A Butt Kicking Good Time

I got my butt kicked today on a hard trail ride. I went riding after work this afternoon with my biking buddy, Susan Hill. She is officially one of the coolest people I know. She's not only one of the best and most creative teachers at the synagogue's preschool, she's also a fantastic biker who can mountain bike, climb some wicked steep hills and fly down a perilous rocky declining backwoods trails like a boy on his first dirt bike. Once again I have to say my biking abilities are comparable to a child's pedaling around a suburban street cul de sac. Okay - I'm exaggerating a wee bit. Riding on Thursday, I covered more ground in a faster amount of time on fairly even grade trails. It was nothing compared to today. We rode up to the Wissahickon trail and into the woods. Susan asked me if I wanted to climb a hill and I gamely/lamely said of course - I'm READY! I need to remember to check my ego because it does crazy things to me, like making me believe I have greater physical abilities. The Ego doesn't quite know what my body can really do at this point.

So up the hill we went. Susan gave me some great pointers, telling me to down shift into a low gear, getting a bit of speed from a downhill turn. The incline went up at a steady and sharp degree for at least 1/4 of a mile. It's a dirt trail, littered with some twigs and branches and lots of small sharp rocks. It curves up around the Wissahickon trail and then plateaus a bit before turning into two areas - a private old home that is probably in Roxborough, and then into the upper dirt trails of the Wissahickon. I rode about 5 miles an hour, huffing and puffing after about 10 pedal strokes into the climb. Even breaths didn't return until I had reached the top and rested about 5 minutes or so. I made it about 90% of the way up before stopping. My trick to making it up the hill was to only look at the immediate ground in front of my tire otherwise I would have gotten too overwhelmed by the heights, the distance and the unnerving rocky ground. I couldn't look at Susan or more than 2 feet in front of me I just had to concentrate on the road right before me. It was a good tactic making me realize that this survival mode can work well in other situations. It forced me to have singular concentration, only notice what I needed to and to just power forward. Kind of like the idea of just taking my weight loss one pound at a time in 10 pound increments. Looking at a climb this way, I can appreciate the immediacy of what's in front of me. Reaching the top of the hill - Susan's HILL - I had a chance to notice the naked tree limbs, scrubby pines, a carpet of confer needles scattered about, the rolling hills of golf course adjacent to the trail, and the amazing view of the Walnut Lane Bridge Span from a vantage point I've never before experienced. It was magnificent.

After the summit, we road a bit further up along some very narrow woodland trails. Again, I had to just concentrate on a small bit of dirt ahead of my tires and try not to look to the sides or down. Heights are not my friend - I have a touch of vertigo and between my racing pulse and the scariness of this difficult ride I was beginning to feel like I would hyperventilate. As steep as the climb up was, the descent was even more difficult. The trail was not as well worn, rockier and there were a lot of tree roots to navigate. I lost my footing almost immediately and fell over. Susan gave me some more pointers, but I lost my balance again. She told me to keep my feet evenly balanced on the same pedal levels; keep my butt off the saddle and over the back tire; let the bike do the work letting it navigate the trail; and to go down the hill faster than I think I can. I heard the advice but it didn't stick with me, I lost my footing a few times and had to tiptoe down a few feet while straddling the bike. I made it down the trail in one piece, light headed and a bit freaked out after realizing just how high the trail was and how fast I rode it. I didn't quite loose my composure but it was a close call. I felt light headed and about tho have some tears of terror burst forth. The feelings quickly turned to exhilaration back on more even ground and we rode quickly back to the regular trail. I was even able to dispense advice and directions of my own to some younger riders! The ride back to the City was fast and fun, keeping my heart rate going but not making me feel sick with fear.

Among the many things I learned about myself today - the most important lesson is that I have to go slowly and while still trying to tackle new things. I would have kept riding, exhausting myself far from home and leaving myself with no energy to make it the 10 miles home. Susan is grounding for me, helping me to see what is it that I need and should do right now. She isn't caught up with trying to outdo the mountain bikers and road racing riders we passed along the way. She knows her limitations, whether it's how much time she has to ride or an actual physical limitation. My left calf is sore. I feel an ache in my back in a new spot. But I also feel that woozy high you get from good hard physical activity. A body and brain drain which feels euphoric. Better than most drugs and good for you too. Getting my butt kicked, it's a good thing.


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