Monday morning I walked into work with a pep in my step. I had ridden my bike to work, and on Sunday I had kicked off my first dirt jump sesh of '23. I was feeling good. I said hi to my coworker. He asked how my weekend was. I said it was fantastic, I went dirt jumping. I asked how his was.
He explained that he had bought a bunch of ammo on Saturday and he got a "plate."
My good vibe started to falter, I said, " You got a plate carrier?"
He explained, "No I already had the carrier, but now I have a plate for it. "
And just like that I was dragged down off my cloud and into the foul, shitty reality that is our country. To quote the great band Len, he stole my sunshine.
He did not want to hear about my dirt jumping, but he did want to talk more about his plate armor. "I've been watching tons of youtube testing and haven't seen anything that can penetrate this brand."
I said, " Sounds like you're ready for combat, now all you need is a helmet." He said it's on the list.
I started working, I had wanted to spend the morning mentally replaying my time at the bike park. Thinking about the crew that was there, thinking about the tricks I was throwing. Instead, an image kept creeping into my head of a 30 year-old video game addict decked out in tactical gear with his mass-shooter basic starter kit. It's not fair.
As the day went on, a question kept nagging at me, I was a little afraid of where it would go. The question hung there in my mind. I actually got the same feeling I do when there's a new jump or feature to try out. Something I haven't hit yet, but I want to, and like any stunt , it could go badly.
Finally I asked what I'd been wanting to know. " Let's say the day comes that you've been preparing for."
He nodded, I continued, " You put on your armor and load your guns, when you look down the barrel, Who are you aiming at?"
He tried to cop out and said he never pictures anything specific but I called bullshit. I said, he has to imagine something. In the video game he plays, I know he fights against scientists. I asked if he pictures shooting scientists.
He then said, "Honestly I imagine I will be fighting against the National Guard."
I breathed a sigh of relief, "Ok so you think you'll be shooting at an enemy who looks like you but has better gear?" I continued, "That's what you're most afraid of, not nuclear war or something else?"
He explained that he didn't fear a nuclear attack on the US because our military's missile defense system was so advanced nothing would ever get through.
"The military you are preparing to go up against?" I clarified.
That's more than enough dialogue for one mountain bike post, but I get the feeling a lot of my mountain biking brethren don't get an opportunity to have conversations like this often. You're not missing out.
I went on to explain my philosophy on fear, his eyes glazed over, and he drifted into his happy place of shooting things while I talked. But my theory went like this....
As a heavily armed white man in America, he really doesn't have much he needs to be afraid of on a day to day basis. But he still lives in fear. A fear of something huge, existential fear. And it grips him all day. There is nothing he can really do about it. I asked if assembling his battle suit has brought him any comfort and he says it does briefly.
For him fear has become a massive overwhelming force that he can't engage with. He believes that one day his fear will materialize and on that day, for the first time he will step up and confront his fear bravely. I think he's doing it all wrong, I engage with my fears as often as I can. One thing I do is initiate conversations with unstable gun-nuts, but another thing I do is ride bikes.
Mountain biking allows me to engage with my fear. I create fearful situations and evaluate my reaction to them. I vaccinate myself against giant irrational fears by getting regular exposure to small, manageable doses. Of course I'm scared of nuclear war, I'm even more scared of wild fire tearing through my neighborhood on a dry windy day. But that's not the fear I felt at Valmont the other day, when I did a one-handed x-up. As I brought my hand back to land, I missed the grip, and instead put my palm on the brake lever.
The almost-crashed-but-pulled-it-off-somehow is the best kind of fear. I got to test my threshold for panic.
Like any good drug, fear builds up a tolerance. If my coworker had any interest in hearing about dirt jumping, I would have told him about my first day out at Valmont this year. I took one warm-up run down slopestyle. Bike felt good, jumps felt good. As I walked back to the start line fear levels were all in the green. So on the first hit of the second run I threw a nice big no-handy. It wasn't a challenge I had to overcome, it was just something I had to do, like punching a clock. I think my biggest fear is the day I can no longer do no-handers.