I’ve never gone mountain biking.
Prior to my time with the magazine (1.5 years ago), I had certainly been on a mountain bike. I used to ride one to and from class every day, take it for a cruise down the Virginia Creeper rail-trail nearby, drive around with it on the back of my beater Honda. But, as far as riding legitimate singletrack goes, it wasn’t until last year that I finally popped the cherry.
The two times since those college days that I have truly gone for a ride were both merely a means to an end, once in DuPont State Forest and once in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Both times I was out photographing mountain bikers and needed to cover more ground more efficiently. What better way to accomplish that than by hopping in the saddle and joining the gang?
The only problem? I suck at mountain biking. I can crank out uphills all day, and I’m damn good at bike hiking, but downhill is downright terrifying. If it’s not some rogue root or rock that sends me OTB, it’s my sporadic front-brake-freak-outs that launch my body spread eagle down the trail. Couple those poor bike maneuvering skills with a backpack full of expensive, company-owned camera equipment and you’ve got yourself one stressed out J. Daddio.
Still, I loved it.
Trail running, hiking, that’s all fine and dandy, but you can knock out some big miles on a bike and, when the downhill is straight and smooth like butta, I do like going really fast. And jumping over stuff. And that’s really fun. Until I wrap my ribs around a tree, which I really try to avoid at all costs. Still though, crashing and burning, just as in any sport, is part of the game. Even the best of riders get off line, hit the brakes, or worse, hit the tree and go sailing.
More often than not, I’ve recently found that when I want to go outside and play most, I’m usually alone. For paddling and climbing, flying solo doesn’t always bode well (especially if Mom finds out). I’ve been eyeballing mountain bikes for the past few months, figuring mountain biking to be a reasonable solution to my partnerless woes. After weeks of sleepless nights fantasizing about disc brakes and fat tires, I finally decided last week to swallow my fear of breaking my body and take the plunge.
The moment I saw Violet, I was in love. A Specialized hardtail 29er, she’s silvery purple, the color of twilight and concord grapes and all-things royal. I sensed in her a restlessness, a burning need to fly free through the woods and tear up the trails. She seemed innocent enough on the outside, you might even call her pretty, but inside I could tell she was a fiery pistol, cocked and loaded and ready to roll. I felt very much like this bike may be my kindred spirit, and so, the day I rolled her out the back door of Adventure Damascus (thanks to my friends and fellow employers at the shop!), I took her out on our first date…I mean ride.
If I can sum up that first ride in one phrase, I’d say it was nothing short of expected. I face planted a rhododendron bush, toppled into a creek, and took a chunk out of my right knee cap and elbow. Fortunately no one was around to watch the hilarity that ensued as I tried to detangle myself from gear and chain and branch, but I honestly don’t think it would have mattered either way.
You see, being in the woods has this incomparable healing effect on me. Whether I’m scouting a rapid, studying the route up a rock face, or picking a line down the trail, there’s something about riding that fine balance between man and nature that, when panned out to perfection, gets me stoked (though, per this video, maybe getting stoked isn’t always the best thing). Those moments of perfect flow aren’t always easy to come by, but all it takes is a single second of unity with the river, the rock, the trail, to keep me coming back for more.
So as I laid there in the rhododendron bush beneath the weight of Violet, trying to gauge which hurt more – my oozing knee or my wounded pride – I decided that it was neither. Nothing hurt. I was actually kinda giddy. I picked myself up, snapped a too-dark selfie of my wreck, and proceeded to pick my way through the remaining two miles of technical downhill that I realistically had no business being on. Still, I was all smiles. I’d found yet another avenue for getting outside and letting the natural world be my sensei.
Since then, Violet and I have gone riding at Bent Creek and DuPont State Forest (photos from Big Rock Trail in DuPont) in North Cackalacky. Looking forward to some central Virginia riding this week and next – stay tuned!
Check out this month’s issue of the magazine to hear 10 regional riders answer the big question – Why I Ride.
I’d love to hear from you on why you love to ride, where you love to ride, or tips and tricks on riding better. I can use all the help and suggestions I can get. Keep charging!