Monday, June 29, 2009

Beginners Page # 9 Intro Into Mountain Biking

It all started out innocently enough. On Saturday, June 27, we worked on trail maintenance at the State Park. As we were riding back to the parked vehicles, Chris and Donna were sitting together talking. Donna opined that it was a shame that you “always” worked on trail maintenance and never reaped the benefit of riding the trails. So, let’s ride with you Sunday and experience the fruits of our labors. (Men, don’t let your wives sit together--keep them 10 feet away from each other). When we all got off the bus, Chris told me we were going to mountain bike Sunday afternoon. All I heard was that we were going to bungee jump into the Grand Canyon. Think fast, what kind of excuse could I make up? It interferes with my Sunday afternoon nap didn’t sound powerful enough. The dog would miss his afternoon walk didn’t sound earth shattering. I had really planned on sitting in the shade to watch the grass grow didn’t sound productive. Before I could come up with a good excuse, it was all set between the two and I was still staring down into the canyon in my mind.

The next 24 hours were as intense as Jack Bower’s 24 hours. I couldn’t develop a debilitating disease in that short of a time. I am too chicken to sprain an ankle. I would have to wait to get on a MTB to break my collar bone ala Gov. Perry. No escape route was open to me, so we met the Durbins at the State Park, and they fitted us with mountain bikes.

The Durbin's truck in the lead reminded me of the Judas Goat

From the bike shed we drove to Burkett Park and off-loaded.

My bike didn’t develop a flat tire in the meantime so it was bungee time. Donna started giving instructions.

Look forward and pick your trail (technical talk meaning don’t hit a boulder, go off a bridge, or try to plow through cactus). On a climb, gear down or you will stall out and go down (technical talk for landing in prickly pears). Let the bike do the work for you (not sure about that because I still had to pedal). If you hit sand, pedal through it (technical talk for guess what will happen if you bog down in sand). If you see a snake, raise both feet and go past him or over him (technical talk for it is harder for it to strike you if your feet are over your head, and implied was don’t bog down in sand at the same time because you can’t pedal through it with your feet over your head). When you come to a curve in the trail, lean your bike to negotiate the turn (technical talk for if you turn the front wheel too much you are going to hit an unintended object, jump a rut, head into a tree or cactus clump). Last but not least (I am not sure if this was really the last instruction because I was still thinking about the snake and the Grand Canyon), watch for wild animals. Wild what? Wilder than snakes? Oh yes, there was one more instruction—don’t use the front brake, at least on your first ride. I had already experimented and found the front brake much more responsive than the back brake so I was willing to comply.

H-hour. Off we go. David was in the lead yelling back instructions of what to do when. Going through the gate is the first thrill. Watching the trail like a good boy helps aim for the middle so you don’t crash at the “gate”. And then the trail goes downhill--second thrill. Not too bad. Twenty yards and no crash yet. And if you go downhill, guess what? On very first uphill I hit a boulder. The front end went down and then the suspension thingy sprang the bike into a wheelie. Was this “let the bike do all the work” because I sure didn’t jerk up on the bike (that I remember). By not being clipped in I was able to put my feet down and ride that rearing steel horse until it came crashing down--but no spill into the cactus yet. The trail went up and down, and it didn’t make me feel better to hear Chris yelping as she does on a roller coaster. Fish-tailing through a long stretch of loose rocks was unnerving/thrilling/scary (choose one or all three.) But soon David stopped and let us catch up, take a drink, let the legs stop wobbling, and proclaim that the trail gets a little better now, which it did.
We got on a jeep trail and I could handle that. It was fairly flat, no deep ruts, mesquite limbs high enough that you could duck under them if you were watching the trail and not sight seeing. Donna had already told us not to try to see much of the scenery at first—watch the trail.

I found a good thing on a mountain bike never lasts long. We turned off the jeep road onto another trail. It turns out that the trail was the one that we had worked on just the previous day so it was well pruned, wide, no sand, no rocks, no ruts, no curves, NOT. Walking the trail and riding the trail are two different things. For one thing, there is not as much excitement walking. Finally we got to a water trough which was the starting point of trail maintenance the previous day. Then we went on a trail that the other team had worked on—hey guys, wider please. But thank you because we sure noticed when the mowing stopped. Anyway we were headed to Flintstone Village and Cougar Point.

View From Cougar Point

On leaving Cougar Point, I was told that there was a good downhill, so be alert. Thank goodness I was alert. I saw that thing going down at an angle that didn’t look healthy. I used both brakes rapidly, got off, and walked down. I heard giggling and saw that Dona and Chris took a safer, saner alternate trail. The way back from Cougar Point also honed the skills of riding in the sand. And at one place there was a fairly deep rut that my bike tried to get out of, and that was yet another near-spill . There were some sharp turns that were thrilling. Remind me if we ever work on that trail for me to bring an axe, because there are a few mesquite trees right in my way as I try to make a curve.

Other than the Cougar drop off, generally either David or Donna would alert us as to a “technical” hill up ahead that you may want to walk up--or at a minimum--shift into the small chain ring.

Or, there is a steep “technical” drop off that you may want to walk down. Now, way later I discovered that “technical” in MTB-speak is a term for difficult. But it didn’t seem technical for David or Donna; they went up or down as if the terrain was a playground to provide enjoyment. For me, it was an adrenaline rush, and I am not an adrenaline junky.

Wild Animal Along The Trail

So, advice for beginners: first, keep your wife away from a MTB enthusiast. If that doesn’t work:
Check to see if you are current on your insurance plans.
Bring water, food, maps, and good walking shoes.
Go with someone experienced in the trails. (Being warned of upcoming dangers lessens the chances of emulating Gov. Perry).
Know your limitations. (Stay on jeep roads).
If you must try out the sport, have fun.

Thanks, it was fun.

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