The Mountain Bike Life

He picked his line, hovering over his seat, pedaling through a patch of rough roots. He felt like he was floating over them; the result of a timely burst of cadence and the perfect tire pressure. His wrists were still hurting, but were short of screaming at him with the help of a good coffee buzz and a dose of Vitamin I. He leaned into some tight turns before hunkering down into the longest climb of the trail.

At times, while getting lost in the focus of riding, a part of his brain would start producing a stand-up comedy act. He could often be seen smiling while passing hikers, a maniacal grin stuck on his face not out of a desire to perpetuate any goodwill toward his fellow man, but because he had just delivered a double-entoundre punch line to himself. If only he could remember the routine later, with pen in hand, he fancied he could be a comic genius, but the act seemed to play and disappear in his mind like watching a fire and trying to remember the shape of every plume of smoke.

Pine Crest probably wasn’t his favorite trail, but it was the closest to home, and apropo to its name the top of the climb was a silent single track that wound through a forest of conifers. Fallen needles cradled his tires. Wind singing through trees replaced the sound of highways and jets. He smelled sweet sap freeing itself. In those moments, he could actually like bikes again. At least not hate them.

His love/hate relationship with bikes was consistant. At home, on the other hand, in what used to be “his” apartment, his girlfriend’s moods would fluctuate, ebb and flow like the dirty laundry and fast food wrappers he would find strewn across the floor. At times her mood was simple and compact, just a small kernal of love. He would come home after work to a backrub and a tray of freshly baked cupcakes on the counter. But more and more, he would be berated for forgetting to bring something home. She worked less and less. First it was arthritis. Then fibromyalgia. Possibly lupus. Probably Lyme’s Disease, although she barely went outside, let alone into the woods. The only grass she encountered would be brought over by a scumbag that still dressed in baggy clothes like it was 1994.

She refused to go to a doctor for any real diagnosis. She would wake up, proclaim she was having a bad flair up, and begin the day’s self-medicating. He had put up with it; It wasn’t always bad. But something about coming home from “brunch with friends” on July Fourth, the only day off he was going to have all month, and smelling the acrid smoke, and her pointing to the kitchen and telling him she’s hungry but can’t get off the couch, flipped a radioactive switch in his head. Their relationship had been in Shrodinger’s Cat mode, just lingering there both alive and dead.

“I’m going back out,” was all he could say. “Going riding.” His own wrists and back ached, but riding was the only refuge he had. He grabbed his bike and slammed the door behind him. As he pedaled away he heard her from the balcony. She had run out to yell at him. Look at that, he thought…I’ve cured her!

It was a long ride to the trails, and a long climb to get to the pines, but once up there, for that bit of winding trail, his stress drained from him and sunk into the pine needles. A cool breeze dried his sweat. He took his time in them, slowed his cadence, stood and coasted around corners. Just let his bike lumber around and do the work. Inhaled. Thought about being a kid and fishing with his father.

At the end of the ridgetop, there were two trails you could choose to drop you down to the park entrance. He glanced to the left, it being a slow, meandering trail with nice tight switchbacks, was usually used by riders like himself, with limited or no gears and hardtails. The trail on the right shot down in a hurry, and was littered with loose rock and eroded ruts. The guys with the space suits and shocks with stansions bigger around than his downtube usually took that trail, making all kinds of ruckus with their squealing sintered stoppers.

Illustration: John Paul

Illustration: John Paul

He listened, and heard nothing. Being that his goal on any bike ride was to avoid all human contact, and someone could be slowly descending on the left trail, he rode to the right. He took the first and steepest thirty yards of the descent, working his bike side to side, controlling his speed like a downhill skier. Then he locked his brakes, coming to a halt as quietly as possible. There, his head bobbing up and down as he walked, was a common specimen, the Northeastern Spotted Spaceman. He hid himself behing a tree and watched as the Spaceman struggled to roll his bike beside him, rear wheel locked and dragging, then attempting to weave a well-padded arm through the tangle of frame, linkage and shock to shoulder the monstrosity.

“Rear brake must’ve locked up,” he mumbled to himself. “Bet his brakes are filled with DOT 5.1. Bet they are made by a company whose name is an anagram of diva. Just so happens I have a multi-tool with a torx or two.” He stood for a minute, thinking about how he could help this guy get back to his car before dark. How kind that would be. How he could make a new customer for life (as if the owner of his shop deserved it) or how it could already be a customer of his he would recognize once he rolled up to him.

But oh how he hated this guy, with all his complicated gadgetry, his internally-routed dropper duplicity, his plush pile of hydraulic crap. Why should he, on his only day off, have to work on a bike? He was smart enough to set his bike up simply, with reliable parts, so why should he help a sucker of the latest marketing fad? He started to back away.

“Wait,” he told himself. “Maybe there is nothing wrong with the bike. Maybe the guy is scared, and decided to walk down, or wanted to take the time to watch the sunset. Maybe I would be bothering him if I offered him help.” Guilt building with each step, he quietly walked uphill, thinking about a nice peaceful ride down the other trail.

He stopped and sat on a log. Pulled his flask from his pack. Took a swig. Tried to subdue the knot twisting in his stomach. The Spaceman walked on, unaware that whether he gets help or not, he had ruined some guy’s ride.

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