Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.

My first mountain biking experience was a before-work jaunt around Marshall Mesa (a great trail for first-timers near Boulder, Colorado). The light was beautiful, and hardly anyone was around, the day was perfect. I set out with my roommate on my ‘90s bike with no shocks and has fairly thin tires. These are not qualities one looks for in a mountain bike. But it’s what I had.

When I bought it from Community Cycles, a Boulder-based nonprofit that refurbishes old bicycles and sells them at low prices, the volunteer helping me said, “Oh yeah, I’d take this to Valmont,” (that’s a mountain bike park in Boulder—think jumps). So I figured it’d be great on a mellow trail ride.

Here’s how it played out:

I carefully trailed behind my roommate, dodging big rocks that would send me toppling, powering up hills (or attempting to. Hi, Quads). I took care not to go too fast, knowing from the frame of my bike to the pit in my stomach that if I came over too big of a dip or stone without time enough to dodge it, I’d be taking a spill. My rigid little bike, with its thin tires, couldn’t handle them.

I didn’t think anything of being so far behind my roommate. She lives for this stuff, and I had zero idea what I was doing. I continued on happily at a distance. Maybe I didn’t love mountain biking, I thought, but like I said, I was fine.

“Let me know if you ever want to try my bike!” My roommate called from her brand-new rig with shocks, squeakless breaks and all.

“Oh it’s ok, thank you!”

This poor girl recently had a several-thousand dollar Santa Cruz mountain bike stolen, and what she was riding that day was her brand-new baby. I wanted her to enjoy it.

But being the selfless angel my roommate is, she kept offering, so at the end, I went for it.

Wow.

The thick wheels could handle the uneven earth and stones incredibly. It was like the bike was more sure than I was, like it had my back and I could trust it. I went faster. I thought less. I loved it. Mountain biking had become something completely different.

I know I tell you that (safety provided) the quality of your gear should never be your reason for not doing something. And I stand by that, when it comes down to it it didn’t stop me when it came to snowboarding or mountain biking.

But I’ll also say this: gear quality can greatly impact your ability in a sport and it can seriously impact the sport’s enjoyability to you. It’s a bittersweet lesson I’ve had to learn multiple times, but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

Here’s my prescription for fellow first-timers: Try a sport that calls to you with the gear you can get your hands on, and if you fall in love, save those pennies to make an investment in your experience.

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