Try Mountain Biking—Done!

Although my 60th Birthday Bucket List has now morphed into a 70th Birthday Bucket List, I intend to keep young by not waiting until age 69 to try new things. Yesterday it was “try mountain biking,” an item that went undone during my 59th year.

How did it go? Well, I am a little surprised that I don’t feel about 70 years old today after the grueling evening we 20 or so riders had last night! Very surprised, in fact, as I made a number of mistakes concerning the ride.

mb-riding-up-hill-monkeyFirst thing: don’t do your first mountain bike ride ever in the dark.

Most of the ride was in the dark.

Second thing: don’t do your first mountain bike ride ever in the dark when the trail is obscured by fallen leaves. It is tough to navigate when (1) you don’t know the trail and (2) the trail is hidden by leaves and (3) it is dark. Did I mention this was a night ride—in the dark?

mb-riding-across-the-lakeThird thing: learn how to navigate over logs and rocks before trying to keep up with experienced mountain bikers. I was the rank amateur not to mention raw novice on the ride, and even on road rides everybody who went on this ride rides faster than I do. On the other hand, large logs and deep gullies slowed down the other riders too, which gave me chances to catch up with them from time to time. By the way, the biggest obstacle on the ride was the lake. Didn’t stop us. We rode right across.

Fourth and perhaps most basic thing: remember that “gravel ride” means “mountain bike ride” to this particular ride leader. I have gone on many gravel rides, even at night, before with a different group, but to them, “gravel” means gravel roads. The group who rode last night considers any surface with one or two stray pieces of gravel on it a gravel road, even eight-inch-wide double-black-diamond trails on soft earth built on the side of a ravine, or former gravel roads that are now covered hub-deep by a lake.

My mistake, not checking the route more carefully; yet, it was listed at 18 miles, which is pretty long for a mountain bike ride in the dark, so I figured a large percentage of it was real gravel roads rather than trails. Never assume! In my defense on this score, the group as a whole was surprised by the difficulty of the ride, and it finished up over an hour later than anyone had figured.

mb-group-of-lightsTo balance out the mistakes I made, much about the ride was positive, beginning with the wonderful club riders who did it. A number of them took special pains to shepherd me when I fell behind. Most stuck together, pausing at the intersections to make sure everybody turned the right way. (One guy who failed to stick with the group paid the price by getting lost. Luckily he knew he was lost rather quickly and called his wife to come get him, so we found out he was safe before we had to call a park official or the police.)

A big positive was the riding itself. Once I learn how to ride mountain bike trails, the beauty of the forest will be easier to appreciate—yes, even in the dark—and the technical challenges of the riding will become less of an issue. The muscles I used last night that aren’t used for road biking and that are tired today will strengthen and help me speed up.

And I’ll put into practice a few things I learned, such as to use flat pedals rather than clips until I get good at this type of riding; to secure gear very securely because of the jolting it takes; and, especially on an unknown route, to carry more water and food than you think you’ll need.

One of the mantras of mountain biking as opposed to road riding is “you will fall.” Did I fall last night? Yes, twice. Only one was due to a rookie mistake (braking when I hit a log instead of rolling over it), and the other was just a routine tipping over similar to the falls taken by at least six other riders on last night’s ride. It just happens.

See you on the road or trail! Bring lights!

mb-group-at-start-monkeyThanks to Yusuf Nur from whose Facebook post about the ride I stole these photos. In the group photo immediately above, that’s me in the center in the yellow jersey.