out of light. After discovering that we could get some speed on the rollers on Woodlands Loop and catch some air during a previous ride, we decided to start there and rode that loop three times simply for the fun of it.
From there we rode back up the road and hit the main loop. With no agenda other than fun I found my mindset was such that I could approach the ride completely differently. The climb up Upper Bluffs felt easier, and though out of breath at the top I didn’t need to take as long of a break before I was ready to go again. Soon I was pedaling up the rocky levy climb and clearing it for the first time as well.
We ran out of light and called it a day after another run through the Woodlands Loops jump line, driving back home full of fun and joyful memories.
Why I Ride
So this brings me back full circle. In the span of nine days I’d gone from wanting to give up MTB altogether to having the time of my life on the very same trail. What changed?
It’s all about remembering why I ride.
I still vividly remember my very first trail ride in 2017 at the DORBA beginner clinic at River Legacy. If you’ve ridden that trail, you know that it’s mostly flat and almost completely non-technical unless you ride EKG/AED. The clinic leader took us on the easiest route possible, which includes a couple of punchy little climbs at the beginning of the trail, but nothing too dramatic. We played around at Fun Town for a while, then rode the rest of the trail back to the parking lot. I remember telling my closest friend—a seasoned cyclist and mountain biker—that it was the most fun I’d had in a long time and couldn’t wait to do it again.
From there I rode safe and easy trails as often as I could—mainly Frisco and Corinth—pushing my limits a little more each time, but focusing on just getting out and having fun. In those days I didn’t care about the fact that I knew people who could ride those trails cleanly in a fraction of my fastest time, I simply enjoyed the feeling of dirt beneath my tires and the freedom of winding through trees.
I didn’t care that there were much harder trails out there that I couldn’t ride yet. I knew I’d eventually get there and try them out.
I now remember my latest ride at Waterloo with my son and my closest friend. We did the whole thing—Church Loop included—and had a great time just hanging out together. That ride happened just days after learning my brother had passed away. The ride was soul-refreshing to me on a whole new level.
Fun and freedom. Joy and life. Friends and family.
That’s what I needed to recapture and is now my new primary riding goal for this year. I have other goals in mind such as my desire to be able to ride all of Waterloo cleanly without needing rest breaks. I’d also like to be able to confidently ride all of Northshore East by the end of the year—not necessarily clean the whole thing but rather just not feel exhausted by the time I’m done. But I’m in no huge hurry to reach those goals and won’t be overly disappointed if I don’t accomplish those goals this year. Instead, I’m just going to go out and ride as much as possible, push myself a bit more each time, have tons of funs, and let my technical abilities and fitness progress naturally.
Yes, I do want to someday be able to ride Northshore West, Sansom, and Cross Timbers. Yes, I do want to get skilled enough to eventually make regular trips to Northwest Arkansas. Yes, I want to eventually bomb down the blacks at Spider Mountain. Yes, riding The Whole Enchilada is on my bucket list.
But I’m done with comparing myself with other riders—especially those far more skilled and experienced than me. I’m done with thinking that I should be better than I am now. I’m over approaching a trail with trepidation knowing that I’m going to struggle on particular segments.
Instead, I’m going to focus on the joy of riding with my son, with friends, or even alone. I’m going to continue to be inspired by the 70+-year-olds that I’ve met on trails like Rowlett Creek and Isle du Bois as I approach 50. I’m going to keep working on this website to encourage and support riders old and new. I’m going to keep inviting friends to come out and ride with me—both experienced friends that can easily leave me in the dust and beginner friends that will struggle as I once did.
I doesn’t matter how your last ride went. Had a bad ride? Join the club. We all have, and will have more in the future. Just keep pedaling because I bet the next ride will be better. You’ll have far more good days on the bike than bad. In fact, there’s another old saying that’s true, “A bad day on a mountain bike always beats a good day at the office/on the couch.”
Ride for fun. Ride for joy. Ride for yourself.
Just keep riding!