I’m still pretty new to this biking thing honestly – I’ve only had my road bike for about a year now – but I knew I needed to get a good bike to take on some of the non-paved trails here in Alaska. The problem is, I’ve always been terrified of going into a bike shop as a hot mess newbie woman trying to buy a bike. I have met a lot of cycling guys here in Anchorage, and they all just seemed so hardcore and so much more knowledgeable than me. I was embarrassed about how little I know about bikes and worried that they’d try to sell me on something I didn’t need. But when I showed up at one of the local bike shops in town, I was greeted by a really friendly hipster kid that I found out lived down the street from my old apartment. I instantly felt more relaxed as I realized that he wasn’t going to act like a used car salesman just to make a purchase off of me. I told him my price range, and he found me a bike that fit my needs and was actually out of my price range but was on a pretty big sale that made it work for me!
Everyone, meet my new BFF! She’s a gorgeous Liv Tempt 4 hardtail mountain bike. That means that she’s got suspension in the front that helps me fly over the bumpy stuff, but no suspension in the back (which keeps it cheaper). I recently attended a bike maintenance 101 class hosted by a Liv representative who was traveling up to Anchorage for a week, and learned that the entire company is run by women, for women. Their bikes are female specific which means that I get a better fit than if I use a regular mountain bike. I was super excited when I found out that the best bike in my price range ended up being a Liv!
At first, I was only riding this bike out on the pavement. It was safer to ride this bike on the paved trails when there were still patches of ice, and I wanted to be able to get used to it in a low stress situation. Plus, mountain bike trails in Anchorage are closed until they stop being mushy from melted snow, which can sometimes be until the beginning of June. But last week the trails fully opened and I had the chance to try my bike out on the dirt! My first dirt ride took place on the trails in Campbell Tract. I’ve done some trail running, skiing, and fat biking on these trails and felt pretty comfortable with the difficulty level. I didn’t know, however, that we’d be going up some trail with an insanely steep hill – and back down it! I nearly cried as I tried desperately to maintain control flying down a gravel trail while pulling my breaks as hard as possible. Once we got to the bottom, I was feeling really shaky and had lost all of my confidence. Downhills are my least favorite part of biking! But then we hit some singletrack and I actually began to relax. I had way more fun snaking through the trees on the thin, hardpacked dirt trail than on anything else I’d done that day, and I even opted to do that part a second time!
A few days later, my friend texted me that she was doing a late night ride in Kincaid Park. Kincaid has a giant singletrack area set up through miles of forest, and I was crazy nervous about riding it. It’s hard for me to relax when I don’t know what’s going to be around every turn, and the trails in that park have a lot of crazy turns. Will it be a moose or a bear? Giant tree roots? Will someone race up behind me, and I’ll have to pull off the thin trail to let them pass? All of this ran through my mind as I texted her back “Yes! Meet you there at 8:00!”. On my drive over I was nervously trying to remember all of the tips I’d read about singletrack online. And when I finally stared down the dirt trail (named Middle Earth), I almost cried. If you’ve never seen singletrack before I can’t begin to describe how much more difficult it is than road biking. The trail winds like crazy through the woods, over small hills designed to launch your bike into the air, and roots and rocks that up the difficulty level. You never know what’s coming so you don’t have any way to prepare for it – you just do it.
I’d never ridden over roots before and there was a lot of screaming during my first few rooty sections. But when we got back to our cars and she asked if we wanted to go again, my answer was yes! The trail was better the second time around and even though I was holding my brakes so hard that my index fingers got sore, I was able to make up for it on the uphills. I don’t think I can honestly say that my first singletrack experience was “fun” – it was more exhilarating, empowering, and mind blowing than it was fun. But I enjoyed it enough to go back again a few days later to tackle the Bolling Alley trail. It was longer, harder, and presented quite a bit more challenges. We almost hit a moose and didn’t realize it until we were safely past it, and one of my friends crashed her bike on a downhill which shook everyone up a bit. But when we finally finished, totally out of breath and sweaty, I realized that I’m really starting to like this mountain biking thing.
Have you ever tried mountain biking? What’s the scariest new thing you’ve ever done before?