After a 10-year break from mountain biking I decided last summer to start up again. I wanted to get back into riding for a number of reasons, one of which was to be more social – the girl I was spending time with was into mountain biking.She was completely fearless on the downhills. She has this tight little muscular body that she uses to her advantage, always controlling the bike, not letting the bike or trail control her. Though it’s not her obvious physical skills I found so impressive, it’s her mind; she has the ability to overcome any apprehension on technical downhills.When I told my friends it was her mind I admired, they replied, “We understand it’s your conversations about Dante and Faust that you find so appealing about her.” I, on the other hand, like to say, “I really look good on the uphills.”Something definitely happens on the downhills and I know what it is. I have performance anxiety. I knew it would happen someday – just not so soon.Granted, the first ride I took last summer was on her old mountain bike. It was too small for me, I was using road bike shoes and the front shock did not work. (It was locked out.) I wanted to impress her with my riding skills, but that turned out to be a joke.She traded bikes with me for one downhill section just so I would not use the old bike as an excuse. She took off down this little technical section riding it masterfully and with great speed. I rode her high-end mountain bike over the same section tentatively with a white knuckle death grip.She tried to give me riding tips and at one point, in frustration, she turned to me and said, “You’re just not listening.”I should have said I was scared, which is not conducive to effective learning. Instead, I did not say anything and just tried to keep up. I eventually ended up walking a lot of the downhill sections and, now that I think about it, I walked a lot of the uphill sections, too.Well, as you might have guessed, she found a new riding partner. She started riding with someone who rode a little better than me and who did not suffer from performance anxiety.It was my issue and I should’ve gone out on my own to slowly build up my old riding skills. I also thrive on positive reinforcement. It would have been hard to find anything positive to say about my riding skills last summer.I continued to ride all last summer, and toward the end of the summer, I purchased a new high-end mountain bike. I also found a new riding partner, a lady from Georgia, who had no expectations of my riding from the past. So, consequently, I did not suffer from performance anxiety. God it was great. I could just go out and ride and even walk when I felt like it. The lady from Georgia is the one who rides Swiss Bobs down ski slopes with little regard to the fate of her body. Yes, she rides her mountain bike in a similar fashion.My response to both of these ladies’ lust for speed is that they haven’t been injured enough or seen enough injuries. I’ve done and seen both, which doesn’t faze the muscular little one. She still says, “Ron, you’re just a pussy.”I’ve come to realize I wear that moniker well, which is an adjustment in my mental state that helps ease my performance anxiety.Some tips that I have found useful in overcoming performance anxiety without resorting to drugs are: any relaxation techniques that help with inner calmness under stress, yoga and constant exposure to difficult terrain. Repeat riding difficult terrain, and then ride it with better riders that you. Watch their body positions and try to emulate exactly what they are doing. If they’re standing, stand up, and if they’re behind the saddle, move back.It’s highly critical to learn to use the brakes properly and, as a lot of experts say, when not to use the brakes, which is more often than you might think. I have to admit, I’m nervous about the first trip of the year to Moab, especially since I want to ride the Poison Spider Mesa loop without dabbing. I’m already putting pressure on myself, which doesn’t help performance anxiety.Ron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron is sitting on a beach in Troncones, Mexico as you read this, working on his relaxation techniques and surfing.
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.