We pause at the top of the track, checking tyres, shoelaces, helmet straps – but mostly – checking our resolve. Straddling the aluminium frame, my toes barely touch the dirt. The bike’s not mine. It belongs to a friend who’s about a metre taller.
And we push away, coasting along the gentle beginning of a track that quickly hacks like the pattern on a heart rate monitor. My face is a muddle of adrenaline-fed joy and white fear, my mouth’s smile-scream catching the dust clouding around us.
The Lego block tread of my tyres propels me over cobbled rocks, some splintered and sharp. Around the sweeping berms*. Over tree roots. A quick veer to avoid a blue-tongue sunning himself mid-track. Grasses and ferns lash at my legs. A joey darts ahead. The perfume of Peppermint Gum is intoxicating. Cicada song and the screech of rosellas compete with the whir of gears and our sporadic squeals as we hurtle along the rugged track.
This is our first ride.
My long-time friend and I thought we’d give mountain bike riding a whirl and we quickly discovered our inner child. The one that rolls its eyes at gym classes and treadmill runs. Out on these trails, the child whoops and skips and runs in circles saying, “Faster, faster!” We are alive, frighteningly alive.
As I have continued the sport, flying through the bush over butt-jarring rocks, dirt and gravel, I can see it as I see life.
Sometimes I’m in the cruisiest gear possible, pedalling uphill, trying to maintain momentum as my quads burn for relief. That’s when I’m praying, “God help me!” and clinging to His promises, willing the end of the ordeal to be just over the next crest.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
– Philippians 4:13-14
Sometimes I’m flung downhill at such velocity that I know myself to be completely powerless. To brake could send tyres skidding and slipping. My arms are rigid with fear, white-knuckled, the sharp twists in the track quaking my nerve endings. The sensation is of dangerous exhilaration, just as when life throws up a tantalising opportunity and we race ahead to formulate the future. And we might make it to that point, but we could fall too, or the track could dart in a different direction entirely.
“I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble. Take hold of my instructions; don’t let them go. Guard them, for they are the key to life.”
– Proverbs 4:11-13
Sometimes there’s a sudden bend and the heart drums with alarm. “Oh no! It’s too sharp! What if I don’t make it! Look at that rock, that tree root!” And then I remember that the worst thing you can do at these hooking, unexpected places is to look down at the dirt beneath the wheels. So I lift my eyes to focus them on the corner’s exit and the track beyond. Just as I find grounding, peace, when I lock my eyes on Jesus in the midst of shifting circumstances.
“I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
– Psalm 16:8
Sometimes I wake the next day and look down at legs that have become a camo-pattern of bruising. My left knee is yellowish, greenish purple, flowering out to similar smears on my shins, inner thighs, calves and a scratch or two for good measure.
And I’ve never been a fan of my legs, my tree stumps. But now I look down and see strong knees and ankles, and bruises that tell stories of lessons learned, of endurance. God has picked me up, administered healing and graciously taught me more about Him, His Kingdom and what I’m doing on this break-neck trail called life.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
– Romans 5:3-4
So what does MTB mean? I’ve been reliably informed that it’s how the cool kids refer to the mountain bike riding sport.
But I reckon it could also allude to the Many Tough Bits that life throws our way, and how we can Make The Best of it by always, always, keeping our hearts turned to and softened towards the Man That Bled for us.
* ‘Berm’ is MTB-speak for corner. One of those sweeping, man-made bends that allows you to get your bike practically horizontal without falling off. Another new word!