If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You

by | Oct 18, 2022 | posts | 4 comments

I recently acquired a mountain bike and it has introduced me to so many unexpected delights.

The bike belonged to the daughter of the family I pet-sat for in Breckenridge, CO, and while she had outgrown it, the bike perfectly fits my small frame. It’s an older Santa Cruz Juliana with a full suspension – a term I’d never uttered about a bike before this one entered my life. Having been riding it for a while now, I sure am grateful for the extra cushion the full suspension provides.

Serendipity seemed to be the theme of my three-month stint in Breckenridge, and this bike entered my life at exactly the right time. It became my only mode of transportation for the two weeks my van was in the shop for repairs, allowing further exploration along mountain roads, as well as travel into town for groceries, library visits, and more.

Riding along mountain roads allowed me to lay a foundation of endurance, as well as time to familiarize myself with the gears, brakes, and nuances of the bike while building my biking confidence. I’m still very much in beginner mode, but I’m proud of myself for pushing beyond my usual comfort levels.

When we woke to snow in Breckenridge, it was time to head toward warmer weather, and I traveled with a new van friend to Moab, UT. Moab is an amazing place to explore by any means and is notorious for mountain biking. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a trail, all of which vary wildly from easy, flat terrain, to treacherous, rocky climbs. Thankfully, most are clearly labeled.

We took the bikes out for a seven-mile ride the first day we arrived. It was my first time riding an “official” mountain biking trail. My first time traversing rocky inclines, riding across vast expanses of bumpy sandstone, and speeding downhill while navigating sharp turns. I surprised even myself by not tipping over once, though my shins have a few more bruises and cuts from the spiked pedals.

Three female mountain bikers passed by while we were stopped to let the dogs drink from a pool. I caught myself doing what I always do: comparing myself to others, and always coming up short. In that brief moment, I watched the women ride by and told myself they were better than me, a mere novice.

This type of thinking has always been my knee-jerk response, always comparing and always coming up short to who or whatever I’m comparing myself to. However, this time, despite slipping into that old habit of thought for a few moments, I quickly snapped out of it. Sure, those women may be better than me, and that’s fine, but it could’ve been their very first mountain bike ride too. I reminded myself that I was on the same trail as them, was also on a mountain bike, and had only stopped to let the dogs drink, not because I couldn’t physically go any further. My friend graciously reminded me the trail had a medium/hard difficulty rating, going on to reassure me I’d “crushed it,” despite being my very first time riding a technical trail. Proof once again that my fears and insecurities exist only within my mind.

Since then, we’ve ridden several trails of varying difficulty, all usually 10 – 14 miles in length. Every ride fills me with pride, confidence, and a tranquil mind.

I’m grateful to have a friend as my tour guide and mentor. Someone not only familiar with biking to share tips and experience but also well-acquainted with the terrain and trails in Moab. I follow his lead along dusty paths and use his tracks as my compass. Sometimes, though, his tracks take a route far too daunting for me and I’m forced to find my own path. It’s such an obvious metaphor, but one I ruminate on as we ride.

A New Form of Meditation

I tend to be a perfectionist. If I start something new, I get frustrated when I don’t immediately master it. Mountain biking has forced me to let go of that notion. I’m forced to be a beginner, which raises several other lessons in my mind. While it’s easy to follow someone else’s path, eventually, we all have to choose our own routes – not just in biking, but in life. We see what others are doing and want to do that too, but we all arrive at the endpoint via our own, often zig-zagged route.

I can listen to advice from others, learn from their experiences, read multiple books on the subject, and do all the research in the world, but until I do it myself, I’ll never know what works best for me. It’s a bad habit of mine, researching something to death, reading so many books, articles, and blogs, or talking to countless people about it that I never actually do anything to get myself any closer to whatever it is I’m hoping to accomplish. I’m fully aware it’s an act of avoidance. Fear creeps in and I think, “If I just read one more article, or can grasp one more concept, then I’ll be ready (maybe).”

Mountain biking proves that sometimes you just have to jump into the abyss. You have to zoom down a rocky trail and push through that fear of falling off the side of a cliff (literally, in this case). You also have to let go of your ego.

Perfectionism gets pushed aside when I hit a section I don’t yet have the technical abilities to traverse. Instead of forcing my way through, or chastising myself as a failure, I laugh, dismount without any ounce of shame, and walk the bike until I reach a part of the trail I feel comfortable with. Then I keep moving on.

In those moments, my inner critic gets silenced, and that is wonderful.

The pride, exhilaration, and sense of accomplishment I feel when finishing a ride far outweigh any doubts or anxieties that cross my mind. Proof that when I stop allowing fear to creep in and stifle me, I can accomplish great feats. Feats that didn’t even exist as a notion in my life a short six months ago.

The concept ties directly back to a Mary Oliver quote I have taped up inside my van, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” I never imagined I’d spend three months in one place. I never imagined I’d acquire a mountain bike that would push my limits both physically and mentally. I never imagined meeting new friends who would become mentors and travel companions. Happenstance has changed my plans so many times, and my heart is filled with gratitude. As the title of this post states, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Vanlife has been full of challenges that have changed me in so many positive ways and pushed me to grow in ways I never envisioned.

I can’t wait to see where this little bike will take me next.


  1. Martin J Hebda

    Great article! As always I finish them wishing I could go on an adventure. I admire your spirit.

    • Lisa

      Thank you so much Marty! 🙂


        Thank you miss Lisa for the fun update of the unexpected turning into something unplanned and exciting. I am glad to hear you are doing well out there . It is so nice to see your face again. Keep it up young lady. Holler if you need anything in Tx.

        • Lisa

          Thanks so much, Dean! I’ll be sure to let you know when I pass through Texas again. 🙂


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *