From The First Pedal Strokes To The First Crash

Living in the mountains opens up many new opportunities, and mountain biking has been one of them. It’s not even two months since my first proper mountain bike arrived, and I’m already in too deep. I have always loved cycling, but I could never imagine I could be so enthused by conquering trails on two wheels.

Getting my First Mountain Bike

I never really planned to take up mountain biking seriously just yet, and it started out with me just looking to buy a bike for the daily commute around town. Somehow, I ended up buying a decent mountain bike and was ready to find some beginner trails.

It’s a hard-tale bike (which means front suspension only), but hey – it’s more suspension than I have ever had! I was confident it would last me a couple of seasons. Another reason why I got this particular bike was the budget. I’m still living off my savings and didn’t want to splurge too much in case I don’t particularly enjoy mountain biking.

My partner in crime – Scott Contessa Scale 720 (2016)

After asking around and doing a little research, we decided to go to Grindelwald for my first ride and do the trail from First to Grosse Scheidegg and back down to Grindelwald. It was supposed to be OK for a beginner, plus it offered spectacular views. What else could you ask for?

First Shock… What Have I Signed Up FOR?

So here’s the thing… Never, ever trust more advanced riders when they tell you it’s a beginners’ trail! First, we all have differing views on what’s easy and what’s difficult. Also, the more you ride, the higher is your benchmark to compare easy trails against. Lastly, a big factor is the type of bike you ride. Around here, most riders have full suspension bikes which, irrespective of your skills, will allow you to conquer harder trails.

The first part of the trail (First – Bachalpsee – Grosse Scheidegg) was indeed all good and pleasant – a bit of uphill struggle to get to Bachalpsee, and then a long traverse to the saddle (pictured above). The weather was beautiful, and further into the trail, we managed to get away from the swarms of tourists and hikers. A few pairs of observing eyes definitely won’t help with the confidence when you’re trying not to smash your face against the rocks.

And then the downhill part came… Oh, my pretzel! How am I supposed to get down THAT?! Shock, despair, fear, frustration, anger and that overwhelming thought: “I can’t possibly do this!” I was terrified. Who would’ve thought that my first breaking point would be on my first ride? At this point, it was either me giving up or powering through one way or another.

First ride, approaching Grosse Scheidegg (on the right)

I went for the latter.

And I Was Hooked!

WOW! I can actually do this sh*t! Yes, I had to push down my bike on some sections, and yes, I was still frustrated and angry. Mostly with myself – I didn’t like the fear this downhill trail caused, but I was very proud of conquering at least some of it. I was actually doing things I never imagined I could and ended up having a very enjoyable first ride.

Weekend trip to Lenzerheide – at the top of Rothorn (2860 m)

Now all I could think of was the next rides, new trails to explore and conquer. But the struggle to find the right trails continued!

We were advised of several beginners’ trails, but most of them turned out to be way out of my confidence zone and above my skill level. And trust me, it is very easy to get disheartened in such a scenario. “They keep telling me it’s suitable for beginners, but I can’t possibly ride this thing.”

In situations like this, you have to be realistic and honest with yourself. Yes, I could’ve pushed and pushed, but when you’re going down a trail in a panicky state, a tiny little mistake can end up in a gnarly crash.

But then someone suggested that we try out the bike trail in Schwanden, and they turned out to be right. Yes, there were bits I was struggling with on my first rides, but now I can ride it all from top to bottom. Plus, there are plenty of features to progress on which keeps me coming back.

Tackling Schwanden trail beginner style

If You’re Not Falling, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

At least that’s what they say. The thing with me is, though, I’m terrified of falling! I’ll do everything to avoid it, especially if it’s OTB (over the bars in mountain-biker slang). I know it can get silly sometimes and definitely hinders my progress in one way or another, but my fear of falling has made me the pro in saving falls. I’ve had some little tumbles, but I’ve always walked away intact.

I knew it wouldn’t last forever and my first proper fall will come sooner or later. And come it did.

We went to Kandersteg to enjoy the Kandersteg – Sunnbüel freeride trail – it was my first time there, and Luke thought I would enjoy it. Unfortunately, it was far from the truth. After some really fun and enjoyable but challenging trails this one threw me back on the ground (literally, but we will get there).

I was struggling down many tight and steep corners, it was technical, muddy and slippery, lots of rocks and just generally – not right up my alley. We eventually made it down to the ground station, and after a short lunch break, I was ready to give it another try. I hoped I’ll be less anxious the second time around.

Kandersteg – Sunnbüel freeride trail

I was, and I managed to progress on many of those tight corners, but still wasn’t enjoying it fully. And then came the steep rocky slope that I walked down the previous time. It was pretty wide and straight, and I knew I could conquer it if I worked with my mind. I just had to give it a try.

The Hard Landing

Half a minute later, I was down on my belly on a cliff edge and my bike somewhere below me in the rocks. It felt like every part of my body was in pain, and I was struggling to breathe. When I realised I had just about escaped a roll down the cliff, the panic attack set into full motion.

Anatomy of a crash (screengrabs from the GoPro footage)

It took me a minute or two to come back to steady breathing, but the fall just kept playing in my head and messing with my thoughts. All I could think of was the potential injuries had I gone down the drop, not the fact that I’m safe and in one piece. I still can’t watch the full GoPro footage of the fall (I had to ask Luke to grab screenshots for this post).

What a tumble it was!

But The Trail Goes On

This fall has definitely taught me a lesson, but I’m not giving this up. The bruises will heal and the bike will be fixed. And there are so many more trails to explore! Plus, I have pretty much decided that I’m getting a full suspension bike for the next season.

And a full-face helmet!

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