Relationships require work. Some more so than others; but, either way, from the first swipe or first date, to the wedding day, you’re constantly learning how to be with someone else.
For me, mountain biking was one way that my husband and I built a pretty good relationship, and I think this can apply to anything that requires problem solving—from stressful situations and exhaustion, to differing values and opinions.
I had been mountain biking one summer before I met my husband, and all I can say is I sucked. Like, I could barely walk my bike down a hill, let alone ever think I would ride it. Ryan and I had our first date bike riding and I was very upfront with him, “Look, I suck okay?”
He nodded, thinking I was being humble, and after our first bike ride I could see it on his face. And, well, he’s also direct and said, “That may have been the slowest I’ve ever done that trail.”
This was the moment Ryan started to learn to keep comments to himself and use his “inside voice.”
Our first year biking together wasn’t the best. He was really fast and knew the trails better than me and would scoot off into the woods.
Meanwhile, I could barely make it, huffing and puffing and walking most of the trails. I would go into a fit of rage whenever he would go past a fork in the trail and I had no idea where I was supposed to go. He would come back and be like, “What’s up?”
(Me, seething), “How the F— was I supposed to know where to go? You can’t just leave me! What if I got hurt?”
He would, of course, apologize, but then I’d be so angry at him and so unmotivated and frustrated that I’d walk in a strop (temper tantrum), for kilometres, to the end of the trail.
I think mostly I was scared. The woods are no joke, and having no idea where you are didn’t help. It also didn’t help that in my second year of biking I thought I would get better. But any time I would ride with anyone, I always felt like the worst mountain biker. How can there not be anyone worse than me!?
What we learned was to communicate where, for how long and when to meet and check in, if it was fun or not. And mostly to do all of this before I would have a meltdown.
Our second year of riding together (and third year of mountain biking for me), Ryan and I would be clearer in our communication with each other. “I’ve got this great ride planned,” he would say. Off we’d go, and many kilometres in I was exhausted and not having fun. “Argh, I told you I can’t do these types of trails yet!” I would yell.
Ryan had more faith in my abilities than me (and still does). He started taking me on difficult trails. “See that rock? You can totally do this,” he would say. “No!” was my typical response. Again, the fear inside of me. I had fallen a few times and hurt myself. I’m a woman in my thirties, learning to mountain bike … I’m “old.” Things hurt! It’s hard … so many excuses. But I wouldn’t even try.
Ryan would get frustrated. I would get upset. Then there would be fights and no one was enjoying themselves.
What we learned was to speak up earlier and to be clear on expectations (something Ryan wants to do, maybe I don’t). What really helped was, in the winter I taught Ryan how to downhill ski and, with the teacher-learner process swapped, we realized we both had different teaching and learning styles and abilities.
This year I rode my fat bike more than I skied or hiked, and I also commuted to work in the spring, as the trails melted.
By the time we did our first mountain bike ride of the season, in May 2022, I was doing things I never even dreamed of. Ryan was so excited and happy and so was I..
Now, when we get to something scary, I take time to look at it instead of saying no. And Ryan will accept if I’m OK trying it or not (watching him or moving on).
Mountain biking, or any sport, really, is a great way to learn how to work together and eventually have fun. For some of us (me) it takes longer than most to learn new things!