What I learned about commitment from mountain biking

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Many years ago when Chris introduced me to the idea of riding a bike off pavement, my participation had more to do with my enthusiasm for him and the prospect of marriage, than with the sport itself. And while I engaged in some thoroughly enjoyable off-road-lite recently, it's fair to say that, left to my own devices, this would not be my top activity of choice.

In fact, I've had so much on my plate lately, that the only activity I eagerly looked forward to this New Year's Day was a solitary winter hike on one of my favorite trails in the Dunes. I was hoping that a five-mile vigorous tromp through a frozen landscape would help me focus my thoughts and and zero in on the really important things, and find a mental plane where I could commit to them. Otherwise, I feared, I would begin the new year with the same mental chaos with which I ended the previous one.

It was with the deepest misgivings and reluctance that I consented to participate in the NYD ride at Palos with my husband and guys from the shop. Though the weather was quite chilliy, I wasn't worried about getting cold. My concern was that I would be doing more walking than riding. After all, I'm nearly old enough to be some of those guys' mom, and what they consider rock-and-roll trails, I consider quite intimidating.

It didn't help that we began our journey on a section of the trail dominated by numerous log jumps. Even on the Necromancer, I wasn't up to hopping over log ramps. Before I had a chance to get properly warmed up, I got totally winded getting on and off the bike to get over the obstacle trail, and then pedaling furiously, on tires three times as fat as anyone else's, to catch up with our group. I did catch up with the guys at the next parking lot, and I rode on ahead of them to gain a little distance.

Once my heart rate and breathing returned to something resembling normal, I began to notice my surroundings. The air was crisp and sun-drenched, bare trees allowing glimpses of a frozen lake. The ground felt solid, and the fat tires rolled deftly over roots, logs, rocks, and makeshift ramps. As my confidence in the bike to carry me over the obstacles returned, I started to relax into the descents and allow myself to build momentum, so the climbs became more doable.

Eventually, our group passed me again, but I was not longer concerned about keeping up. I wasn't really worried they would lose me. We got into some sections of the woods that featured some very entertaining curving up-and-down sections, and then into Gravity Cavity, which was definitely fun and not nearly as scary as it sounded.

Here and there I had to put my foot down. Heck, there were some places where I put both feet down and marched. Two thirds into the ride, I started to feel fatigued, and the climbs became frustratingly challenging. But I couldn't really stop, and so I kept on at my own pace. And invariably, a discouraging climb was followed by a breathtaking descent, when the springy-elbowed sense of flow returned, and I banked the bike into the turns thinking, hell this is fun.

Needless to say, I didn't have a spare moment to devote to prioritizing my life and refocusing my brain. I did, however, take away a few points about doing things with commitment.

Activities that require commitment are hard. If they weren't, commitment would not be required.

To maintain commitment, we have to believe that we have the ability to complete the task. For example, if the entire ride consisted of the log-jumping sections, I would have given up after the first ten minutes.Commitment requires sticking with and pushing yourself over tasks that are not easy. This part is not enjoyable, and this is where commitment is most likely to falter. But this is also precisely the point at which we get the wind back in our sails. Without methodically and slowly slogging up the steep banks, I could not feel the thrill of the happy descent, the feeling of being in control enough to let myself get out of it, reveling in my new abilities.

This is also the point where it helps to have a support network. If I had to find my own way out of the woods, I would probably do it simply because I had to. But I think my motivation would be primarily fear and sheer determination. The security of riding with a supportive group made it easier and even enjoyable to get over the frustrating parts, and actually relish my accomplishments.

And sometimes, when we get stuck on a problem that we can't solve, the best solution may be to try to solve a different problem. Chances are that if I had gone on my hike, I would try to dissect, analyze and perhaps even reaffirm my inability to commit. The ride proved that I am, in fact, capable of commitment.