There are people in life that will rob your spirit. They won’t do this all of the time, and they won’t do it on purpose, but they will do it. They’ll drag your soul around like a bag of trash, leaking all of it’s slimy hope in a trail on the ground as it’s being taken to the garbage bin. More often than not we’ll even carry the bag for them. It’s our burden after all, why should someone else have to labour over it? This ride did not start out well.
I know a good lot of Czech people in Canmore, and each of them is notoriously strong, fit to a degree that you just want to hate them. Unfortunately, they’re also wonderful people, so while I occasionally wish them to hell for dragging me through yet another punishing endeavour, I know my life would be less complete without their friendships.
So on Canada Day 2015, it was fitting – and expected – that I tagged well behind as three of them decided to ride the Jumping Pound-Cox Hill trail. Starting in the parking lot at Dawson, pedalling the 17 kilometres to the McDougall Memorial trailhead, and then up and over both mountains. At first I was deliberately holding back, understanding how difficult the climbs up Jumpingpound Mountain and Cox Hill were going to be. It was going to be a big’ish ride, and I wanted to keep enough in the tank so I could really enjoy riding in the good spots like the ridgeline traverse, the harrowing, old-school descents, and the more technical climbs.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t just holding back to save energy. Instead, my energy was being paid out in spades and I wasn’t holding back as much as I was being dropped, and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried harder gears and getting off of my saddle to gain something on the uphills, but those three Czechs were never in sight. I tried spinning harder and faster on the flats, but still they were never there. My legs, for reasons I simply didn’t understand, were empty. Maybe I didn’t eat enough. Maybe I hadn’t been sleeping enough. Whatever the cause the result was obvious, I had no juice. Keeping up with these guys on a good day is unlikely, so on this day it would likely be impossible.
I don’t know how long the three of them waited for me at the trailhead and I didn’t want to ask as I rolled slowly up to them. After a few minutes my friend Martin asked me a question.
“How do you feel?” A harmless question really, but something that’s good to know before committing to another leg of a big ride.
“I feel like crap actually.” And I laughed. “Honestly guys (I had thought this through on the ride to the trailhead, rehearsing my excuses.), I want you to go and ride the ridge and I’ll just spin back to the parking lot. I honestly don’t have it in me today.” There were also four beers sitting in the creek by the truck. My momma didn’t raise no dummy!
We talked it over and in the end I agreed to keep going, and sure enough they were off in the distance. I, disheartened and tired, spun along in my lowest gear as slowly as I could, knowing that in only a few metres the climbing in the forest would begin in earnest and I would be walking my bike.
I don’t have a lot of history with JP/Cox, but I do have history. I have thrown myself at these two climbs several times, each time inching just a little bit further and a little closer to a clean ascent. I have always been pretty far from actually doing it, but I believe it’s possible, so the idea that each time I come out here I might be able to squeeze out a little more than I did before thrills me. It encourages my legs, however suffering they are with lactic acid, to just keep turning if only for a couple of more strokes.
But today, after looking up to the first steep bit of rocks, I simply tilted my bike to the side and dismounted. I didn’t even try, justifying my lack of effort by the fact that I believed my legs simply had no power. I had resigned myself to the frustration of walking the climb. There was a pattern developing here of which I wasn’t aware, and not a good one. I plodded along heavy with the weight of self pity.
So this then, is the pattern, although it still hadn’t dawned on me while walking up the mountain. We all have vulnerabilities, of this I am certain. I’m also certain that those vulnerabilities are more human nature than human flaws. They exist, and we get on with things. But our reactions, how we deal with situations when those chinks in our armour are exposed and exploited, that’s where we define ourselves. It’s easy to tell someone that they need to change their outlook, that they alone have the power to alter their reaction to a situation. Most things of this nature are logical and based on common sense. But while we might know a thing intellectually, we rarely hold as much clout over our emotions. One can’t simply “think” themselves out of a bad day.
Fortunately, riding mountain bikes for me is like a drug, so when you pair that with actually being in the mountains – which is of course another drug – it’s hard to wallow in self pity for very long. Eventually the rhythm of riding a bike kicks in like a sedative, each pedal stroke calming the mind just a little at a time. The ridgeline of Jumping Pound is a great mix of technical climbing and steady pedalling bits where both the body and the mind are fully engaged, where the effort blankets itself over the rest of the world and the focus takes all else in your life and punts it out of the field. I found my stride on the ridge with it’s massive mountaintop views, and with that came the welcomed stoic calm of a Buddhist monk.
With the ride finished I still hadn’t forgotten how weak I felt at the beginning of the day. It was frustrating. But rather than that thought being at the forefront of the experience it sat winded in the background, too feeble to take away from my self-worth, too feeble to rob the day of it’s grandeur.