On the street where I grew up, there was a lines of trees that seemed we called The Woods and an empty field beyond that we called The Baja. Motorized dirt bikes made tracks through The Woods and Baja, leaving behind a narrow dirt path. We used to take our bikes onto these paths, riding through the trees, even up and down some little bumps. We didn’t wear helmets back then (who did?). My bike was a single speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I also used to jump homemade ramps we made in our driveways.
Youth and fearlessness go hand-in-hand. I never gave these activities a second thought. Years later, as an adult, I took a bike to these dirt paths through woods again–“singletrack”–at my then-boyfriend now husband’s prodding. Not entirely surprisingly, I found this activity to be utterly frightening. I could envision all the accidents I could have a bit too well. In fact, the second time I went out, I tried to ride through a huge dip in a trail, panicked halfway through it, found myself heading for a tree, and then I bailed off the bike, resulting in a skinned knee and a bruised confidence.
But I kept at it anyway. If all these people I knew–including my husband–found this activity fun, it must be and I was determined to figure it out. People kept telling me that since I enjoyed the thrill of downhill skiing, surely I would love to mountain bike too. I didn’t immediately see the connection between these two activities since I’m not entirely sure I downhill ski for the thrill so much as for the pure enjoyment of winter’s beauty. But I guess if I wasn’t looking for thrill, and just into the enjoyment of nature part, I’d be a cross-country skier.
It wasn’t until my first ride on my new mountain bike yesterday that I fully got the connection between the two sports. In downhill skiing, I’m actively thinking about the next turn I need to make and scanning for dangers ahead that I might need to avoid (e.g., snowboarders, other skiers, moguls, sudden changes in pitch). I do enjoy the nature and the beauty of the outdoors and I’m actively also aware of the sound of my skis on the snow, the smell of trees or wet snow, and the tingling cold on my cheeks. When I’m at the top of a mountain (out west) or hill (here in the east), I take in the scenery. As I’m going down a slope, I notice the changes in altitude, the new scenes revealed. There are times when skiing an easier run out west that I’ve felt like I was dancing on the snow.
As with downhill skiing, mountain biking requires being fully present. I have to look ahead on the trail to anticipate my next move, whether it be a sharp turn, an upcoming bridge, a fast downhill, a sharp uphill, roots or rocks. Unlike road biking, you cannot just zone out. At the same time, I notice the sights and smells of the world around me. When we went mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park near Moab on our honeymoon, I marveled at the wide-open rocky landscape and the view of the Canyonlands. When I mountain bike in Ohio, I notice the smell of pine trees and the blurred shades of green leaves.
I had a rough start to mountain biking and I thought I would never like it. But yesterday, finally, with my new bike (a Scott Genius 740, by the way) and 9 miles on the new Bedford (Cleveland Metroparks) mountain bike trail, I really finally–and excitingly–enjoyed it. The new Bedford trail is so good for beginners with nothing very technical and small loops that bring you back to the paved bike-n-hike trail if you feel the need to bail at any point (which I didn’t!). The Mars Quarry trail is probably the hardest and even though it is the only section that had spots where I had to walk, I felt I could eventually grow into being able to get through it. Mars Quarry is probably the most scenic trail, though, if you stop to take it in. (And why would you be in a hurry on bike through the woods?)
I feel like a little kid again, bumping along the dirt paths of The Baja. Except now I have full suspension and bigger tires. I’m looking forward to new adventures in mountain biking. At least on the trail, there are no cars and angry motorists…