Mountain Bikers are All Crazy
I have older siblings, so I view the adage “Try it, you’ll like it” with a certain skepticism. Flashback to when I was six, my older brother saying “Open your mouth and close your eyes and then you’ll get a big surprise!” The shock of a live frog in my mouth was the flavor of newfound six-year-old skepticism. You’d think I could laugh about it now, but no.
Considering this, you’d also think I would have been a little skeptical when a friend recently invited me to try mountain biking, which I had never done before. “It’ll be fun!” she said. But, again, no.
My skepticism meter failing, I readily agreed, believing this sport would be perfect for me. To start with, I was the first one in my elementary school to get a bike with a banana seat. This officially made me the coolest kid in school for two whole days. Plus they always say you never forget how to ride a bike. Also: I saw a picture of Lance Armstrong’s quadriceps muscles (“quads”) and I thought this would be an excellent chance to lose my “Chicken Legs McDelp” moniker.
There is plenty of mountain biking in Duluth, my friend told me. As a matter of fact, there is a group of dedicated cyclists working on a trail called the Duluth Traverse, which will connect many of our mountain bike trails to create the first-ever 100+mile system of “singletrack” (meaning “a mountain bike trail too narrow for paramedics to rescue you from”) all within an urban environment. Another example of why Duluth is one of the coolest places ever.
So, I did what any normal person would do when starting a new, incredibly demanding, physically challenging sport. I bought a magazine about it. There I saw pictures of smiling people with quads. Lots of quads. So many that the airlines make them check their extra quads and charge quad handling fees. Yes, I thought, this was going to be my sport. Having read every advertisement in that magazine, I was ready.
The phrase “rude awakening” started to enter my brain when I looked up “mountain bike slang” on the Internet. “Taco” — to bend a wheel so bad it looks like a taco. “Endo” — the act of going over the handlebars. “Auger or digger”— the act of collecting soil with your face. “Death cookies”— fist sized rocks that take your tire any direction, except the one you intend. Mountain bikers have words for ways things go wrong like Inuits have words for snow.
Did this daunt me? No! I still went ahead with it. My first experience was on a non-technical trail. Trails are apparently divided by injury potential. Non-technical, in which injuries are non-life-threatening and your health insurance deductible is less than the value of your bike, and technical, in which you are required to have your blood type tattooed on your head. But as I looked across our truly beautiful landscape, the smell of the fresh air, I still thought this was perfect. Then I looked down the twisty, rooted, rocky, narrow path. I was told to “clip in.”
Clip in? Seriously? This isn’t a car in which you want to be secured to the vehicle in the event of a crash. I am guessing that in the spirit of true solidarity, mountain bikers like their bike to suffer the same fate as themselves. So I “clipped in” and immediately fell over while I performed a series of heroic seizure-like moves in a desperate attempt to unclip. Great. I hadn’t even gone anywhere yet and already I was thinking my moves would merit a new entry in the mountain bike slang dictionary.
After several more false starts, we were off. My friend kept commenting on the way the dappled light came through the trees, the smell of fresh pine needles, and the muffled sounds of my body impacting the various trees, followed by an “I’m OK!” that sounded weaker and less convincing as time went on.
“Um, maybe you should stay on the path more,” she added, helpfully. I would have thrown my bottle of Bactine at her if I could have spared any.
After my first ride I went through stages similar to childbearing. “Not ever again, and keep that bike away from me, I know what you’re thinking!” to where the pain memory fades and I said, “C’mere bike, let’s go!” I have now begun to occasionally glance up from the trail and even had time to enjoy looking at a deer grazing near the path before my next impact (I swear I saw the deer wince). I am still waiting for more leg muscle cells to arrive, but the few that I have are ready and waiting with a cold beer after a ride.