Mountain Biking / Spiritual Health

How A Rock Face Turned Into A Spiritual Experience

The Rock Face

The last thing I ever expected to come out of (re)discovering my love for cycling, and particularly mountain biking, was to have this sport help me make inroads to building a better relationship with God. But spiritual growth appears to be exactly what is happening.

Let me explain.

I took up mountain biking for one reason. In 2013, my son joined the fledgling Buena High School Mountain Bike Club. It was in its inaugural year and he decided it would be something he’d enjoy. Watching the team members became an inspiration to me. I decided I wanted to be able to ride with the team as well. Fortunately, I was able to do that for the 2016 season. This would be my son’s last year on the team, so if I wanted to ride with him it was now or never.

King Julian at Brown Canyon Ranch
King Julian at Brown Canyon Ranch

Last July I bought my first bonafide mountain bike; a 2016 Specialized Fuse 6Fattie Expert. I call him King Julian, after the character from the animated film Madagascar.  A group of friends and I went on my very first ride on an actual mountain trail shortly after purchasing him. I was nervous and I had no idea what to expect. The trail is called Brown Canyon Trail. It is a technical trail full of rocks, roots, winding paths, big climbs and fast downhills. There’s plenty of opportunities for people to get hurt, but there’s also plenty of opportunity for a lot of fun.

There are two pretty gnarly rock faces on this path. They present a formidable challenge to a beginning rider, so I decided it was in my best interest to walk down them instead of riding them. I eventually got over my fear of the smaller of the two faces. Actually, it’s probably more correct to say I am able to face my fear. I have a constant respect for the trail and always recognize that just because I haven’t been hurt on the rock faces yet, doesn’t mean I won’t be. So there is a respect there. I don’t want to ever get cocky in the face of this trail.

The bigger of the two rock faces, though, is a challenge for me. So much so that, until recently, I decided that there was no real need for me to try and tempt fate and ride that rock. Ever. I made up my mind that, in fact, I could be just as happy with myself if I never learned to ride over the rock and just walked it every time.

This made sense to me. The rock is intimidating.  Depending on your perspective and where you stand, that rock can be anywhere from six to a million feet high. The higher you climb on the rock, the taller it appears.  In reality, it’s probably no more than eight feet tall. There are also several questionable features of the rock that always made me uncertain of my approach. By not riding it, I risked nothing. It was a comfortable solution for me.

And this is how I dealt with it for a while. I was okay with this. I enjoyed the no-stress aspect of the trail by taking this stance. It worked. Until it didn’t.

Something changed a few weeks ago. It all started when I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who’s daughter not long ago successfully rode the rock after about a year or so of not riding it. The post was accompanied by a photo of what caused her to feel the fear of the rock face; a photo of her crashing at the bottom.

Crashing on that rock does not look or sound like a viable option. I can understand why she would feel daunted. My son has had a similar experience, having himself gone over the handlebars while riding down that mound of imposing granite. I can only hope that I won’t have the pleasure of knowing what it’s like to be humbled by the ominous boulder. Again, I give all due respect to the trail.

The fact that this friend’s daughter was able to overcome her fear got me to thinking that it might be time for me as well. The odd thing is, the very thought of actually riding the rock face became severely stressful to me. So much so that I think I may have actually had a panic attack. So I put the thought away. I went back to my comfortable solution of just walking the rock face.

A week later, my friend who is also the owner of one of our local bike shops gave me a challenge in the form of a playful tease. I am a member of a group that rides this trail at night (which sounds crazy but is surprisingly easy and not any more dangerous than riding during the day). He said on our next ride, he was going to tell the group that I was riding the rock face.

Our next ride was only two hours away from the time of this conversation.

Brown Canyon Loop Group Night Ride
Brown Canyon Loop Group Night Ride

I was not ready and I stressed a lot. I did not take him up on the challenge. The following week, he did the same thing. Again, I did not ride the rock face, but something happened that night. Something clicked. I realized that my friend had more confidence in my abilities than I did.  That meant something to me. I noticed an immediate change in my attitude. This is a person who has been riding for many years. He recognized when I was ready.  I didn’t even know I had the skills to accomplish the challenge, but he did.  The teacher had come to the student. 

