Vitamin H: Humility

When I rode up behind him, Tony was telling the group, “I’m usually a pretty shit-kicking mountain biker, but you guys are making it tough today.”
It was 26 degrees max, my Camelbak tube was full of ice, and my legs were getting that jelly-filled feeling from a solid hour of muscle tension. I was still sucking wind when the group took off again.

After riding alone all summer, I thought getting together with an established group would be fun motivation for winter mountain biking. Now I’m struggling to swallow my pride and kick my own ass to keep up with them. I have been the caboose each time I’ve ridden with this bunch, who show up all decked out with new carbon-fiber bikes, shin guards and wind gear.

Worst of all …. are you ready for this … I’m the youngest in the group by a minimum of 10 years.

The first time I rode with them (they call themselves AARP for Always Ask for Resuscitation, Please), I played tag with Jeff, a talkative guy, while Lisa and Tony were only barely visible ahead of us, plowing over stone walls and deftly handling tight switchbacks. I thought I was just off my game after catching a couple trees with the bar ends and cursing up a storm. Ever pleasant, Jeff shared that he’s in awe of speedy Tony, who sports a white mustache and twinkling blue eyes. Tony’s 70 years old, Jeff said. I nearly fell off my bike. Jeff’s 62.

So, the second time we went out, in Willowdale, one of my favorite spots for singletrack, Tony was my designated babysitter. When the rest of the group disappeared ahead of us (that day it included a bike shop owner and some faster under-60 riders) , Tony would wait for me at the crossroads to make sure I knew which way to go. He yelled back at me to take on ridiculous obstacles like trees sawn in half lengthwise and skinny, tire-width bridges. Hell, I was just trying to keep him in sight, nevermind doing anything but keeping my wheels on the trail.

I was miserable, demoralized, somewhat pissed off. I was sure I’d enjoy myself more if I rode solo. But would I drive to Ipswich in sub-freezing temps and push myself hard for 2.5 hours if I were alone? Better to swallow the bitter pill of humility and realize that I’m learning more this way. I’m tackling more of the obstacles on the trail with less hesitation. I’m learning new terrain and techniques from other riders — when they’re within sight.

And someday, 15 or 20 years from now, I’ll lead this group while younger riders marvel at my ability. And I’ll tell them about Tony, who promises to whup me into shape if I keep showing up.


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