One of my favourite pastimes is playing guitar. In fact, I have been playing guitar longer than I have been mountain biking. As I sat down in my guitar teacher’s tiny little room in the back of the local music store every other week, there were several things instilled in my brain: scales, chords, counting the beat…1…2…3…4…2…2…3…4… etc. and practice, practice, practice. Then more practice. Strumming the guitar with a steady rhythm, learning the timing and the tempo of the song. Steady, steady rhythm, count the beat…solo…soar.

1…2…3…4…pedal…pedal…1…2…3…4…

No more than a few hundred yards up Long Meadow—a 5-mile-long, steady fire road climb in Santa Cruz—this insane counting pops into my head. This particular climb is not very steep, deceiving in the fact that some parts almost look flat to me. It’s just a gradual climb, taking you from the bottom of Wilder Ranch to the top of the park where it heads down the other side into a dark maze of locally legendary trails across the UCSC campus. The main reason I ride this trail often is because my performance on this climb is inconsistent. Sometimes I can tear up this climb and feel good, but other times I do horrible. I find this to be a similar experience to playing guitar, some days I nail the song or scale, and other days I can’t play worth shit, yet, I know I can play it. Mountain biking and playing guitar are like climbing a greasy pole, it takes time and concentration to make it towards the top, but one mistake, one slip, and you slide down to the bottom and it takes that long to climb back up again.

For me, it’s so easy to get out of shape from missing a lot of training rides. Likewise, with guitar, my fingers get out of shape when I don’t play regularly. They become weak and I lose my fingertip callouses, which gives a fair amount of pain when you go to play again. I lose muscle memory and the certain esoteric “feel” that is earned with concentration and practice, but can be lost to the wind if not regularly experienced. If I wait six months to ride the same singletrack that gave me problems the first time, I forget all the sweet lines. You lose that feel, that touch, the mojo.
Practice, practice, practice!

Give me a steep short, quick climb or a reasonably long steeper fire road or singletrack climb and I’m good to go, but these long drawn out no-end-in-sight fire roads reek of pain and annoyance to me. In the back of my mind while I’m spinning up the fire road, I hear my guitar teacher saying, “keep practicing and you will get it”. Damn him for being right!
1…2…3…4…pedal…pedal 1…2…3…4…

I’m about halfway up the fire road and the rhythmic counting is beginning to drive me crazy. There must be something else I can think about; the beautiful golden hills along the horizon, the fantastic blue sky without a cloud in sight, the expanse of the blue Pacific panorama at my back as I head inland.
1…2…3…4…pedal…pedal…

Maybe adding a tune to the rhythm might help:

Along the way I close my eyes
I lost where I was going
The more it will spin
The more that I try
To stop my mind flowing away, away
To all that I despise
Along the way to close my eyes

The 311 song swirls around in my brain for about 30 seconds. Along the way to close my eyes…

1…2…3…4…pedal…pedal…

This makes sense, it feels like it works. Maybe I can only chalk up this chanting in my head to some kind of lactic acid brain freeze due to my body’s unwillingness to want to go faster, or do this climb at all, for that matter. Or maybe not. Perhaps this is something deeper, something primitive and core to us all.

I’m about three quarters of the way to the top and the heat is becoming brutal. I’m completely alone – Rick and Mike dropped me a while ago and are most likely waiting patiently for me at the top so we can continue. I haven’t seen a single other mountain biker, hiker, or horseback rider since they took off. I approach the trail junction and stay to the left, only about five minutes now.
I sprint up the last 200 yards, trying to make up some time. Of course Strava has been diligently timing me but I can say for sure this is not going to be a PR by any means. 100 yards…50 yards…almost there. I am within sight of the end so I look up to see where Rick and Mike are. They are standing in the shade under a tall oak tree patiently waiting for me. When I get to the end I know this was not my best day in the saddle, but like I said before, the only way to get better is practice, practice, practice.

Later that night I decide to go upstairs and play guitar for a while. I sit down in front of my amp and plug in my guitar. Hope I can remember the song I started learning last night.
1…2…3…4… 1…2…3…4… Go. And plug in my guitar. Hope I can remember the song I started learning last night.

1…2…3…4… 1…2…3…4… Go.