I decided it was time to ride the rock face. This time, I committed to it.

I rode the rock the following week. I was not afraid. I found that strange and hoped that it wasn’t overconfidence that I was feeling. I did not crash. I did not get hurt. I’ve ridden it several times since then. My confidence in riding it has increased a great deal and I know that I can take on the rock every time I go down the trail.

Spiritual Health

Now, this is a long story, and I hope I still have your attention.  Because this isn’t a story about me riding the rock face.  It’s really a story of spiritual growth.  You might be asking what any of this has to do with my relationship with God?

For a long time, I have been saying that the point of this blog is to provide my experiences during my endeavors to get healthy and live a better life. Getting healthy isn’t just about eating right and exercising. It’s also about our spiritual and mental health. This rock face issue was merely a spiritual catalyst to get me thinking about my relationship with God and Christ.

I do believe there’s a big lesson to learn with my adventure of getting over my fear of riding the rock. As with a lot of spiritual experiences, this one is layered and I’m sure that I’m only scratching the surface of what this all means for me. After talking about this with my wife, I think I have an idea of at least what the top-layer lesson is.  I no doubt have more to learn from this.

So far, what I’m taking away from the experience is that we often times get to a point in our lives where we are comfortable with our current progression. Where we may decide that it’s not important to continue to improve upon our relationship with Christ. We may feel that we have come to a point in our lives where we’re happy with our current state, and don’t need to move forward.

That’s when God starts nudging us to move on. He says it’s time to grow. Sometimes he does this in subtle, comfortable ways that don’t really stretch us too much. Sometimes, the growth can be so painful that we feel we may break. He lets us know we are ready for the next step and encourages us to move forward. We may not recognize that we ourselves are ready, but as I trusted my friend when he said I was ready for this challenge, we should trust God when he says we’re ready for the next step in our own spiritual progression.

I became comfortable with the idea that I never had to actually ride the rock. Maybe someday I would, but I didn’t see a need to actually do it. And when that happened, God took the opportunity to teach me something. Maybe the actual event of riding the rock isn’t a big deal, and maybe there’s no real need for me to have the skills as a mountain biker to ride it. I think there’s a much more important underlying message here. A higher set of skills that I need to learn.

Maybe God used this rather mundane method to help me learn those skills so I would have them when it is important? Better to learn the skills in a mundane way so as to have them when you need them than to try to learn them at the time that having them is most important, right?  A “Wax on, wax off” sort of thing? Maybe God knew I was ready, but I didn’t and he needed to push me a little. A lot in the same way we push our children when we know they are ready and possess the skills to accomplish a task, but they stay in one place.

There is a saying that goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It’s been around for a while.  I was introduced to the concept in a book called The Jackrabbit Factor, by Leslie Householder. I always interpreted the phrase in a way that suggests the student was actively searching for a teacher. My experience here shows me that the teacher can show up at any time, even when the student is unprepared or otherwise unaware that they are ready. My teacher showed up in the form of my friend and his rather passive/aggressive method of encouragement. I have to admit, I was feeling more like the teacher caught me just getting out of the shower and completely not ready for his arrival. My wife pointed out to me, “Yes, but here’s the thing. You didn’t tell him to come back later. You said, give me a moment to get dressed. I’ll be right with you.”

There’s a lot more pondering and praying on this matter that I need to do. I know for certain there are a lot of areas in my life, particularly in my relationship with Christ, where I have decided it’s much more preferable to remain in my comfort zone. I think I’m being pushed towards better things, now. It’s scary, though. I don’t know yet that I’m ready.

I wanted to share this experience in the event there are others out there who happen upon this blog that might be experiencing similar things. Maybe there are aspects of your life where you have decided you’re quite comfortable in your current situation and don’t see a need to move forward. I’d encourage you to take another look.

I’m going to end this entry by linking to a really good talk given by Marvin J. Ashton, who is a member of my church. He spoke in a 1979 General Conference about change. His lesson is relevant to the experience that I had.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this in more details, please feel free to send me a note. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel if you so desire.

You can check out my Great Cycle Challenge profile here.

-Brian

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