Saturday, October 4, 2008

Patella Meets Rock... or, when do you say when??

Because I spent most of my time on the ground, I don't have pics of this day, so here are photos from after the event, the day we spent rock climbing in the pass (the day after this episode) and the ride that Angela and I took when we got back home.

Ow. So one of the reasons that I went to Aspen was to ride bikes from Aspen to Crested Butte. I knew that there was a likelihood that I couldn't get myself in shape to do that ride, but I thought... lets give it a shot. Being out of commission for 2 1/2 weeks right before I went was definitely NOT helpful, but I rode as much as I could, and learned quite a bit in the process.

While I was training, I was riding with my feet in baskets, and the lovely and talented Mason Griffen of Bangtail bikes in Bozeman was AWESOME enough to come out to my house and do a bike fitting for me. He checked out my shoes, shorts, stem length, handlebars, seat, seat height, changed my chain, and generally tweaked and puttered until everything fit pretty well.

I was scared to use the clipless pedals, just terrified, really, of having my feet stuck to the pedals, but Mason held the bike and talked me through it. He suggested riding around the driveway and just practicing clicking in and out of the pedals a dozen or so times, and I'd be fine. After I did this, I felt pretty good.

I had been concerned that the trail that I was practicing on might not be technical enough or steep enough to represent the kind of riding that I'd be asked to do to ride to Crested Butte, but when I presented that quandary to Kurt, he asked "Can you ride that whole trail?" and I said, no. And Kurt pointed out that I should keep riding that trail until I could ride the whole thing, and then move on to a harder trail. By the time I got to Aspen, I'd either be ready, or I wouldn't and we'd look at it then.

Good plan! I was riding the Cottonwood trail and part of the Bracket Creek area, and I felt pretty good... I could climb okay, not very fast, and the road gained elevation slowly, but I felt stronger every time I rode, and like my bike handling skills were improving. My confidence was definitely going up. But I was still riding in the baskets, the clipless pedals didn't go on my bike until the day or two before I left for Aspen.

Almost at the last minute, I discovered that I wouldn't be driving down, Jill couldn't make the trip, and so we discovered the $88 e-fare on United, the only problem being... I couldn't take my bike. Lois to the rescue, she has a BEAUTIFUL full suspension mtn. bike that she was willing to loan me (WOW!), and I took my shoes, helmet and Shanon's shorts, and off I went. The weather was looking questionable, so we decided before I got there to bag the Crested Butte ride and do lots of rides in town instead. I was psyched.

The day I got in was the day of my birthday party, a night on the town drinking sake and beer, getting to bed kinda late... and the next day, we decided to ride up to the Smuggler Mtn. trail, which climbs about 800 ft. in about a mile and a half.

This, quite honestly, was the longest mile and a half of my life. Lets START with the fact that riding up to the trail head, I couldn't get my feet out of the cleats, stalled the bike and just fell right over in the parking lot. Yes, I did. Wow. Humiliating.

Kurt was laughing. "You have to take your foot out BEFORE you stop your bike, Kate." Um. I had been. I had been twisting for the whole last 20 feet that I'd been coasting up to the stop. Really. Let it go, let it go, you fell, it doesn't matter, arguing back doesn't help you not fall, swallow your pride, swallow your pride!! If you DON'T swallow your pride RIGHT NOW, it will be in your way for the rest of the day, keeping you from performing the way you know you can.

I mean, I am all for the beginner's mind, and for feeling free to fail, but we hadn't even STARTED yet, and I pull this bonehead maneuver. Okay. I double check, "From the heel, right?" I ask, pantomiming twisting out like I had with Mason. Kurt was under the impression that I'd been trying to pull my foot straight up, and I wasn't about to argue with him, although I was fairly certain I was twisting my foot out to the side, from the heel, like Mason had showed me, and I'd been practicing.

I swallowed my burning pride, deciding that the best course of action was to be re-instructed on how to properly use the (expletive deleted) pedals, because perhaps the pedals on Lois's bike were different than mine, or somehow, I'd really been trying to pull up. We sat there for a couple of minutes while I practiced clipping in and out on both feet, and then, of course, doing it without looking. It still took quite a bit of force to get my shoe out, but I put it down to bad technique, and Kurt encouraged that muscle memory would help. I just really didn't remember my pedals on my bike being this hard to use, and that was frustrating.

