There are few things in this world that truly scare me. Spiders. Heights. Commitment. And, as I learned in California, mountain biking.
When Jenn and I arrived in North Lake Tahoe, we immediately headed to Squaw Mountain. The cozy ski resort exuded all the village vibes of Whistler back in British Columbia. I wanted to listen to the buskers in the square, sip a beer on a sunny patio or cheer on the runners that raced down the snow-less slopes, but we had other plans.
Alison Karlene Hodgins
My fear of heights is a recently new acquisition. Looking down from the top of a building or cliff has been added to my list of least favourite things, when it used to spike my adrenaline in a delicious way.
So I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d enjoy pulling myself up the side of a mountain with the help of iron rings and ropes strung between boulders, hanging over nothing but air and hard rocks.
“Everyone have their carabiner?” our guide, Francis Liaw, asked our small team of amateur adventurers. “We’re going to take the Skyline Traverse.” Following his lead, I clipped into the metal rope that led the way up the mountain.
Ladders, finger holds, rings and steps pounded into the carrot-coloured stone created a floating trail. “These will hold me, right?” I asked. Francis laughed. I looked up and to the side, but not down. Never down.
Two young boys and their dad shot past us. “They make it look easy,” I grumbled to Jenn. I traced my carabiner through the metal fixture like a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike the Via Ferrata I climbed in Whistler, this carabiner system never required us to completely unclip from the safety line, which may have added to my growing confidence.
Then I saw the monkey bridge.
Two metal ropes stretched like a slack line between two rock walls. I nervously stepped onto the bottom rope, holding the top cable with my arms taut above my head. Biting my lip and refusing to glance at the vacant space beneath me, I inched my feet across the rope. I’m locked in, I reminded myself, I'm safe. I secretly wondered how long it would take for the bungee chord to release, and how likely it was that I’d smash into a rock before that happened.
I let out my breath and giggled when I made it across safely. Renewed, I scampered up the adjacent cliff, pulling my body close to the wall and stretching my long legs to use them to their full extent. This is fun, I thought.
Then I saw the next monkey bridge.
And the next.
I made it across both bridges and to the summit, gaining 1,000 feet (305 metres) of elevation over 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Sweating beneath my black gloves, the adventure felt significantly more difficult when I was hanging off a cliff in the exposed sun. I thought about free solo climbers scaling rock faces in Yosemite and was instantly awed with a newfound respect for rock climbers.
We descended much quicker than we climbed, and I actually found a rhythm as we went. I pushed myself to trust my feet and fingers, and—to my surprise and delight—I didn't fall.
The next morning, we drove to Emigrant Trail to go mountain biking. I’d tried the sport once before—kind of—on my friend’s bike without a chain in a manicured bike park. The adrenaline rush was contagious, and I’d enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere. This would be my first time properly biking on uneven ground.
We met our guide Eric Pratt and grabbed our bikes, helmets and snacks for the trail. Eric outlined the narrow dirt path we’d take through the forest. “I’m nervous,” I admitted.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. "It’s all challenge by choice. We’ll just get started and see how you feel.”
Uncomfortable. Unstable. Rocky, shaky and anxious—that’s how I felt. “You’re doing awesome!” Eric called encouraging words behind me as I cursed under my breath.
Alison Karlene Hodgins
Jenn sped ahead, looking much more natural on the bumpy single track than I felt. “I’m going to walk for a bit,” I said, kicking my leg over my seat as if I was dismounting a horse and gripping the handle bars so tight my knuckles blanched.
“No worries,” Eric said with a casual smile, mimicking my descent. “We call this ‘hiking a bike.’ There’s nothing wrong with it. We can look around and enjoy the scenery better this way.”
Eric had a point: the day was beautiful, and my trepidation was making me miss it. The trees, the sunshine, the shimmering water. Grinning mountain bikers zoomed past me much faster than I’d ever attempt. Even their clear amusement didn’t make me want to get back on my bike. I pushed it up several hills, pedaling when I felt comfortable, which was rarely.
I laid my bike in a meadow and sat on a rock. “I’ll wait here,” I suggested. “You two keep going.” Eric and Jenn stopped for a snack, and we divulged into an interesting conversation about environment and ethics—easily the best chat we’d had all week while exploring California.
“Should we head back?” Eric asked after awhile.
“I feel bad,” I said. “You two should keep going. Mountain biking just isn't for me.”
“That’s okay,” Eric replied with his easygoing attitude. “Keep trying. And when you don’t feel comfortable, just walk.”
So I did. By the very end of the trail, I started to feel slightly more confident bumping over boulders and spinning out on loose gravel. I might’ve even smiled. I might’ve had a little bit of fun.
Still, for the most part, I was terrified while mountain biking. And although I was incredibly touched by Eric and Jenn’s positive support, I accepted that I probably won't try it again.
However, I was also terrified to do the Via Ferrata, and, despite my fears, I loved it.
I left North Lake Tahoe feeling happy that I’d tried two outdoor adventures that scared me, and even more proud that I’d stepped out of them when I felt too uncomfortable. How would I have known how I really felt about either if I hadn’t tried?
Disclaimer: some of the activities in this article were provided as part of a press trip. All opinions are my own.
Have you overcome your fears on an outdoor adventure?
We want to hear about it!
PS. Do you follow our adventures on Instagram?
We're constantly sharing new gear, outdoor adventures and behind-the-scenes from explore on our Instagram—including live stories from this California trip!
View this post on Instagram