Sunday, November 30, 2014

Love's Labour's Lost

How easy it is for love to fade away if left untended. To let something slip slowly from your consciousness is to withhold its sustenance. This is what happened to me and my long-time affection for mountain biking. I ignored the love until it simply died.

I have been thinking about mountain biking a lot the past couple days. I had a good ride on Friday, one that helped me remember what it felt like to truly love something. Since then I have read two mountain bike magazines, cover-to-cover, still barely denting an unread stack that has piled up for years. I am plotting the next ride. I am thinking about the next bike.

I can make many excuses for not mountain biking—work, the yard, errands, the kid's school and sports, family rides, home projects, traveling. And these things are definite contributors. However, the main reason, the underlying truth, is a little more personal: it scares me now. A little.

For the first 24 years of mountain biking I was fearless. I lived a charmed existence. Attacking everything at full speed, I rarely made a mistake. I would go years between crashes. In the event that I did hit the ground, I always escaped with nothing more than a cut, bruise or road rash. After a while you can't help but believe in invincibility.

Then there was the crash, the one that shattered my wrist. It was a long time ago, but the memories are still so very fresh. The reminders come daily. The 12 screws, well, they refuse to let me forget. I awaken to a sore, stiff, immobile wrist. Every day. It never leaves. It never will.

When I was rehabbing, I couldn't wait to ride again. That is the carrot, of course. Work hard, do your exercises, let the nice lady at rehab put you though a tremendous amount of pain, and you can one day ride again. And I did.

But it wasn't the same. I couldn't do the things I did before, physically or mentally. I was broken.

I remember one ride in particular. My friend Doug and I were riding around the Sly Park area. I came around an exposed downhill corner—a steep, rocky chute with a cliff to the left. I balanced at the top for a moment, looking down at the obstacles before me. I was stricken with what I can only imagine was vertigo. I put my feet down. Once Doug was out of sight, I walked down the hill, hating myself for chickening out on a relatively easy trail.

Things improved over time, but not enough. Without the ability and guts to ride on the edge, to be fearless, I was left with an empty feeling. It wasn't fun anymore, wasn't the same. I rode more and more on the road, gravel roads, easy trails. I told myself I really liked "mixed terrain" rides.

After a while I entered a vicious circle: the less I rode my mountain bike, the worse I rode when I did mountain bike. My skills were eroding along with my confidence. A few summers ago I crashed THREE times during a ride in Tahoe, the last one a high speed washout in a left-hand sweeper that gave me a concussion. I was done.

Sure, I still put rubber to dirt. I rode the fat bike. I hit trails around my house. I rode places like Granite Bay, places that could hardly be considered difficult, technical or scary. Nothing I would consider real mountain biking. I put that out of my mind. I forgot about it.

Fast forward to Friday. Something clicked. Be it the new bike, a wrist that is finally "good enough," or simply forgetting to be scared, something clicked. I had fun. I rode hard. I rode without fear. I rode well.

It's only been a couple of days, but it feels a lot like love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Old Friend

Yesterday I rode out at Salmon Falls. As far as I can remember, I haven't been out there in over three years. Where has the time gone?

I had a really, really good time. It left me wondering why I have not been mountain biking more in general, and specifically here in my old stomping grounds.

A big part of what made the ride great was the new bike. The Canfield is simply fun. The more technical the trail became, the more it shined. Steep, rocky climb? No problem. The short chainstays allow for plenty of traction in or out of the saddle. Fast downhills were cake. The slack geometry allowed me to really go for it. I hit speeds I had never achieved on that ride, ever, and felt very comfortable doing it. Steep, technical descents were easy, too. The long top tube combined with the low bottom bracket makes the bike feel really stable. On the long, rocky climb up Flagstaff, the 32x36 low gear made it tough going, but I was able to grind it out.

No bike is perfect, though. When I was on flat, wide open singletrack, I was wishing for another bike. That's when I like to put it in the big ring, get low and go fast.

Something new for me was leaving the "real" camera at home and going with the cell phone. I recently inherited a lightly used Nokia Lumia 1020, which features a 41 megapixel camera.

 It seems to take pretty good pictures. I always carried a phone anyway, so it was nice to leave the extra piece of hardware at home.

In the old days I used to always do at least two loops, which gave me 29 miles or so. I will have to work back up to that.

The average speed doesn't look great because I don't stop the GPS during photo ops. I'm faster than that. Really.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Five for Five

I haven't posted much lately due to a lack of exciting content. And I am not saying this post will be any different, so read at your own risk.

Fall Little League baseball, work, a torn calf muscle and a bad cold all conspired to keep me off the bike for much of the fall, which is a great time to ride here in Northern California. With all that behind me, I seized an opportunity to have five days off work to ride and relax.

My first ride was a two-hour spin around Granite Bay on Friday.

The temperature was perfect, the sky blue and the trails slightly damp.

I am still enjoying the Canfield. However, because the bike is so different than anything I've ever owned, the position is still off just a bit. Although the geometry numbers say a straight post should be fine, I feel like I need more setback. My theory is this is due to the higher hand position.

Folsom Lake is very low, and there is no end in sight. Everything I have heard concerning long-range forecasting points to another dry year.

On Saturday and Sunday I did local road rides around my house. The only excitement was on Sunday when I came across a crying seven-year-old boy at the end of a long driveway. After a minute of expert interrogation (so . . . are you . . . OK?), I realized this kid was very alone. He was able to rattle off both his parents' cell phone numbers, which impressed me. After placing a couple calls, it turned out that his parents were in Tahoe for the weekend. A friend had unknowingly dropped him off at an empty house half a day early. Luckily his two older siblings were with a babysitter down the street. Within 25 minutes the frantic child was back with his brother and sister, and I was back riding with a small deposit in the karma bank.

On Monday I took the Fargo out for a spin. I parked in Folsom and wound around on various bike trails, gravel roads and singletrack.

I rode over the new Johnny Cash Bridge for the first time. Designed to look like the old prison east gate guard towers, it's a neat addition to our local trail network. I wonder, though, why the metal structures were left bare. After a couple rains the steel is corroding, and the rust has stained the new concrete. I understand the look they were going for, but it was poorly executed. Maybe a clear coat for that bare-metal look?

The trails were empty for once, which was nice. I'm all for sharing, but some of the most unpleasant people I come across are usually running on this trail.

The salmon are running, so the seagulls are making the most of it.

I stopped for a couple minutes to watch the fishing action. It didn't take long for someone to hook into one.

After a nice five-minute battle, he finally landed his catch.

On Veterans day I did another local ride near my house, concluding my short vacation. Riding five days in a row is a real luxury these days, and I really enjoyed it.