There’s talk among the group about bringing a full-sized grill to the next weekly ride.
“We could grill some steaks,” Mark, a builder and avid 29 rider says.
“Why stop at a grill?” someone asks. “Hell, we could get a small smoker and smoke some ribs. We could start cooking before we set off on the ride, then a couple of hours later when we roll back to the parking lot, ‘shazaam’, BBQ ribs.”
Four of us have been doing a weekly mountain bike ride for about eight years now. Picture a bunch of dads rapidly approaching middle age—our bikes getting nicer but our ride times getting slower. We took a few years off in the middle of that eight-year-span while doing daddy duty to small children, but now that most of our kids are older, we’re back at the Wednesday night ritual.
I don’t use the term “ritual” lightly. Sure, our wives think we’re just goofing off for a couple of hours in the woods (“acting like a bunch of jackass kids on 10 speeds”, one of them said). But these weekly rides go beyond your typical suburban escapism. We’re bonding out there. We’re solving problems. And on a good night, we’re getting drunk. Last time I checked, 1) bonding, 2) problem solving, and 3) booze are the three pillars of ritual.
And with all rituals, the tendency is to take it up a notch. Escalate, if you will. That’s how the first virgin got thrown into a volcano. Four dudes were standing around the burning hole and said, “You know what we should do next week?” Until that point, they’d just been throwing goats into the volcano.
So, back to the grill. Before someone thought of bringing flame-broiled meat into the mix, we just scarfed down some Clif bars while making our way through a sixer after each ride. Like a bunch of animals. Now, with the fire, the meat, the sweet onions wrapped in foil–it’s all so civilized.
All of a sudden, the six-pack we’re drinking looks a little too…high school.
“What about margaritas?” I say. “I saw in the SkyMall there’s a margarita machine that runs on your car battery.”
It was only natural that we’d eventually turn our revisionist eye to the ride itself. We typically ride the same section of Pisgah week after week. It’s a lovely trail system, but after several years of pedaling the same 15 miles (let’s get crazy and ride it counter clockwise tonight!), even a freshly grilled steak and frozen margarita couldn’t make the ride feel “big” enough.
The problem was one of convenience. To ride anywhere else would add 20 minutes of drive time on either end of the night. Then there was the unknown quality of the other ride options. Our typical forest might be well tread, but it’s high quality, the kind of trails people drive four hours to ride. And it was in our backyards. Who were we to turn our backs on that? Just because we’re bored?
Hell yes. So that’s how we found ourselves waist deep in stinging nettles in a godforsaken corner of Pisgah National Forest that only a handful of meth dealers and downhillers bother to explore.
We were just supposed to do a quick six-mile loop with a bit of gravel climbing and a few miles of fun downhill. The few bikers that ride the loop tend to shuttle it. We decided to pedal it all because we’re badass and nobody wanted to be the shuttle bunny. After a couple of hours of grinding up the gravel, it becomes pretty obvious to us all that we completely missed the turn for the downhill. Instead of turning around, we consult the map and decide to keep climbing to another trail higher on the ridge.
“It’ll mean more singletrack,” someone says, optimistically leaving out the miles of additional gravel road ahead.
“My wife is gonna be pissed if I’m late,” someone else adds.
“We won’t be late.”
An hour later we’re knee deep in stinging nettles and bear poop on a “trail” that hasn’t been ridden since it was cut 60 years ago to haul virgin timber off the top of the mountain. Eventually we hit good singletrack that barrels down the face of the mountain in a straight line of loose bowling-ball-sized boulders and mud puddles. It’s more of a drainage creek than a trail. But that gives way to a legit stretch of downhill complete with big berms and jumps that we’re all too old and wise to attempt. Some sections are so steep, we slide down on our butts holding our bikes awkwardly. Everyone ate it at least once. There is blood. Some video is taken. Everyone is late and wives are angered, but look, this is the way rituals go. Some people get hurt, others get angry.
There’s no time to light the grill or mix a margarita at the end of the ride because of the aforementioned spouses, but everyone is satiated in a completely different way. In the middle of the week, in a few short hours between deadlines and responsibilities, we managed to have a mini adventure, which is exactly why we started the weekly ride eight years before. We all rush home, thinking of ways we can go bigger next Wednesday.