There are some things that sound deceptively simple but in order to get really good (and not to get hurt) requires a little training, a lot of practice and a good sense of when you are in over your head.  Sailing ticks those three blocks.  And, as I found out today, so does ‘mountain biking.’

Mountain biking.  Sounds easy right?  Biking is straightforward.  Been doing it since I was six years old.  Hop on the seat, push on the pedals, go forward.  Get a bike with shocks, knobby tires and some disk brakes and you are ready go off road.  Today I was heading out to Bacon Ridge bike trail…an off road trail about ten minutes from our house.  According to the review on Mr. Googles, it is ‘good for beginners,’ presumably because there are no cliffs, rocks or mountain lions.  It certainly isn’t a paved path through the woods, though if it were, it would probably be called ‘jogging trail’ not ‘off road.’  I digress.  

Today I found myself with my bike standing at the trail head, looking at the dirt path leading down and away from he heading into the woods.  I was here for two reasons.  

  1. Like every vacation, I could not seem to push away from all the good food along the trip.  Rather I DOVE into all the good food on the trip, both at meals, as well as some significant between meal snacking that included (but was not limited to) Tuc crackers, ice cream, gelato, crisps, chips, bread, cheese, salami and other meats, peppers, cakes, tortes, muffins, pasties, empanadas, frites, fries and many other things that I cannot remember.  The result was expected and inevitable…I had to slowly, over time, pick a different hole in my belt to use to keep my pants up.  And truthfully, by the time we got home, the belt was more for decoration rather than anything functional. But it also served as a (painful) reminder to myself that I was not doing well.  I would like to say that when we got home we mended our ways, but that would be wrong as well; we figured that if AJ wasn’t back at school, we were still on vacation, so the excess continued.  Until Tuesday of this week when AJ went back to school.
  2. I need at least one activity during the day that I can point to as ‘something I accomplished.’  Since both Jan and AJ are in school, one could accuse me of being a ‘lazy slob’ and ‘laying around the house all day.’1  If I can trot out something (ANYTHING), it becomes a way to deflect the otherwise very accurate statements.  

So.  I need to lose weight and I need an activity.  Mountain biking it is.  Because this should be easy.  

I was not alone at the park.  The lot was filled with five cars and there were three more parked along the side of the road.  I waited patiently while two younger gentlemen headed into the woods in front of me.  In my head I didn’t ‘want to slow them down,’ but it was really so that I would’t get embarrassed when they blew by me riding up on one wheel while flinging themselves up and down hills. 

For awhile it was good.  Even great.  The google description was pretty accurate–this isn’t the most technical of trails.  It is well used, wide in some places and the ascents and descents are at most moderate.  There are, of course, some roots and rocks, but I’m able to adjust, occasionally even getting my rear end out of the saddle to cushion the blows.

For those of you following along at home, you know that we have a rule on our boat.  13e.  Which states:  Approach dock (or lock) at the speed at which you want to hit the dock.  No faster.  And try not to hit the dock.  

Or, in other words, don’t go faster than the speed at which you are comfortable hitting the dock.  Turns out that there is a corollary that applies to mountain biking, or if there isn’t there should be.  It goes something like:  Don’t go faster than the speed at which you are comfortable hitting the ground. 

Or, if I reword it bit based on some recent first hand experience:

Don’t go faster than the speed at which you are comfortable going over your handlebars ‘Superman style’ and (assuming you cannot fly) hitting the ground.  

How do I know this?  You can probably guess.  

I am two miles into the ride and feeling pretty froggy.  No close calls or mishaps, though I have definitely learned to go gently on the front brake on the slippery ground.  I was cruisingat a pretty good rate of speed, looking ahead to a small hill that I would have to climb.  Between myself and that hill was a fairly straight stretch with some roots criss crossing the trail.  I saw the first set of roots and hit them straight on which kicked my front wheel up into the air.  I then saw a second set of roots, bigger than the first, directly in front of me and I panicked and grabbed a fistful of brakes.  Which didn’t do what I expected because both of my wheels were in the air and the bike is heading back to earth.  My front wheel (with the brake firmly applied) hits the front side of the root bundle at approximately a 30 degree angle, immediately transferring the momentum from going ‘forward’ (because the frozen front wheel is now firmly planted into the root bundle) into going ‘upward.’  Pretty sure there is some physics thingy about the conservation of momentum that applies here.  

What I felt was an immediate and jarring stop forward while my back end went up.  And my whole body went over the front handle bars.  And I was flying.  Like Superman.  Not like the latest incarnation of Superman, but the old school Christopher Reeve version before CGI.2  You remember the flight scenes where he is flat like a board with two hands stretched out in front of hime, his cape trailing behind him, gloriously flapping in the wind?  That was me.  Minus the cape.  And the chiseled chin.  And the muscles.  You get the idea.  The difference is that he was laid out on a bench, unaffected by gravity and not actually flying over the ground.  I was, on the other hand, flying over the ground, albeit not very high, and I am not imbibed with superhuman properties that can keep me above the ground.  I realized this all in a moment of clarity and time slowed to a crawl; I think this is the moment that some people have their life flash in front of their eyes .  My brain, instead, reviews ALL the other times I have done something incredibly stupid, adds this one to the list and I have time enough to form and utter my last words to be recorded for all times:

“Awwwww shiiiiiiiittttt.” 3

 I crash to the earth.  

….

….

….

To tell you the truth, what happened immediately after the crash is a bit unclear and hazy.  I remember hitting the ground slightly on my right side and then bouncing off of something.  Which, when I came to, turned out to be my bicycle.  It turns out my bike is a semi-sentient being who felt bad about crashing into the root and upon realizing that I didn’t actually want to stop (even though I locked up the brakes) tried its damndest to help me by throwing itself underneath my body.  Maybe it was trying to catch me.  I don’t know for sure–it was unable to communicate clearly.  No matter what its intentions were, its efforts were a bit successful…it ended up partially underneath me; the handlebars were right about crotch level.  Which is what I bounced off of when I landed.

My brain was overloaded with alarms from across my body, the loudest coming from the groinal area.  Once there was a determination that there was nothing permanently damaged, that alarm was silenced and a review of the rest of the body showed that we had some cuts and abrasions but were otherwise just fine.  The biggest damage was to my pride, but that has been hammered down to virtually nothing over 50+ years, so there just isn’t a lot left to give.

I rolled over, untangled myself from my bike, tested my right shoulder to make sure it wasn’t dislocated and then got to my feet and headed off once again.  Though slowly, this time.  Very, slowly.  No faster than the speed at which I want to hit the ground.  And manage to make it all the way back to my car without exiting my seat.  Who knew that biking was so dangerous.  I may need to take up needlepoint.  

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1Actual quotes.  

2 Short superhero rant:  Feel free to ignore.  Superman is a stupid superhero.  He isn’t stupid, but the idea that an invincible superhero is on earth and can be defeated by anyone is ridiculous (I’m looking at you Batman).  I get he has a weakness to Kryptonite, but can’t he fly up in the ionosphere, use his later eye shooters to destroy (from a long way away) the dude or dudette who has the poison?  The idea that Batman, who is a NORMAL DUDE can defeat the man of steel is ridiculous.  A better fight, and movie, would be Deadpool vs. Batman.  Mr. Unserious vs. Mr. Take Myself WAY Too Seriously.  I get that it is Marvel vs. DC, but we can dream can’t we?  

3 If time permits the quote is “Aw shit, not AGAIN!”