When that little frustrated voice came up in my head, I brought my coach out that deals with pride and ego, and that coach had a little talk with me: "Hey, now. You are a beginner at this. Listen to what Kurt is saying, he knows about bikes. You need to set your ego and your pride aside so that you can hear the instructions clearly, and execute them properly." Okay. Struggle struggle, but I was able to finally do it.

After that first humiliating "crash" at the trail head, it was really HARD to set aside my pride and ego so that I could listen to Kurt, believe he was not being judgmental, or decide that even if he was embarrassed and frustrated and disappointed, that it was not germane to me being able to ride my bike properly.

I had to try a couple of different things, mentally, here, even before we began the ride. I tried using outside validation, first: "Kurt, are you frustrated with me?" Anyone who has ever been in this situation knows that it really doesn't matter what the answer is to this question. The issue is NOT with how the person who is taking you along is feeling, but with how I am projecting he must be feeling.

Therefore, even when he said, "Don't worry, Kate, you are a beginner and it's unreasonable to expect that you would have a skill set that is stronger than that of a beginner!" I still projected on to him that he must be disappointed in my fitness level and skill level. This would NEVER do, I wanted to go on a bike ride, and we really can't start out with a negative attitude. I knew that I'd have to set my own ego and pride, the things that were projecting negativity onto Kurt, aside, and begin again fresh and open to coaching.

After struggling internally for a few minutes, under the guise of practicing clipping in and out, I got to a place where I was back, open, and ready to be taught.

We began riding up the rather steep fire road, and after about 200 yards, I stalled the bike and fell again. I laughed, oh, this is absurd, I had pulled and pulled from the heel, rotating out, and could NOT get my foot out of the pedal. Its a learning curve, I guess, I thought to myself, and while it hurt to be on the ground, especially as the super fit Aspen Sunday crowd pedaled on past me, I felt okay. Frustrated, and not understanding why something I could do a few days ago I could NOT do now, but okay.

Kurt rode back down and I got my act together. Starting in loose dirt on a steeper uphill grade than I ever had before turned out to be quite the challenge, and Kurt gave me some pointers for getting the power on and getting spinning. It took eight or ten tries, and finally I had to ask Kurt to ride on ahead of me so that I could focus on the task at hand, rather than feeling mounting embarrassment at my total and complete lack of athletic coordination. He took off, and I got it rolling again. 200 yards later, guess what? Yup. Went down hard.

A couple pedaled by. "You okay, girlie?" he asked. I plucked up my courage. "Yup!" I replied, as cheerily as I could from under my bike with my head downhill, feet still both clipped into the pedals. "Just fine! First day in clipless pedals." I replied.

"Wow, you are doing great then!" said the girl, and they continued on. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to get my feet out of the pedals while lying under the bike on a fairly steep grade, twisting this way and that way, eventually, I got untangled, picked up the bike and got back on. I was really REALLY getting worried that I was just thrashing Lois's bike, and for the life of me I could NOT imagine what must be going through Kurt's head.

I took a minute to decide that it did not matter what was in Kurt's head, that my job was to stay clear and present, to ask myself to leave frustration and negativity behind me, and mount the bike again with a clear head and an open heart. I knew that I was capable of riding up this hill. I knew that I was capable of putting my feet in and taking them out. Combining the two was what was proving to be difficult.

NOW: Here is the question: When are we just being a hammer head? When are we being stubborn? When is your ego getting in your way? When is it smart to keep going? How important is outside validation? Should I be enough for me? Should I have known at this point I was in over my head?

For some reason, at this point, I was still feeling like, okay, well, get yourself emotionally free again, and try again. I didn't feel like I was in over my head, but I believe that is because I had mentally given the power to make that decision to Kurt. I believed that he would not take me to a place that would be dangerous for me to practice on. Was that right? How could Kurt know my level of experience? After all, I'd told him time and time again that I'd been riding and working on lofting my tire, going around switchbacks, and coming down rocky single tracks.

Why, in this instance, did I not look out for myself and even REALIZE that I was in over my head? The thought, quite honestly, did not occur to me.

This brings me to questions about self accountability and self reliance. Should we ever completely hand our trust over to our guide or friend or teacher? We should always use the voice of self preservation and intuition, I believe that. I also believe that we can accomplish more than we believe that we can, and that the thing that often stops us from learning is our pride and ego. I practice constantly putting that aside so that I can gain information more efficiently, and ask my body to perform with less emotional interference. This, I believe, is one of the keys to cutting plateaus out of an athlete's performance.

