I hate going downhill. I would climb all day if I could but, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. It’s a technical skill that has held me back, lead to tears, frustrating performances, and was even one of the factors that lead to me to favour triathlon over road racing. This year, however, I decided to face reality, put on my big girl bibs, and learn how to descend properly.
It took about six months of real, focused practice but my hands weren’t clenching the brakes for dear life anymore. I started to gain confidence and then even speed on corners and descents. I wouldn’t say it had become natural by any means but in the battle to descend better, I was finally winning. Then came the inevitable.
Looking back now I should’ve read the writing on the wall. I had two punctures and a wheel mechanical before I had even left the house but, of course, nothing was standing in between me and the three hours I had planned that afternoon. I would like to say that it had been raining or have some form of excuse but, with only 30min of my ride left, suddenly my bike was gong sideways. I was heading down a short descent taking a wide right hander when, for no clear reason, my back wheel seemed to be beating my front wheel down the hill. Sometimes you have time to realize you are going to crash but this time there was no realization process. I seemed to just be “in it,” skidding sideways, knowing I was about to hit the deck.
Like a five year old, I think I sat on the pavement for a few seconds in silence before I started to cry. My tears were reacting to the overwhelming situation as I seemed to be, at least while the adrenaline was still flowing, not in any serious physical pain. Nonetheless, I sobbed like a baby as cars gathered and kind people rushed to my aid.
A nice lady pulled me up off the ground (really, I did little to help her) and, as I stood there fiddling with my cell phone, the scene of people seemed to continue in front of me like I was a spectator. At that time, my brain finally joined the party. I calmed down, answered all their questions, denied the need for an ambulance, and announced my realization: “I think I’m okay.” I checked over my bike, convincingly spinning my wheels and pushing my shifter back in place. I profusely thanked everyone–in Catalan– and with my roasties well hidden under my winter layers, eventually they seemed convinced enough to let me go.
I gingerly started to ride again then my phone finally rang. “I’m okay and by the time you drive to me I’ll be home,” the logical part of me said, stiffiling cries from my emotional side. I set out to tackle the last 10kms and as I descended slower than a glacier, I realized all my new confidence was laying on the tar a kilometre behind me. Just as I was getting over a five-year fear, it all came crashing down.
A few kilometres from home, I pick up a car escort from someone who wasn’t convinced by my shaky voice over the phone but I completed the final 2km on my bike, not noticing my stem was somewhat sideways. Cleaned up, in pyjamas, covered in ice-packs and anti-bacterial cream, I went through the crash, trying to find some form of explanation but I could only deduce the road was wet and that, in some weird twist of fate, I was going too fast. I always thought descending was a skill that would eventually become second-nature but now I realize it’s always going to be a life-long downhill battle.