About 25 years ago, when I first started Mountain Biking, there were basically two types of riders, Cross Country and Downhill. At first, I didn’t even know that “Downhill” was even a thing. All of the friends that I rode with were just Mountain Bikers. A typical ride for us would be to park or ride to the bottom of a mountain, painstakingly climb to the top and hopefully descend down a different trail that had several technical features. Climbing was its own skill. You had to manipulate your gears and take advantage of the slight differences in the terrain to keep the power and pace you wanted. A lot of this was learned by watching others. If I couldn’t see the gear my friend was in, I would ask. “3 and 2,” was a common response. Three was the third gear in the rear cassette and two was the middle chain ring where the pedals are. This combination seemed to be a good starting point for any ascent, but that was only one of the myriad of techniques and emotions used to tackle a daunting and unwanted hill climb.
Other techniques we used were to vary the position of our hands. Placing them on the outside of the handlebars to relieve numbness. Going uphill didn’t require you to be on your brakes, so moving your hands around was fine. We also clipped in. We wore special shoes that snapped our shoes into our pedals, so that we would get power on the upstroke. Now we wouldn’t just get power when we pushed our legs, but when we pulled too. Angling our seat slightly down also helped keep us forward on our bikes, great for ascending and less pressure on our perineum, to alleviate numbness in our legs. Everything was designed to keep the bike moving forward, at a strong pace, with the minimal amount of interruptions. It worked.
The emotional component was strong. You had to go to another place. Sometimes the ascents were so long, you had to drift to break up the monotony. It was important to drift right back when a car was coming or if on a trail, the terrain changed. Later I got to appreciate that time. I learned how to use it to think about other parts of my life, sort things out in my personal life or tinker with solving a work problem. The irony here is that the hardest part, became my favorite part. I yearned for the climb.
When I moved to the Temecula area we soon heard through the grapevine about the infamous San Juan Trail. It’s this 11 mile trail off the Ortega Highway and is known for it’s remoteness, technicality and picturesque location. From my side, we had to drive over the mountain, park by the ranger station and start our arduous ascent. As we were climbing I kept having to stop for bulky guys, adorned with armor and big beefy tires, flying down the trail. When we arrived at the saddle, the midpoint and popular break area on the trail, we saw more “Mad-Max-esque” type riders. I asked my friend, “What kind of bikes are those?” He said, “Those are downhill bikes, this trail is a popular shuttle ride.” I had never heard of a shuttle ride before. Riders would bring two cars, park one at the bottom, then drive back up to the top. When finished, all they had to do was hop in the car at the bottom to get the other car at the top and drive home. I was surprised and disappointed. These guys weren’t Mountain Bike riders at all. They were cheating.
Riding downhill is no joke and takes an incredible amount of skill. They were wearing pads for a reason. Part of the downhill culture is to not just go downhill, but go downhill fast. For adrenalin junkies, this was a huge payoff. No matter how much I rationalized it, I couldn’t get into the downhill scene. The riders took away the most important pieces and were done in a third of the time. It was so completely foreign to me. The climb is part of the experience and the downhill was the reward. I kept thinking to myself, they didn’t earn it.
For some reason, I’ve always gravitated toward the climb. I take the long way around. I plan things out, use screws instead of nails whenever possible and in my business, I learn how to do it myself first. I’m not a purest, I’ll use great tools, but it has to make sense. If it adds another layer, so that I’m learning less, instead of doing it faster, I’ll find another route. By putting myself in that position, I’ve learned so much. It’s allowed me to let things sink in and make more concious decisions. I still make mistakes, but when I look back, it’s easier to identify where. In our society the quick fix is very attractive, yet time and time again we see those experiences start fast and end early. I’ve been able to stay in the Web Development Industry for over 17 years, because somewhere along the way, I figured out that I liked the climb more than I liked the descent.