They say that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing something to become an expert, but I recently read an article that said scientists are skeptical about that claim. However, the spirit of it remains true: nothing great is ever achieved without quite a bit of trying.

I have to admit, I enjoy making media. I’m an acutely visual person. When I was a kid I was constantly inventing movies in my head – I could see every detail, scripting full-length stories in my imagination. I would lay awake at night for hours, imagining stories. I never wrote them down, I just liked the process of creating them. It was a way to entertain myself without needing anyone or anything.  Fast forward many, many years and I’m still doing it. When I ride a bike, I’m constantly picking out specific instants and drafting clips, not just a highlight reel of my own ride, but one of anyone that’s with me and everything that’s around me. To me, trail riding is a movie and jumping bikes is a video game.

I enjoy finding something during a ride and capturing it in a way that might inspire or entertain other people, and though I can hate social media for many reasons, I dually love it for allowing me to be creative and giving me a platform to get these snippets of my bike life out into the world. I appreciate the opportunity to gain feedback on what I make, and the challenge to then make something better. It’s another facet of mountain biking that keeps the activity fun and interesting for me. I don’t always like it, of course. There are some days when I just want to ride and I don’t want to be burdened with having to come up with something just because it’s a #WheelieWednesday. Sometimes I just want to do my workout and be done. It can get exhausting to have to be competitive with more “elicit” content and it can be demoralizing when you do something you think is great and it doesn’t get the reception you hoped for… but for the most part I sincerely enjoy the process of making content for social media.

This aside, I sometimes wonder about the dangers of seeing things condensed into a mere minute or a single image. There’s a loss of reality associated with what you see across the various social media platforms that I think can sometimes lead people to take for granted exactly what was involved in making the eye candy content that they’re seeing. For every glory picture, for every epic clip, there’s countless things that you don’t get to see, and they’re equally as important. Every now and then, someone offers a “behind the scenes” view into the work it takes to get the shot, but of course, those posts can easily get overlooked, lost in a frenzy of other, more grandiose posts. It deludes the audience into believing that what they see is easy or commonplace, when it’s actually anything but. It takes for granted the hours and years and perhaps the whole lifetime of diligent, difficult work a rider has put into him or herself in order to attain that single image for your viewing pleasure. For every picture you see, there’s 10,000 hours of pictures that you don’t. There’s portraits of agony, fear, frustration, and physical pain. And there’s triumph, and there’s mastery. Even though they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I sometimes wonder if a picture composed from ten thousand hours can’t ever contain words enough.

I say it all the time: I don’t have the ‘rad’ gene. I’m not one of those rad people who will just hop on a bike and send it off a cliff. I don’t ‘huck & pray’, I’m not cool or brave or naturally gifted. But I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy work. So I session — I session A LOT. I’ve been laughed at for my similarity to a hamster on a wheel by those who know me at the bike park (people who I suspect were born with the ‘rad’ gene). I carefully and meticulously (and slowly) inch myself closer to whatever my current goal is. My goal for the past 2 years has been jumps and drops and leveling up my ability to do them with style, with ‘steez’. When I was practicing no-handers, I never just and went for it and spread my arms out in the air. I started by taking one hand off a quarter of an inch and I did that countless times before I moved up to taking it off a half an inch. Repetition and quantity are how I make progress. Perhaps that’s why I still can’t do a no-hander properly (you can’t just spread them out, you have to put them all the way behind your back, sui style to be legit rad). I wish I had the ‘rad’ gene, but in honesty, I am not a fearless human being. I have plenty of fears and though I am proud to say that thus far I’ve overcome almost all of them, I would never try and deny fear’s innate presence within me. I think it’s important for people to know that beyond the posts they see, which only illustrate one seemingly fearless moment, there’s a good amount of fear that has to be dealt with beforehand. Perhaps not for all, not for those with the gene, but it’s certainly so for me. The conundrum is that fear works against you in the art of mountain biking; the more you charge something without hesitation, the more successful you’ll probably be with it, and fear can be dangerous if it causes you to be panicky or squirrely. One of my favorite parts about mountain biking, particularly downhill, is that it forces you to dig deep into your mind-over-matter abilities and walk yourself through fear. You conquer it over and over again and suddenly you’re adapted, you can defeat it on demand. By sheer power of will, we make ourselves stronger. Some people overcome fear in a single leap, some do it in inches.

I’m more of an incher. Over the last 4 years of mountain biking and 2 years of bike parking (used as a verb), I’ve gained many inches through copious volume and countless hours of practice. The images you don’t see. The ten thousand hours I’m steadily inching toward.

