Everything has been about ski season for me in recent years. Summer was a fun distraction, pleasant conditions in which to pass the time while waiting for the snow to fly. Toward the end the wait would become unbearable, an endless ticking of the clock as the seasons continued their slow march toward winter.
This year, it hasn’t been like that. It’s been an absolute joyride of a summer, packed full of smiles and adrenaline and unadulterated delight. I still can’t wait for the snow to fly, but I’m also fine with passing the time until it’s ready. It’s all been about the transition from road biking to mountain biking.
The problem, for me, is that road riding was at a place where the rewards I was looking for just weren’t there anymore. I’ve never been interested in being the fastest rider in a pack, or being able to slot smoothly into a peloton. I’m built for endurance, not speed, so chasing top times is always going to be an exercise in frustration. I ride a bike to see beautiful places, not to stare at the butt of the person in front of me in a paceline. Which left me with distance as the goal and that was fine for a while, until it wasn’t.
I’d reached a point where I was very comfortable picking a pace where I could ride 200km+ in a day, and ride long distances multiple days in a row. After that, it stopped being about as much about fitness and became about managing the discomfort of being on a road bike for the length of time required to go further. And that kind of challenge doesn’t excite me. I know that I’m perfectly capable of enduring discomfort; for me, the important thing is challenging myself in ways where I can’t be confident or sure that I will succeed.
And this is where mountain biking is so ridiculously perfect. I’m a terrible mountain biker. This has been my first really sustained season after three years of very patchy riding, and yet I’m still a very solid begintermediate (except on jumps, which feel like the most natural thing in the world.) Especially around here, where there’s really no such thing as easy riding, every single trail is a challenge. And on every one I’m totally engaged, thrilled, grinning like a maniac even when I’m so terrified of what I’m in the middle of doing that it’s hard to breathe.
Finally I have something to do in the summer that fuels whatever need it is I have that only skiing’s ever filled before. And now everything is perfect. I’m still yearning for snow, still missing that monochromatic world where the cover of white changes everything and you can breathe it in and fly, fly, fly over the surface of the earth. But while I wait, I’m happy. Because I’ve started to fly on a bike, too.