Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Challenge ...

I worked from home yesterday so I was able to get out for a ride a little bit earlier than usual. So I decided to use the extra time to ride Belmont Plateau. I parked at the Valley Green Inn and rode the Wissahickon trail on the southwest side down to Lincoln Drive and then over to the Plateau from there.   It was a pretty good ride, but most of the trails between Falls Bridge and the Plateau are oddly overgrown right now, as if no one has been riding them all year. The Plateau itself is in great condition, but the trails behind the tennis courts and by the Chamonix Mansion are an absolute mess. I had to take a thorough bath in Tech Nu when I got back to the car because I'm sure I crossed through poison ivy a few times and did an extra thorough check for ticks.

And that wasn't the only challenge of last night's ride. At one point, just before I crossed over Neill Drive, I came down a swooping drop and my rear wheel got wrapped up in a root and I was on the ground before I could even react. I got lucky without any damage to the bike, but I got a nasty cut on my shin and banged up my elbow and knee pretty good.

Other than those minor issues, it was a really great ride. No kidding -- it was! I figure my knee and elbow will improve and my shin will heal. And I think I nipped any poison ivy in the bud, so I'm all good.

But something else happened on yesterday's ride that is actually the motivation for this post.

Before I headed over toward the Plateau, I rode up Wises Mill Road and picked up the singletrack at the top. As I was riding down the descent behind the Inn, I came around two other riders and rolled on through. I can't be 100% sure, but I thought they decided to chase. At any rate, they definitely picked up their pace after I went by.

The trail above the Inn drops down to a short technical rocky section with some up and downs, and then the trail runs flat for a bit until you do a short climb followed by shorter descent and then a winding track that leads to a very brief set of step-ups before the twisty, technical drop below the bridge on Henry Ave. From there, it's a longer, technical but not very steep climb up from the bridge.

As I rolled through the first descent by the Inn section, I could hear the other guys behind me and I decided that I wanted to see if I could hold them off or even drop them altogether, so I started pushing. Now, let me be clear about something here -- my only interaction with these guys was a brief hello as I passed by. So I can't be certain they were even chasing. But something triggered in my head that said they were. And my reaction came from the same - perhaps over - competitive aspect of my personality that a few of my friends can no doubt testify to. I always have this reaction - if I see another rider ahead on the trail, he or she becomes my rabbit, and if I hear a rider behind me, I want to hold him off. It's not anything anti-social - at least I don't think it is - it's just this part of my personality that always takes these things as a personal challenge. I'm no dick about it, either -- if I can't hold them off, I'll be happy to give them a "nice job" or  a "way to go!" and if I pass someone, I only do it on their say-so and always say hello. In fact, this doesn't have anything to do with the other rider. This is all about me challenging me. And that other rider or riders? They're just the props - the yardstick of the moment.

I bring all this up because I suspect I'm not alone. For many of us - perhaps even most of us - there is a part of this sport that is competitive and always will be. Even if we don't actually race. In fact, I'll bet it's true for every runner out there, every roadie, or any other sport that offers a relative measure of improvement against others or the clock. We can deny it if we like, but it's a rare individual who can look at a tough section of trail or another athlete in the distance or even hear a couple of riders behind or whatever else presents a challenge out there and not think it's an opportunity to see what he or she has. I'm not saying that we make it all about competition -- just that there's a part of us that wants to find out where we stand in the pecking order. Even if that pecking order is only perceived.

And in this case? Well, that doesn't really matter does it? Because whatever the answer was this time, it won't provide the answer to the same question next time, will it? There will always be more unwitting competition around the next bend in the trail, and every one of those challenges will require a decision to step up and accept it or not. I doubt I'll ever stop chasing phantom challenges or accepting unproferred challenges. And that's fine by me. How about you?

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