I am a runner. For the last ten years, at least three times a week, I have pounded my way along pavement, trail, district road or beach. I am au fait with running jargon. Specialist running shops instill in me the same sense of comfortable familiarity that I feel whenever I visit a Vida e Café. I have ten years’ worth of back copies of running magazines. I love the simplicity and ease of running. And the safety. Most of all, I love the fact that it’s actually quite difficult to fall while running. So what, I had to ask myself as I lay in the middle of a district road entangled in my newly acquired mountain bike, with blood spurting from my knee, in the name of St Christopher and all the other patron saints of protection, was I doing riding?
By Rosie Carey
Ironically, the reason that I was riding down the district road and not running it, was due to a running injury. Somehow, so-called friends had conned me into thinking that it would be pleasant to take up mountain biking as an alternative to running, while my injury healed. Initially, I thought they had a good point. Mountain biking, like trail running, can take you to beautiful and remote places. It keeps you fit and builds good leg strength. In theory, it seemed a great idea. The reality proved far more daunting.
There was not only the issue of buying a bike, but that of getting all the other bits and pieces that came with it, like the helmet, gloves, shoes and bottle cage. And the bike rack, so that I could actually transport the bike to where I wanted to ride it from. Then there were things with strange-sounding names whose functions I could only guess at: bombs, multi tools, lube, chamois cream…
To say I was flustered the first time I went into a bicycle shop would be a kind euphemism. To make it worse, this wide array of items came in prices that ranged from ‘I could fit that into my budget’ to ‘blow the children’s university funds’. I decided that if I were to continue this mountain biking experiment with any measure of success, I needed to enlist professional help.
I had done some spinning at Prime Human Performance Institute with pro-mountain biker and coach Shaun Peschl, so I cornered him and asked advice on which bike to buy. I ended up getting an aluminium Momsen hardtail 29er. After surviving multiple falls and humiliations together, we are now practically inseparable (me and the bike, that is).
The next step was to read every bicycling and mountain biking magazine I could lay my hands on. I learnt invaluable things, like how to degrease my chain (believe me, for a complete novice, the simple act of cleaning a bike properly is a mountain to be summited) and how to tackle those tricky switchbacks. Most importantly, I started learning the jargon. No longer would I walk into a bicycle shop and stare dazed and confused at the shelves of alien-looking instruments. No, I became empowered to look the salesman in the eye and ask for lube and chamois cream (well, almost).
The bike and other essential equipment now occupying pride of place in
our garage, I downed three glasses of wine in quick succession and registered for a TREAD skills course, making sure I paid immediately to minimise the chances of my pulling out. I also put aside any prejudices I may have had about women’s exercise groups and joined a bevy of pink-clad mountain bikers called the AmaAngels (managed by Ian Wilson). My first ride with the Angels was incredible. No one laughed when I failed to unclip timeously in the parking lot and landed with spectacular inelegance in a puddle of what may or may not have been chicken excrement.
There was a spontaneous outbreak of whooping cough but nobody actually laughed. When I got a puncture half way through the ride, a guide magically appeared to change my tube. He also taught me how to change a tube, although after that first puncture I decided to convert to tubeless. Really, for those women new to mountain biking who don’t have husbands or boyfriends able to initiate them into the sport, find yourself some Angels. Because the truth is, as I had discovered, not much in the mountain biking world is geared specifically towards women.
A few hundred meters down the district road, we turned off onto some single track. The trail wove its way through forest. I negotiated my way between two tree trunks and over a rock. Dappled light danced across the path in front of me. There was a stream and a slatted wooden bridge. I forgot about the blood running down my leg and the sting of the graze on my knee. I forgot about the thirty patients I had to see that afternoon, the children’s homework that needed completing, the grocery shopping that hadn’t been done. All that mattered was the feeling of the air rushing past my cheeks and the scent of the damp undergrowth and the silent whoosh of my tyres on the path.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it happened, but somewhere along that singletrack, I knew that I would never be able to call myself exclusively a runner again.
Rosie Carey is a GP, mother, wife and an increasingly seasoned mountain biker. To the extent she is now a Specialized ambassador… She lives in Durban and rides mostly at Holla Trails, Ballito. She’s also an author under the name Rosamund Kendal. Check out her website: http://rosamundkendal.yolasite.com/
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 29, 2014 – All rights reserved