I didn’t realize how serious it was until I tried to snap a photo of him riding around a corner with a scenic green ridge rising in the background. Usually the first one to ham for the camera, he didn’t even crack a smile. Bad sign.
I’d watched this scenario play out so many times before with other people: one half of a couple coaxing the other through a rock garden or up a cruxy climbing pitch while the other unhappily followed, obviously not having a good time. Had I become that person? The one saying, The worst part is over! Or, You’ve got it—just a little bit further!
Sometimes our passion for the things we enjoy clouds our understanding of what might be fun for other people. Brendan had heard me rave about this trail since we first started dating. It was the singletrack I dreamed about when I fantasized about mountain biking. So naturally I ignored the warning signs telling me that this was probably the wrong trail to take a relatively new mountain biker on. Like the forecast for temps in the 90s. The fact that even core mountain biker friends considered the trail a two-star, masochistic sufferfest. The fact that before 8:30 a.m., we were already parking in the last spot in the lot during a holiday weekend.
What, did I want my boyfriend to hate mountain biking? Or worse, hate me? “You know, it’s OK if I don’t like your favorite trail,” he’d said, as we pulled into the parking lot. Impossible, I thought.
On the way to the trailhead, I’d listed off the reasons why I loved the trail. Was I subconsciously composing a sales pitch for something I knew was probably a terrible idea? It was like making excuses for a friend’s bad behavior. Inside I knew the trail was objectively pretty unlikeable, but I glossed over the countless washed-out erosion bars, the fact that it would probably be extremely crowded and how the morning sun bakes the trail almost all the way to the top.
He stayed with me, grinding up the initial erosion bars and switchbacks. Was he maybe having fun? I’d completely forgotten what a techy, hike-a-bike epic the trail had felt like on my first ride. Isn’t that how our selective memory works? Filtering out those gnarly rock gardens and focusing on the glorious sunset descents?
Soon my queries of how he was doing were met with unenthused nods and grunts. Our faces glowed red with exertion, the breeze barely softening the oven-like heat. Only one other biker we saw on the ascent was smiling—everyone else wore gaunt, dogged expressions of self-inflicted punishment. “This trail is way harder than I remembered it,” said a sweat-soaked guy at the top. Brendan stood silently.
On the way down, as we slowed to a stop every 50 yards to yield to hikers, I began to feel sorry for dragging Brendan up there. He hadn’t uttered a word of complaint as he dismounted and carried his bike over the countless bottlenecked obstacles. But I sensed he wasn’t exactly falling in love with this trail I’d somehow grown so fond of. How had I turned into that person dragging someone out for something “fun” but obviously having a warped idea of what fun is?
Back at the car, he silently lifted his bike onto the rack. “I’m sorry—that was actually pretty miserable, wasn’t it?” I said.
Finally he broke the silence. “I think that was the most awful mountain bike ride I’ve been on.”
“I guess it’s my turn to buy milkshakes.”