The Mountain Bike Life

After a decade of glorious mountain biking, a time chocked with memories of rides so sweet they paid for the bike a hundred times over, the unthinkable happened – I backed over it with my truck in a parking lot.

It had been an expensive purchase, much more than any bike I’d ever owned, and I’d always been a cost-sensitive person.  I was the consummate accepter, forever willing to take something I sort-of wanted over what I really wanted – but this time would be different. I bought the bike -a Rocky Mountain Vertex with a vibrant orange frame around Halloween.  Being a big fan of the comic strip Peanuts, I would often refer to it as The Great Pumpkin.

It made possible a new kind of freedom; a bike built so strong and with such craftsmanship that I could immerse myself into my wild and hectic riding adventures without the worry of bent or broken parts. Like a time machine, it could reach into the past and recover the pure and innocent thrill of carefree childhood bike riding. Through several different moves and several different lives, it followed me, aging day-by-day into a personal heirloom.

The accident happened after a long day of hard riding.  I was exhausted, my legs were burning, and my nerves were frayed from having been chased by a swarm of bees for the last quarter mile.  I felt like a gunfighter who’d lived through the shootout but might not survive the night.  Slouched and slumping to one side, I was ready to go home.  One hand guided the handlebars while the other arm hung down towards the pavement like an empty sleeve.

Parked next to me was a fellow mountain biker gearing up for his ride.  Not being very familiar with the area, I asked him about a recently-built system of trails I’d heard were somewhere within the park; trails I’d spent the last few hours searching for but had been unable to find.  The man knew just the trails I was talking about and gave me directions to it as best he could.

 No pictures of the wreck because I only want to remember the good times

No pictures of the wreck because I only want to remember the good times

I thanked him and was about to refocus my attention on packing up to leave, but the man went on talking. Speaking with the passion and gusto of a preacher, he praised the trail in every way a trail can be praised; its views, its design, the quality and consistency of its maintenance. What couldn’t be put into words was made clear in the spirited glow of his eyes, a silent communication saying, should I never seek out and ride this trail, my life would be a little less rich.

I was so inspired by this conversation that I seriously considered digging deep into my reserves so I could check out for myself this mountain biking Eden, but I was just too tired. Thanking the man again, I shuffled over to my truck, pulled open the door, and with a grunt maneuvered myself into the driver’s seat.  I took a few minutes to breathe and adjust myself into driving shape, drank a few swigs of water from my Camelback, and, ready to be home, backed out of the parking space.

I can’t describe exactly what happened next. What I heard, what I felt, what thoughts ran screaming through my head; such soul-twisting details would be as difficult to read for those who understand that unique affinity which exists between rider and bike as the description of a hurt child would be for a parent.  While listening to the man speak of the wonderful trail (time during which a large chunk of my energy went into keeping me vertical), I had thoughtlessly leaned the bike against the tailgate instead of placing it directly into the bed, as was my usual routine.

All the way home I felt like I was driving a hearse, the mangled remains laid out behind me in the truck’s bed.  Everything on the radio felt inappropriate, but the silence made my own miserable thoughts too loud. I shuffled some Rolling Stones. “Start Me Up” was skipped. “Satisfaction” gave me something to which I could yell along. “Sympathy for the Devil” felt empowering, like I’d been handed something to squeeze. “Let it Bleed” hit my ears like a friendly punch to the arm.  But it was the frenzied, wailing spirit of “Gimme Shelter” that gave my heart the cauterization it needed. (“Wild Horses” had to be entirely deleted from the playlist, at least temporarily.)

Linus’s Great Pumpkin will rise out of a pumpkin patch before mine rises from the floor of my shed.

Never forget that a bike can be replaced, but Your bike can’t.  Ride safe and ride smart. You never know which ride will be the last.

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