Kristina Ciari | 05.15.2017

I'm not very good at being a beginner. Most of my hard lessons in life came at a young age. When I was two I walked into my father's spade as he was shoveling dirt and ended up with a hole next to my eye. At five I tripped as I was running down the street wearing jelly shoes and skinned the entire left side of my face. By age seven I fell from the monkey bars and broke my arm (and yes, scraped my face... again). These young life lessons were simple enough: Don't grab metal when it's frozen, wear appropriate footwear for running, don't walk behind Popi when he's not paying attention (I'm still working on the face thing).

Learning as an adult is much harder. We have more inertia behind us, and any deviation from the path is that much more difficult to achieve. Personally, I've stopped and started piano lessons more times than I can count. I've had my heart broken when I didn't know how to let go, and I've all but given up on learning how to cook a half-decent meal. Spanish still eludes me.

But I'm trying.

When SheJumps hosted a mountain biking event last year, I didn't go. I thought that I wanted to go, but I invented reasons to bail at the last minute. I almost bailed this year too, but was guilted into attending thanks to my friend McKenzie.

I've never been so nervous for a day at Stevens Pass. I've spent countless days there ripping groomers and shredding pow, but the idea of slaying dirt was completely foreign to me. I didn't know where to go or what to do. Body armor, full face helmet, riding gloves? Okay, sure, yeah, I'll take them all! Sign my life away on your waiver? Saddle up on a bike I can barely clear with my short legs? I guess this is what I signed up for!

The first run was absolutely terrifying. I hated every minute of it. We were going too fast, the turns were too sharp, and the damn dirt was far too slippery under my tires. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I'm not good at riding a bike in general - what on earth made me think I should do it downhill at high speed? The body armor clamped to my arms and legs suddenly felt laughable.

But then something happened. The trail mellowed just a little. The knot in my chest loosened and the near-tears dried up. I smiled just a little.

We got back on the chairlift.

At the top of the second run we saw a kid in tears. "I feel you kiddo." Still, our group inched toward the top of the singletrack. The beginning was still terrifying. I was still going too fast and still thought the turns were too sharp, but the dirt felt a little less slippery and my legs were a little more confident. We didn't have to stop as often. My hands weren't cramping from grabbing on too tight. I smiled, big this time.

By the end of that second run I was hooked. I did two more laps, then a fifth on an intermediate run! I had graduated to a blue square in a matter of hours!

A week later my friend McKenzie found me a sweet deal on a used bike. "Friends don't let friends not own a mountain bike," she said, an argument I obviously found convincing enough to make the drive to Portland to buy it. My first ride on T-Rex (it's a Trek, so the name should be self-explanatory) was on the Oregon coast, where I felt unsteady even on flat ground. Then a week later I took her to Winthrop for a friend's birthday. My first time uphill/downhill riding covered 12 miles and dipped into black diamond terrain. I hear it was an easy black diamond, but I don't care.

Another blog post of mine was about the importance of taking a single step, and how that can alter the course of your life. Not wanting to be a hypocrite, T-Rex and I took a solo trip to Duthie, a mountain bike park about 40 minutes from my house. Like a total noob, I strapped on my helmet and rode cautiously toward the park map. When I decided I had procrastinated enough, I just picked a damn trail already and rode for 7 miles through the lush, green forest.

I ended the day on two blue squares. They were the best. I can't wait to go back.

I like being in control and knowing what will happen next. I love sharing my passions with others and teaching people how to love the things I love. Maybe someday I'll learn how to be a good student, too. For now I'm settled on learning how to be a beginner.

Learn more and follow along on Kristina's adventures by visiting her blog!



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