Column, Living the Dream

Back in the saddle

By Merisa Sherman

I was shaking from the inside out. I could feel it in my chest, my arms and legs and all the way into my fingers and toes. My heart was racing faster than if I had climbed Trail A up Killington. My voice came out raspy and I couldn’t catch my breath. I wasn’t on some crazy great adventure or climbing a mountain. I was standing in the Ramshead parking lot staring at a mountain bike.

It should have been an easy task. Get on the bike, ride it around the parking lot and then buy the bike. It sounds super simple. Everyone knows how to ride a bike and it’s the thing to do in Killington during the summer. You take the lift and ride down or you pedal the single track system, both of which seem to be growing by leaps and bounds. More and more people are getting into the sport and it’s awesome.

Only I was, and quite honestly, still am absolutely petrified of bikes. Not motorcycles for some reason but bikes with pedals where I am in charge of my own destiny. Well, now that I think about it, maybe it’s not the bike I am afraid of but the lack of faith I have in the person riding the bike: me.

Because I used to ride bikes. All the time. I worked at the Killington Bike Shop way back when the trails had numbers and the only lift running was K1. That was a bad ass time. If you didn’t come down with a little blood on your shin, were you really riding hard enough? The trails were minimally maintained and trail crew spent more time tearing down illegally built technical terrain features than they did maintaining trails. It was the wild, wild west of mountain biking where we sent xc bikes down the rockiest sections imaginable.

But two years ago, all that changed for me. It was Memorial Day weekend of 2020 and the governor said we could finally go play with our friends outside. With an overabundance of enthusiasm, I was meeting girlfriends to try out the new trails at Gifford Woods. We never made it, because I crashed in the Kent Pond parking lot entrance and snapped my arm in half. I spent four days at Rutland Regional, needing three surgeries to put my bones back in my body. I didn’t realize I was scared of bikes until a few months later. I went to go ride around the lawn when I realized I was shaking. Violently. I was dangerously stiff and all I wanted to do was get off that bike as fast I could without embarrassing myself. I couldn’t tell you why I was afraid of that bike but I was petrified. I went from fearlessly charging down Killington to being scared of pedaling around my front lawn.

For over a decade, I was the girl encouraging others to try biking and discover their own power and here I was, fighting back tears like a novice. My good friend T has sat by patiently for two years, reminding me of the camaraderie of the bike world, of sessioning that tricky section until you rode away clean. And that’s just what I needed to do. I needed to face my fears and get back on that bike until I rode the fear away.

So this past weekend, I did it. I borrowed a friend’s bike and went back to those Gifford Woods trails to try again. I started by walking the bike, feeling the tires rolling along next to me. And then, I got on the damn thing. I can do this, I told myself as I pedaled through my fear. This is fun, I repeated like a mantra as I manipulated the bike through rocky sections. I love biking, I reminded myself, as I stood up to tilt the bike up the first berm.

And wouldn’t you know it, by the time we got to the big rock, I was willing to keep going. Yes, I was still shaking with fear as we came to the first real descent, but I was shaking less and pedaling more. With T right behind me, encouraging me with her patience and constant “You got this!” I made it through the whole ride. I actually did it!

Am I still frightened of that damn bike? Absolutely. Did I descend slower than I run those trails? You bet. But as I went over one waterbar, I could swear I heard myself giggle. It was just once, but you have to take your victories where they come. And today, that’s enough of a start for me. You know what? I went and bought that damn bike. I have a long way to go until I truly believe in myself again, but I am stronger than my fears and I can do this!

Merisa is a long time Killington resident. You can follow her adventures on social media @FemaleSkiBum.

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