Learning how to ride and not die

It can be intimidating starting a new sport, especially one that is generally about riding downhill, on unpaved mountains, with perilous things like rocks and trees that don’t seem to move out of your way. So the first step to learning to ride my mountain bike was a little road tour around my neighbourhood in Porter Creek. Pedalling down the dusty streets, I started to familiarize myself with the gear changes and with trying to coordinate my balance. The little hills proved difficult and demonstrated how unfit I actually was, coming out like a grizzly from hibernation, thinking to myself, I’m supposed to ride my bike up the mountain first. Without walking. And then ride down! Geez.

So, to start my fitness I decided to commute to work by bike—at first, taking my bike down by bus and commuting the nine kilometres from downtown to Porter Creek. The first time I went up the hills out of Marwell and up towards Whistle Bend, it was tough. I was pedalling and cringing to myself, thinking the pain would be worth it as I gasped for air at the top of each hill. (I have a new respect for bike riders.)

By mid-May, the trails were mostly ready, which meant finding people to go riding with so I wouldn’t die. I posted on the Contagious Mountain Bike Club (CMBC) Yukon Facebook page, looking for lunchtime and other beginner riders—or those patient enough to ride with an absolute beginner. I was overwhelmed with the response. I have found some Yukon groups more clicky than others, so it was pleasant to discover an outdoorsy group that was up for riding with anyone.

First I decided to go on my own around the Riverdale Lower Trail, a flat trail recommended as my first practice, so as not to be too terrified on my first downhill. I was riding along, terrified, looking straight down at my wheel as I avoided rocks and tree roots. Only 30 minutes of riding and my arms were in pain from the jolting movements; and my upper neck, stiff. But I managed to get an idea of how to navigate through the trail … although I’m supposed to do that while also going downhill? Uh-oh.

My first inaugural mountain-bike ride with Shannon Trott involved driving our bikes up, in the truck, to the Grey Mountain parking lot (definitely a fan where I don’t have to bike uphill). She gave me some pointers and off we went. It was jolty (the Magnusson Green Trail has so many roots). I stopped at the bigger ones to slowly go over them, struggling with the steep ups and downs as we got onto the Boogaloo trails. I got more pointers from Shannon and realized that mountain biking wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. You have to think about shifting gears, almost constantly, and about seat height, body position, looking ahead and navigating—all while trying to go fast with natural objects in the way … seriously, it’s terrifying.

After half an hour I started getting most things happening. (Not great, but manageable). My face had shifted from 100-percent terrified, all of the time, to 90-percent terrified and 10-percent excited. Our bike ride ended and I didn’t fall, but I did walk up and down some hills and realize why people wore padded underwear, and elbow and knee protection.

Next step on the pathway to becoming a rad (OK, let’s be honest … a ”rideable”) rider was to join the CMBC Dirt Girls. On Tuesday evenings, female riders—from beginners, to intermediate and advanced—get together to be instructed and to ride together.

The first ride of the year was at 7 p.m. on May 15 on the Chadburn Lake ski trails, with about 20 female riders. My buddy Michelle advised that we should join the intermediate group. I hesitated, thinking this was my third ride ever and she was trying to kill me … but she somehow convinced me.

So off we went, mostly keeping up, struggling on the uphills but feeling relief that we weren’t the only ones walking their bike up some sections. Halfway through, though, the pace was too much and we decided to create our own little group of “beginner intermediates.” One of the group’s leaders, Georgie, joined us and we enjoyed the trail at a bit-slower pace.

Mountain biking is a great way to explore new trails, meet new people and find a group that works for you. Dirt Girls encourage women who love to ride, and help others get better at riding while having fun, trying to focus on refining skills and also having the push to drive yourself further, to get better. (I know there were a few downhills I wouldn’t have managed to do solo.)

So far I’ve survived mountain biking. And Grasshopper certainly has had some tough times on this journey, particularly when he almost fell off my roof on the Alaska Highway (I have gotten a bike rack since then). My body is aching, my muscles are sore, I have bruises and scrapes and grease constantly on my hands from trying to keep my bike clean—but still it’s a highly addictive sport and I can’t wait to progress. Keep an eye out for Part 3: Get Lost! Navigating Whitehorse trails.

For more information on learning to ride, finding riding partners and attending clinics, check out Yukon’s Contagious Mountain Bike Club

Lots of female riders, with Yukon Dirt Girls, for the first ride of the 2018 season

Read the whole series: Learning How To Ride And Not Die

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