Keys—check. Strava app engaged—check. Helmet—check. Gloves—check. Water—check. Bike… brakes, shifters work properly—check and check. Taking a quick peek behind me to see that the new kid was following my lead I slowly cranked down on the bright blue pedals that in conjunction with pure muscle, propelled this machine forward. New kid—check. We rolled through the deep green grass not allowing the transition of the sidewalk to slow us down as we eagerly aimed for the crushed stone that marked the entrance to the 10 miles of single track that snaked through Riverbends Park. Our second time out boosted our confidence as we zig-zagged around tight corners and up and over the log piles meant to push the thrill of riding in the woods. My ears were attentive to the sounds of the logs bobbing in their intentionally located cradles, rubber sliding off of rocks and the occasional “yeah!” that came after an extra fun feature.
We busted out the first lap in under an hour, which is saying something for a new rider. I mean, it’s just riding a bike right? No, it’s not. It’s roots—these guys can make your tire slide to the side and catch unexpectant riders off guard and ground them. It’s rocks—never look at the object you want to avoid… you ride where you look. It’s logs—take your pick depending on how you feel about more challenge. It’s bridges—after a tight turn it’s possible to miss and get yourself in trouble. It’s skinnies—generally a skinny is optional, but should you choose to accept, failure mean a substantial drop sideways that sometimes has you balancing over bushes and other natural features not mean to swim in. It’s jumps—great fun if you hit them right and there is a clear landing. Jumps provide a wonderful opportunity to OTB (over the bars). It’s trees—close trees can clip your handlebar and do some damage as your control is quickly robbed from you. It’s loose gravel and ruts—with the potential for doing the most damage on a moderate course, this combination folded my front tire nearly in half and left me a sweet scar and story to remember when I was 15 years old and invincible.
Pontiac Lake State Park with a new Rock Shox on the front fork and I was ready for some action! I can still picture it in my head, gaining speed on level ground, legs pumping I dropped into a right downhill turn that to my surprise had a nice rut left by the Spring rain. Well, that’s all I really remember. My bike was not under me any longer, blood gushed from my left forearm and my bike wouldn’t roll. It was a long walk out with my dad, feeling bad that I wrecked not only my bike but our first Spring ride together. Back to our new guy… as murphy’s law might have it he was riding the very same bike that I trashed in 95’ and experienced a similar fate. An angled root, smooth and bark less, slid his bike out from under him. Hearing the sound of metal unnaturally clanging on itself I hit the brakes and turned my attention behind me. Classic fall. A little scrape to the elbow but more crippling is the head game. “You okay?” With a quick explanation of the accident we set out once again, not allowing a little fall to stop us from our second lap on yellow. Within 10 minutes came fall number two: narrow trees caught his handlebar and he can’t remember how exactly he landed on the ground. With a good scrape and I’m sure some bruises that will remind him of the nature of mountain biking, we took the short cut back to the car.
Mountain biking can be a real bugger sometimes. After learning a great deal from our trip last summer, we continue to understand that we can’t control someone else’s bike! However, I invite the falls. Without my fall in 95’ I may not have learned to respect the trail, the features, the speed and the power of gravity. There’s potential that I could have ended up in the hospital last summer riding some of the toughest trails this side of the Mississippi. YouTube makes it look easy, but no one becomes a good rider without falling. I switched roles with my dad yesterday taking this young man out biking. Now I was the one encouraging him to get back in the saddle, finding the teachable moment that will make him a wise mountain biker. He may never get a YouTube following for being an idiot, but he can now live to tell the tale and ride long and prosper…