Fear made the Mayhem Enduro a fun challenge for me. Not only was it my first enduro, but In pre-riding the stages I discovered that there was quite a bit to be afraid of and many new fears to be overcome. Before Mayhem, I had never done a gap jump, or a road gap, or a creek gap, or actually any kind of gap. All at once, I was thrust into a situation where I had to do a lot of new things and on an XC bike that I’ve never done any real jumping on, certainly nothing big. On some of the features, 100mm of travel was enough, but on others it felt like I had brought a knife to a gun fight. After pre-riding was done on Saturday, I quietly accepted in my mind that despite my fiercely competitive nature, if no result was to be had from the actual race, I needed to be proud of myself for doing so many things that were entirely new to me, tricky, and not the least bit scary. I had tackled every feature on the course with the exception of the giant 18 foot gap jump on the final stage, which I had to concede (after looking at for a very long time) was just way too high risk on my carbon XC bike… which is to say, I wasn’t confident in my skills enough to be sure that I wouldn’t case it horribly and crack my frame in half! 😀

On race day, pre-riding was a long-gone blur and it felt like I was riding the stages blind, but as I had previously accepted all fates, I was having a raging good time trying to ride them as fast as I could. The first three seemed to go well and I felt that I had put a solid effort down for not remembering much about what I was riding. Unfortunately, on stage four I lost time when there was a random, giant loose rock in the line I took the day before and I panicked and dabbed before I figured out where to go (remember what I said about not being panicky). Further misfortune – on stage five I completely blew a turn taking the go-around for that 18 foot jump (this is why you should always hit the big jump, frame be damned), and lost a bunch of time. Mishaps behind me, I launched the big creek gap to the finish and ended my day feeling pretty satisfied with how things went. I hadn’t had a chance to try the creek gap in practice the day before and I was stoked that I was able to summon the courage to go for it during the race. More fears checked off the list! Safely at the finish, I was able to fully analyze my race performance: I figured I had made minor mistakes on every stage simply due to unfamiliarity, but on the first 3 I didn’t feel they were catastrophic. On the last two, I was a bit more worried.

It turns out, rightly so. The first place woman had won every stage (former world champ, no reason to be sad about getting pwnd by her), but I had been in 2nd on stages 1-3. The fourth stage I had lost, but not by much. The real nail in my coffin was the go-around on stage 5, where I had lost over 20s when I blew that turn. In the end, I gave up 2nd place by a mere 2 seconds. It’s a strange feeling to have something determined by a matter of seconds, and I guess it plays into what I talking about before — the seconds that other people see and will use to define you as a bike racer vs. the incalculable hours of work you’ve done to account for those seconds. It’s not always easy, but the latter is what you should be using to define yourself.

A little over 4 years ago I bought a hybrid bike and started commuting to work. A couple months later I bought a mountain bike and immediately started racing it.
1 year and six months after buying that first commuter bike I upgraded my xc mtb license to pro.
After 3 years of riding bikes, I worked my way up to be ranked nationally in the top 20 of USAC licensed pros.
Two years ago a friend took me to the downhill park. The next week I bought a long travel bike in the parking lot at Mountain Creek.
One year ago, I cleared my first big table.
One month ago, I taught myself how to do no-handers (the illegitimate kind).
Two weeks ago, I hit a gap jump for the first time and got 3rd in my first enduro.

…And then 14 days ago, a mechanical at the DH park caused me to crash and fracture my kneecap in pieces.

Those are just numbers, just a timeline. I know that every stretch of time between those milestones has been laden with dedicated, arduous work. I know that behind everything I’ve learned to do over the years, there have been thousands of failures while trying. I’ve seen my worst moments: defeated and frustrated and tired, ready to quit. And after 14 days without being able to pedal, the longest stretch of time I’ve ever gone without riding since I first got on a bike back in 2013, and with many more ahead of me, it’s fully apparent to me just how much I love mountain biking… how much I need it. How I wouldn’t trade any of it, even the worst of it, for anything.

And that brings me to this:

It’s sponsorship season right now, a time of year that rouses our innermost insecurities as we find ourselves trying to explain to people who don’t know us and are limited to only seeing who we are in snapshots and race results why we’re somehow worth investing in. How do you illustrate your potential to someone who can never see the thousands of hours of behind-the-scenes single-mindedness it took to capture a single moment or to forfeit a race by only a couple seconds? In the end, you can never explain it. You have to keep doing what you do and hope your moments and your timeline speak for themselves.

And on the inevitable occasions where you question whether you’re worthy or good enough or what your value in this sport is, you need to look back at your own personal timeline and remind yourself that you never have and never will give up on those ten thousand hours and your personal pursuit of mastery.

It’s not about who sees all those in between moments of work and perseverance, it’s about who those moments make you.

And now, some pics:

Laura Slavin's 3rd Degree Berms | Tuesday, October 24th, 2017