February 18, 2014

Every Adventure Counts, No Matter How Small

Commentary from guest blogger Shannon Goff

When I was fifteen I was always down to try exciting new things and go out of my comfort zone to find whatever thrills I could. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, so challenging myself and exploring new things was the only way I could get over the boredom and monotony of my rural upbringing. One day my friend Donnie asked if I wanted to go ride some mountain bike trails in our local park and I eagerly agreed to go. Little did I know it was going to be one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

My dad dropped my bike and I off and I joined Donnie, helmet in hand, to set out on the rough terrain of the closest trail. I had been riding bicycles since I was five or six so I wasn’t scared and felt more than up to the challenge of trying out mountain biking for the first time. We started pedaling and within ten minutes disaster struck. I found myself taking a sharp turn down a rough trail riddled with trees and gnarled roots. Suddenly, I lost control of my bike and began picking up a scary amount of speed. I was paralyzed with fear, thinking, “this is it, I’m going to drive my bike off the side of this hill and die.” In a snap subconscious decision that must have been pure reflex, I turned my handlebars and ran straight into a huge oak tree to stop myself. Ouch. It took me a minute to realize what was going on around me. I was on my back, looking up, shocked and confused. From a distance I could hear my friend Donnie shouting expletives and running down beside me to pick me up off the ground. But he stopped short as I sat up. I looked down and saw why – blood was pouring from my face. The helmet probably would have protected my head but it couldn’t have prevented me from smacking the bottom of my chin into the rough bark of the tree. It didn’t hurt until I touched it and realized what was happening. I immediately started freaking out and going into hysterics. I called my dad who was still close by and we sped off to the closest Urgent Care. He handed me a Veggie Tales towel, unfortunately the only thing in the car that we had to stop the bleeding, and finally said, “I hope you didn’t break any teeth, we paid a lot for those braces you just got off.” Wow, thanks dad, so sympathetic.

Turns out I hit so hard that I tore the skin and muscle all the way to my jaw bone. I ended up getting two stitches to repair the muscle underneath and five stitches to sew up the surface. Moreover, I hit so hard that I ended up receiving treatment from a chiropractor a couple years later who said the impact caused my neck and spine to drastically shift out of place and claimed that by looking at my x-ray one would think that my neck “was on backwards.” Needless to say, I never again rode a bike. That is, until a few days ago.

Since my senior semester has just started, I have very little time to go on an adventure unless it’s something local. With the cold weather, my options are even more limited. So, I decided a big adventure and huge milestone in my young adult life would be facing my fears and getting back on a bike for the first time in six years.

Early one morning before my afternoon class, I borrowed my roommate’s bike (and helmet) and shakily started pedaling down the street. I imagine I looked similar to a baby giraffe trying to ride a unicycle. It was a rough start. I gradually started picking up speed and confidence. I kept telling myself, “I’m 21 years old, I’m an adult and this is a bicycle, stop being silly, I’ve got this.” It wasn’t long before my fears started slipping away and I was riding like I used to pre-accident. With every push of the pedal I could feel my body and mind becoming stronger. My heartbeat, pulse, and happiness increased and I ended up losing myself and riding for two hours – much longer than I could have ever imagined.

Obviously this isn’t what many people would consider an exciting and life-changing adventure, but by facing my fears and doing something as simple as riding a bicycle I realized things that I had definitely forgotten. I had lost the feeling of empowerment that challenging oneself can bring. Before my bike ride I felt afraid, nervous, and silly. Afterward, I was more confident and mentally and physically stronger. It was absolutely incredible. This was a small-scale adventure but a huge risk and challenge for me, and the first step to opening my mind to larger explorations. 

Next up, skydiving.

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