Alright, so lets also add the fact that suddenly, its about 80 degrees, and suddenly, I am realizing that I am really nauseous. Oh, right, we had SAKE last night! CRAP! I'm hung over. Here is my belief about that: if you did it to yourself, you aren't allowed to bitch about it. Don't put yourself in danger, but definitely time to suck it up. I knew I needed water, and that I'd better listen to my body so I didn't make myself sick. But I wasn't ABOUT to complain about it other than to mention it to Kurt, so he'd be aware, just in case.

Let's fast forward. By the time I got to the viewing platform, 1.5 miles and 800 feet later, I'd fallen more than a half a dozen times, been trapped in the pedals EVERY time I'd fallen, and was bruised, battered, frustrated, and confused. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest, my legs were shot, I felt like I was going to puke, there wasn't enough water in the world for me to drink, and I wanted to go home. I walked my bike the last 150 feet to the viewing platform and drank all the water I had.

I sat on the deck for a while and watched the wind blow through the Aspen leaves, focusing on their color, their transparency, on the wind moving them. I knew that my desire to turn around was coming from a self-defeatist place, and still believing that this was a trail that I AUGHT to be able to ride, or we wouldn't be here (because I still wasn't using my own personal accountability, but looking at Kurt like a guide... I do this on my skis "No, I don't want to go there, the consequences of a fall are too high, and I don't think I have the skill set to ski it.", but I was for some reason not doing this on the bike...)

After I had fallen a half a dozen times, I got to a place where emotionally finally, I didn't care, I was no longer embarrassed about falling or frustrated, I was just in a super focused place where I was constantly saying "Okay, that hurt, but you learned this: (insert whatever the lesson was about weight, balance, etc). Remember, you are a beginner. Frustration does not aid you in getting more proficient at this. A clear, open mind, a mind willing to fail allows you to practice and become proficient." I was proud of myself for being able to coach myself back to an open, positive place, but it was taking its toll, and getting harder and harder.

I began looking for some outside validation. I wanted someone to say, "Wow, way to stick with it, I am proud of you for trying even though you must be frustrated." But that wasn't happening.

The question I've been thinking about for days is, should this be necessary? Why do I need this validation? Shouldn't I be enough for me? I came to this conclusion: we all do better when we have support. A good coach can shore up your belief in yourself just enough to push you over the top. But if you can do it yourself, if you can be your own coach, validate yourself, you can survive competitive, or stressful situations all on your own. And lots of times, when it really counts, that support system is no where to be found.

I struggled on this day with the issue of validation. I knew I wanted to be able to stand on my own to feet, to take responsibility for what I was putting my body and mind through, to be able to do it on my own emotionally. As I reviewed the day later, I realized that I had learned a very valuable lesson about personal responsibility and accountablity. I don't want to be led by the hand through life, I want to learn from those who know more than I do, but be responsible and capable within my own skill set.

This was a very tough way to learn it. And when we were discussing whether or not I could ride the downhill portion or if we should turn back on the fire road, I got a brief respite. Kurt asked me how I was doing, and I told him that after my last fall (I'd stopped counting after 6) that I was rattled. My confidence was shaken, and I felt that I'd be able to ride the single track in baskets, but that I was afraid of the clipless pedals, I didn't feel like the ride up had taught me how to get out of them, I was still stalling the bike and just eating it all over the place.

Kurt found some compassion for me, in what must have been a supremely frustrating situation for him (the longest four mile ride of my life for sure...) and gave me some encouragement. We rode on down the single track, and he rode ahead, got off his bike and walked back down so he could coach me through some sections. I was pretty banged up, but the down hill portion went through groves of spectacular Aspen trees, bright yellow and beautiful, and slowly I felt better.

I walked portions of the trail, kept a foot out, and we rode out into a huge meadow with abandoned mining buildings all around it. We were heading off to a nice vista for lunch when my body finally decided it was done. I sucked up my pride and told Kurt I didn't want to go any further, and we ate on a boulder in the middle of the field.

Here, I faced another trial. Is it important for me to explain myself, my journey, my intentions to Kurt? I felt like he had the wrong idea, like I'd represented myself as someone who just didn't care, put your head down and power through, like he was perceiving me as ego-driven, when in fact, I'd been actively trying to set my ego aside all day. I listened to his suggestions, about knowing when you are in over your head, about not being a hammer head, about setting aside your ego so that you make good decisions.

