Harnessing Fear

There have been periods over the past several years where I have dabbled in cycling. Whether it be a desire to try triathlon, increase my cross-training repertoire, or to maintain fitness during periods of injury, when I mount a bicycle I typically find myself confronting fear. Fear of clipping in and out, fear of descending, fear of riding in traffic…of course those are all just variations of one primary fear: Crashing and getting hurt (or God forbid worse).

When I can confront a fear and come through on the other side of it, I gain confidence. But too much fear can be crippling and will cause me to avoid the activity. The trick is to find the right balance, or to use the fear to my advantage.

Yesterday I was riding up a hill (Bogus Basin Road for those of you that live in Boise) and came upon a cattle guard. Having never ridden my road bike over a cattle guard before I was terrified when I saw it. My preference would have been to unclip and walk over or around it, yet I was cycling uphill and cannot unclip quickly while cycling uphill. I feel like I need a lot of time to unclip and need to be pedaling on a flat surface to do so. I looked ahead and saw another cyclist a couple hundred feet ahead of me. He had obviously gone over the cattle guard and was still upright, so I presumed I could go too. I looked ahead, pedaled forward, and hoped for the best. What choice did I have? I hit the guard, rumbled furiously, and as soon as it started it stopped and I was on the other side! Still upright! But with one minor problem. Since this was an out and back ride up and down a large hill, I would still have to ride back down over the cattle guard.


I found a safe place to turn around and once I was heading downhill immediately started worrying about the cattle guard. Descending is not my favorite to begin with and adding the cattle guard to the descent was not helping at all. As I approached it on the downhill, I looked ahead of it, thought “focus on where you want to go” and rode right over it. The downhill seemed to make less of a rumble than the uphill, probably because I hit it going faster, but my body, having been flooded with surges of adrenaline from my fear, continued to shake even after the cattle guard was miles behind me. While it was confidence inducing to know that I can, in fact, ride over a cattle guard without harming myself, I cannot say that I was jumping out of bed to go do it again this morning.

I did, however, go on another (different) road bike ride this morning with my husband and that one also forced me to closely examine how I can perhaps harness my fear to motivate me and build confidence instead of destroy it. Today’s ride was full of chip seal. For those of you who do not live in the area, chip sealing is an alternative, cheaper way to maintain roads that involves dumping a bunch of loose gravel everywhere. So imagine you are on your favorite road route and all of a sudden discover that a) the bike lanes are gone, b) there’s about two inches of loose gravel for miles and miles, and c) when cars drive by they often kick up said loose gravel in your face. On one of the descents through the gravel I was swerving all over the place, spitting gravel everywhere, and when we got to the bottom of the hill I tossed my bike aside and told my husband, “I quit.” I actually said the words, “I quit.” I told him that he could ride home and get me (which would have taken over an hour) or we could ask someone at a nearby house if they would watch our bikes while we took an uber home and then drove back. He looked at me, laughed, agreed the ride was no fun, but told me to put my big girl panties on, that I could do it and to keep pedaling. And I’m so glad he did. I would have felt bad if I had quit in the middle of the ride. Also, the beer I drank when I got home would not have tasted nearly as good.

And I would not have had the rest of the ride to consider how to properly harness fear to create confidence. I still do not have that part figured out and am open to suggestions. I have owned a road bike for eight years and I still feel fearful when I ride it. But I can do things now that I could not do eight years ago. I like to believe that the more I ride the more confident I will get. Perhaps it will not come quickly. Perhaps I will always be somewhat fearful. But I keep showing up. I keep riding.

I asked myself this morning why. Why do I keep doing something that scares me so much? Why time and time again do I get on the bike only to flood my body with adrenaline, have near misses with cars or almost topple over due to my own user error? Because if I don’t try, I’ll never know what I am capable of. To show my kids what confronting fear looks like. Because there is no chance of running into a deer in a gym class and the views aren’t quite as good. Because I like doing triathlons. Because the beer at the end tastes phenomenal. And because nothing feels quite as good as doing something that you didn’t think you could do yesterday.