In Florida mountain biking really has nothing to do with mountains. For the most part, we ride through swamps. Every once in a while you’ll encounter a steep incline, but within seconds you’re at the top, sailing down into a sand pit. In Florida you have to sludge your way through yards and yards of sand. Often you ride so close to alligator-infested creeks that a slight slip off the path will send you splashing into their home. Palmetto leaves slap you in the face, you jump over their roots constantly and frequently you’ll round a corner and come face to face with a 3″ banana spider.
I didn’t take up mountain biking because these challenges seemed so enticing. My husband and all my kids were all doing it and, like Sister Dalton says, “I didn’t want to be stuck home making sandwiches.” However, after a dozen years of biking trails from Moab to Maui, I can honestly admit, I adore the sport. Mountain biking satisfies for several reasons, but one reason I never anticipated is that it teaches me about life.
The first lesson I learned while mountain biking was keep your eye on the goal. When mountain bike trails cross bodies of water, frequently there will be a narrow bridge to ride across. These bridges seem a lot more narrow than they really are because if you stray off the path you’ll tumble into the water I mentioned before. My girlfriend recalls her first experience crossing such a narrow bridge. All the way to the bridge she was staring at the dark water with duck weed floating on top, scared to death she wouldn’t be able to stay on the bridge and she’d end up in the muck. You can imagine what happened. She ended up exactly where she had been looking: in the muck. Rather than focusing on where you don’t want to go, the wise mountain biker will focus on where you do want to go.
In life, there are all kinds of ways we are tempted to take our eye off the goal. If our goal is to live the gospel, why would we ever read literature, or listen to people who teach doctrine that opposes the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If a young person’s goal is to marry in the temple, why would he or she ever be in a relationship with someone who is not worthy of a temple recommend? Keeping our eye on the goal means we don’t let worldly distractions trip us up. If a young man’s goal is to save money for a mission, he has no business test driving all the year’s newest cars.
Be determined and decisive. Even when you’re riding a bike on the street, if you ride too slow you’ll tip over. When you’re riding a mountain bike path, it’s even more crucial to keep up your momentum. If you see a log strewn across the path and you slow down to deliberate whether or not you can jump the log, your front tire will hit the log square on and you’ll fall. You need momentum to ride over a series of roots crossing the path. If you go too slow, your front tire will get caught in between them and your bike will be twisted out from under you.
In life we need to live the gospel without waffling. We don’t want to be wishy-washy, fence sitters, unable to commit to the path before us. If we are wishy-washy, those obstacles we would otherwise sail right over can jump up, grab us twist us right off the path we were on.
In mountain biking it’s extremely helpful to listen to those who are ahead of you. “Sharp turn coming up” allows you to slow down enough to make the turn. “Steep hill ahead” allows you to pick up enough speed to make it to the top. It’s nice to ride a trail with someone who has been on it before. Ignoring the warnings of those who have gone ahead is foolish. It’s a sure way to crash.
The ironic truth about mountain biking is that as much grief as these obstacles provide, a trail without obstacles is boring. You might ride it once, but it’s a lot more fun to ride where there are hairpin turns, steep climbs, narrow bridges, sand pits, logs to jump. The obstacles are what make the ride interesting. Each time you ride the trail you become more adept at anticipating the obstacles. You anticipate when they are coming, you prepare for them, and you get better and better at overcoming them every time you ride the trail. It’s rare to ride a difficult trail the first time without falling at all, but the more you ride it, the faster you can go, and the less chance obstacles have of knocking you over.
It reminds me a lot of life. It is so satisfying to overcome obstacles. We feel such a sense of accomplishment when we face a difficult challenge, and rather than run away, we take it on. Our confidence increases when we stick with a challenge, because gradually our skills improve. Behaviorist, Albert Bandura called this self-efficacy, and he found that self-efficacy had a greater ability to predict success in life than self-esteem. Obstacles and challenges are part of life, and those who refuse to give up, reap eternal rewards.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Jacksonville, Florida. Her most recent book is, Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance, available at www.unsteadydating.com