By Ericka Kastner
Sometimes in life the places we travel to are geographic, an actual destination we can pinpoint on the globe. At other times though, the places we go exist only in our minds; they are mental attachments, places we wander to in times of great joy, or senseless fear.
My relationship with mountain biking over the last 20 years has been one such place. I first discovered the joys of riding singletrack while living in Lawrence, Kansas, tooling around unaccompanied along the levy on the banks of the Kaw River. It was my only sanctuary in the woods those days, as forests are hard to come by in Kansas.
But somewhere along the way, I began to ride my bike for others; most often for someone I was dating. First adding toe clips and straps to my pedals to look like I had “the gear,” (yes, I’m referring to the early 1990s) and eventually, frantically struggling to keep up on technical downhill sections so as not to appear too lame; all the while wishing I could unclip and just ride at my own pace. The frenetic headspace that I’d enter on these rides very quickly began to erode away at the singletrack joy I’d once had, turning it into fear.
Admittedly, no one took me to this panicky place; it was something I did to myself slowly, over time. Worrying what others thought about my riding skills eventually kept me from experiencing actual places on my bike as I began to trade in biking for hiking, a realm where I felt confident and sure of myself. Ultimately, I stopped riding altogether.