The end of winter in Calgary is like a mirage in the desert. It slyly offers up the illusion that a lovely spring is about to sprout with a bout of glorious warm days, only to cruelly make it vanish with a hasty plunge of the mercury, just when its arrival seemed imminent. In fact, April is my least favourite month in this town… I’m tired of my skis and eager to row and ride but endlessly thwarted by one snow squall after another instead.
In order to escape the endless chill, we made our way down to sunny, hot Arizona for a week to ride bikes and relax. The mirages in the AZ desert are ‘real’ and they disappear too, but who cares because it’s sunny and hot!
Having spent the better part of the last few months on my skinny skis and my fat skis, making the switch to gnarly two-wheeled fun was a bit of an adjustment. The first day found us on a trail that was not particularly technical, but more so than my ski-brain had expected. My developing skills aren’t quite automatic yet and it usually takes me a few rides to get the feeling back. I felt tight and tense on the new trail as well as hesitant and nervous.
When advancing upon a little drop or steep, rocky climb my mind would overthink and I’d freeze up and clip out, even knowing full well I’ve tackled far more difficult terrain at home with relative ease. For mountain biking and me to get along nicely, I need to let go of my brain ever so slightly to avoid reacting harshly against an obstacle and simply let it roll.
If I find myself stopping short of a drop or steep ascent I will often go back and try it again, sometimes until I get it and sometimes I just walk. I know my limits, so if I truly don’t have the skill I feel no shame in walking, but my athlete-brain won’t let me give in if I know I can do it. Even though this pursuit is purely recreational, the battle within can get pretty heated at times.
The next day we tried a new trail and I felt the ease slowly creep back into my bones. Soft elbows, feather the brakes, deep breaths. The stunning Sedona red rock and clear blue skies were perfect companions for these early season rides. By day three I was cruising.
When I could finally let my mind wander just a little while riding, I began to sense that the next phase of my life might be a little bit like these first few rides of the season – I feel apprehensive, excited and nervous. Why? Tomorrow I begin the pursuit of my master’s degree in Sustainable Energy Development. It’s been a long road to get here – the threshold of a new beginning.
Since retiring from sport, the bulk of my navel gazing has focused on processing the loss of a former life and identity, questioning the nature of my future and drifting listlessly among the overwhelming sea of possibility. In time, slowly, ideas transpired that set my heart a flutter, intermittently at first and now, finally, settling on a vision that inspired me to jump right in.
I honestly never thought I would go back to school, let alone pursue a graduate degree in a brand new field, but this leap of faith has finally blown some wind into my laggard sails and I feel excited, as well as terrified, at the prospect of returning to the academic realm.
I haven’t been in a classroom since graduating in 2004. I wasn’t exactly a model student then — my whole heart was invested in sport. Getting a B, even a C+, was acceptable to me even though missing one second of training was not. I went into kinesiology because it was relevant to what I was doing at the time and I didn’t have the capacity or the experience to truly understand a future career.
As recent seasons continued to change I began to appraise what I value outside of sport, what else gets me fired up. A suggestion to do my MBA made me laugh out loud (I have no work experience or interest in business per se) but I looked it up anyway and promptly fell asleep while reading the course descriptions (no offence to those of you with an MBA, I’m sure it’s fascinating). Thankfully, I stumbled across a different program that perked me right up: Sustainable Energy Development.
It brought me back to the many lunchtimes I spent sorting paper for recycling for my high school Environment Club, to the article I read in grade twelve about a family that built a straw bale house and has inspired me to build a sustainable home, to the solar hot water heater my Dad installed on our house twenty-five years ago and to the endless personal and professional environmental initiatives I pursued as an athlete – my green streak runs deep.
Turns out I have a passion for the environment and, if you can look past the fact that I just flew down to Arizona for a vacation, coming across this program provided the spark I was searching for to move on. I can now envision a new future where I’m inspired to work for a cause I believe in. Now, I’m hungry for the knowledge I need to pursue this career. I’m clipping in and going for a ride.
My first course tomorrow is an energy chemistry upgrade, not a core course, but mandatory for those of us without an engineering background. The last time I took chemistry was eighteen years ago, in high school. There is no textbook listed yet for this short ten-day refresher but we’ve been advised to bring a calculator to class. A calculator! My, oh my, what am I doing?
I feel my fingers begin to squeeze tightly around the brakes as I approach a big drop. Don’t think, just shoot your butt back and let it roll. I let go and my bike floats freely over and down the dropping trail. I exhale and smile, then attack the next climb. Up and over. Phew, made it through that one…
Yeah, it’s going to be a tough ride, but I’m up for it. It’ll be just like riding a bike, eh?