The Big Hill. It was sixty vertical feet of steep and marbley bicycle-devouring hell that was deemed an “impossible” descent by a fellow grade 4 kid from his stretcher in the ER. It captivated us one summer and we spent the long humid days seeking out increasingly tough terrain to practice on, and periodically sending ourselves down The Big Hill in clouds of dust and blood. No one ever made it. But that process of trial and lots of error, of adding bricks to our jumps and scabs to our knees, made us more skilled and resilient riders and made that a summer to remember.
That’s where the roots of mountain biking lie, in those battered sections of singletrack that threw constant challenges at the woefully inadequate bikes of the time and the riders who dared venture into the mountains on them. It’s easy to lose sight of that nowadays as we hoot and holler our way through alpine berms on the latest carbon wunderbikes. Nevertheless there’s wisdom in that grumpy old man saying: if it’s easy, it’s not worth doing. The greatest reward in mountain biking comes from the difficulty and personal challenge. So drop into trails that you can’t ride yet. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. And more importantly, keep the tough sections tough even if it means having to walk them every single time. Because, in the end, it’s not sunshine and glory that makes biking fun, it’s the dust and the blood.
If that doesn’t sound fun, allow me to introduce an even harder truth of mountain biking: it’s mostly uphill. You spend the vast majority of your riding time climbing and the sooner you learn to like it, the better. And what’s not to like? Heart rate redlining as you struggle to remain upright through one steep technical section after another. It warms my heart to think of the pain biking can inflict, not because I’m a sadist but because I know that when the pain starts, so does the payoff. The benefits of hard aerobic exercise cannot be understated. Stronger cardiovascular and immune systems. Better cognitive functions. Increased metabolism and energy. Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Reduced risk of cancer, osteoporosis, and a host of other illnesses. Simply put, with every pedal stroke you move toward a longer and more fulfilling life. You don’t need a motor — you are the motor.
Years later I returned to The Big Hill with my bike. I had looked forward to slaying that dragon but, as I peered over the edge, it still scared me. My confidence faded as memories of the dust and the blood came flooding back. Maybe it’s better to leave some lines unridden, I thought.
“You gonna ride down that?” a local kid asked, dropping his Nerf football as he sauntered over to watch the show.
“I’m gonna try,” I said. And I rolled over the edge once again.
This article first appeared in print in the July 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.