When I first learned that I had a spot on the 7-day Mountain Biking BC Kootenay Tour I was beyond excited, a minute later, I was terrified. This is because I have a secret – I am not a natural athlete. And after ten years riding and six years working in the bike industry, I am still not a great mountain biker. I can get by with the skills I have, but the idea of riding with pros or strangers, or even on new trails leaves me feeling exposed and uncomfortable. It has become an embarrassment I try to hide and writing this under a pseudonym did cross my mind – “who is Daniela Barker? And why can’t she ride a bike?”
My family has accepted my lack of athletic prowess since the grade school pageant that had me enthusiastically skipping across the stage while my peers cartwheeled. At that time, I was too young to see this difference in our abilities as something to be concerned about, I was happy to just be participating. By high school, however, I was faking menstrual cramps every fourth period to avoid displaying my awkwardness in gym class.
Whenever I introduce a friend to mountain biking and they surpass my level in a few short months, I smile supportively. I give the thumbs up and cheer for them, “way to go”, while I am actually thinking, “you have got to be fucking kidding me.” I have always felt that I should be better, I should be able to keep up, I should be able to hit bigger drops, I should be able to shotgun a beer without getting it up my nose, I should – and the list goes on. It was with this knowledge of my shortcomings that I nervously anticipated our Kootenay trip.
We would spend a week in the region, travelling and riding in Rossland, Kimberly, Fernie, and Nelson. Our core crew consisted of myself and another media person, Ben, Kelli and Darren from Endless Biking, Jason; who won the trip in a contest, and Martin who organized it all. In each location local guides would showcase the best that their communities have to offer from trails to beers – and sometimes, handmade candy.
On our first morning, I was the last to drop into the beautiful and flowy trails that Rossland has to offer, but only after asking for the tenth time “exactly how much climbing is there to start?” Now this might be where you are expecting to read about how I overcame my doubts, realized that I was in fact an amazing rider who just had to believe in herself, and the rest of the trip was nothing but hot laps and high-fives, but that’s not what happened. We had plenty of high-fives, but they were more of an encouraging nature than a celebratory one. In fact, by the end of our first day riding it was clear that I was much slower than the rest of the group. Contingency plans were put in place for the rest of the week as we had an aggressive schedule to maintain and I loath to be the person who everyone is waiting for. As needed, we split the group or I opted for earlier exits, usually skipping that one last climb that would really put hair on my chest.
In Kimberly, I picked through the beautiful rocky terrain, in Fernie I peaced-out before the last big climb (twice). In Nelson, I struggled to the lookout, arriving just after sunset. There were times that I pushed, times that I walked, and times that I took the alternate route. My internal dialogue used words that would make Mr. Rogers blush, but laced through even some of my most negative thoughts was ‘holy crap, I’m doing this!’ I was facing my worst fear, not of falling off my bike or not cleaning a climb, it was of failing in general. Of being found out for the average rider that I am.
The less I struggled against the entanglement of my ego, the more I enjoyed my ride. I began to realize that my ability to shred is only about what I can do, and has very little do to with who I am. My love for mountain biking has never wavered, not even with the ebb and flow of my skills over the years. Improvement continues to be my goal, but I am no longer afraid to, for lack of a better term, suck. Just like back in my days of enthusiastic skipping, I am happy to just participate – I am happy just to ride.
Danielle used Kelli Sherbinin from Endless Biking as her body double for the photos as she was behind the lens for this trip.
Danielle Baker is a writer and photographer who enjoys long walks in the rain, riding her bike, and shots of tequila. Growing up without electricity or running water helped her to find a great appreciation for all things in nature and, eventually, led to her love of mountain biking and fear of whales.