Once again, in order to hear these words with the good intentions that were behind them, rather than alowing my pride to get in the way of me learning something, I had to actively put my ego down on the ground and hear what he had to say. Regardless of what my intentions were as I coached myself through this day, I might learn something here. If the perception of my actions was one of stubborn hard-headed-ness, perhaps I'd better review my actions. I chose not to argue back and make sure I was understood, but to listen. I pictured my ego bleeding out my toes, leaving an empty space for some wisdom, and opened the holes in my ears very large so I could receive the truth, even if it hurt.

I went home and soaked in an Epsom salt tub for a while, and thought on this. I had a moment with tears, and let them come, and then they left, and I had space to think about learning.

My very last crash of the day was a pretty good one, I was lucky I didn't re-break my arm. "You are going to hurt yourself, Kate." Kurt said.

So here I was, in the tub, thinking. Why had I been okay picking myself up and coaching myself through to a positive place where I could learn and try, when it was not the appropriate thing to do? Where in this ride should I have said, "I am in over my head. I want to stop." The problem, I guess, is that I don't want to stop. I feel like every failure is a learning opportunity, a stop along the way to success and more skill.

Yesterday, I went on a ride with Angela. We rode 22 miles, up to Mystic lake on the fire road. I clipped into my pedals and twisted out. They released effortlessly. I stopped my bike and screamed out my frustration to the forrest. All that. ALL that pain. My pedals had been too tight. We'd checked them, Kurt had thought they were okay, and they were, Lois uses them, Kurt can use them, but they were significantly different than the one's I'd been practicing on.

All at once I felt relieved that I hadn't been deluding myself before the trip, and cautious that I didn't loose the lessons I'd learned that day. Click, click, no issue, in and out. I did stall the bike out and fall over once without getting my feet out, I was standing up and pedaling and couldn't figure out how to get my foot out with weight on it.

On the way back down, riding a trail Angela told me later was called the "Wall of Death" (Oh, lord, are you serious? No wonder I was so freakin' scared...) my back end washed out in some loose dirt and over the handlebars I went, coming out of both pedals and landing my kneecap smack onto the only rock in the trail. It was a good one. I sat there for a few minutes letting the insane feelings shooting through my leg subside, and then we rode on.

Was that trail too hard? Should I not have been out there, either? I don't have an answer. I've decided that I love riding my bike again, Angela encouraged me to walk all of the trail I felt uncomfortable on, and there were several technical sections that I did walk, but I rode the climb with no problem, happy, strong, capable.

My next idea is that I should sign up for a mtn. biking clinic, and learn from square one how to handle a bike. Because my knee is now swollen to the size of a softball and not really bearing weight, I've also decided that no matter WHO can ride in tank top and shorts, I'm riding in armor. I want to ski this winter, and beating myself to a pulp is not going to allow me to do that.

The questions are still out there, I'm still sifting through them, but the conclusions I've come to are: you can never put your ego aside enough, in order to learn more about self-responsibility and reliance, I had to practice that. I also learned that I love my bike, and the feeling of riding it is tremendous. I DO love climbing, but I'm not ready to climb something steep at high altitude. I need to be patient as I build that fitness, its unreasonable to think I could have that kind of fitness, even with all the hiking and training I've been doing.

Patience. Patience. Again, it comes down to patience.

Thoughts? Please share them, and thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

i remember my first time up Smuggler (aka "Struggler")... i was a strong east coast rider, but had never dealt with such a sustained/steep/blistering hot/loose rock & dirt climb... I thought it would never end! Even to this day, i tell myself, "half way up"... (I do that when i'm 65% of the way up... good mental game.)
I can't imagine dealing with non-functioning clipless pedals on such a first attempt! No wonder your mind was playing such games with you.
Next time you get that $88 flight deal... pack the helmet, shoes, shorts... and your own trusty pedals!
I know a woman who rides with shin/knee pads... not a bad idea when trying to avoid nasty bruises.

a said...

Thanks SO MUCH, Mike! I cant tell you how good it felt to read that comment. It was, for sure, one of the most challenging days i've faced, and Its good to know I'm not alone!

I will for SURE bring my pedals next time, I'm curious to compare them to the pedals I was riding in, and you bet your BUT I'm gonna get myself up "Struggler" without stopping by the end of next summer.

Thanks for the encouragements!!