Roger Marolt: Riding into the sunset and coming back bruised
I was having a debate with myself: Am I so much better at mountain biking now than I was a decade ago because of riding experience gained or is it due to the great advances achieved in off-road bicycle equipment technology — more precisely, my beautiful new bicycle? Although I was not yet tired of arranging and rearranging the factors supporting one conclusion or the other in the many boxcars I had hitched together in this train of thought, I decided it was wise to set it aside while I was still enjoying the process so I could take it up another time when I was rested and could continue to freshly give it my full attention anew.
Then I went out to ride that confounded Government Trail. It had been a long time since I rode it; at least a year, maybe more. As I began, I noticed, strangely, that I recognized yesteryear’s basically inconspicuous rocks and roots in the trail like they had been seared into my memory by a force indiscreet. Recalling it now, I assume it must have been some impetus for self-preservation, like an instinctual aversion to a food that was once consumed and hours later resulted in violent sickness from a taint unknown. I did not see this at the time. I kept riding.
At first I thought I might not have eaten a nourishing enough breakfast as the grade of the trail seemed exceptionally steep and I was having difficulty negotiating the roots and rocks previously mentioned. And, yet, I persevered, confident my honed athleticism in the saddle would soon revive itself and then my bike would be able to perform the miraculous way it was designed to and the ride would end up being one for the Instagram.
I didn’t make it far before I had to stop to make sure my brakes weren’t sticking; not a fault of the bike, mind you, but rather more likely from some stick I had kicked up along the trail that had wedged itself between the frame and my tire. What I found was nothing of the sort. Everything appeared fine, but I noticed that I was sweating profusely and breathing as if my heart was skipping rope in army boots atop my diaphragm.
It was then I noticed that I had coincidentally stopped at precisely the spot where, many years ago, one of my riding buddies had launched over his handle bars after wedging his front wheel against a log in the trail that was still there this day. He broke his shoulder to bits and the memory of extracting his agonized personage from that accident scene came rushing back. I didn’t want to linger in that, so I mounted and kept riding.
In short order, I passed the side hill where my sister in-law fell off so frighteningly that she gave up the sport forever. I came to the stream crossing where another buddy snapped his down-tube in half. Suddenly it came to me: This trail is what mountain biking used to be about. It is a brutal and demanding sport!
I understood then and there that I had not become a better rider. Bike technology had improved, but not that much. I had only been feeling so good about myself on the bike because I had become addicted to the placidity of the Skyline Park trails, Seven Star route behind my house, and the roundly popular Rim Trail. It was like my steady diet of mountain bike trails had become soft-serve ice cream, angel food cake and pink cotton candy. I had gravitated to opulently gentrified mountain biking on paths engineered to enticingly gentle grades and meticulously cleared of all obstacles larger than dust particles and juniper berries.
By now battered, bruised and dejected —mentally and physically — I pulled off the wretched trail and went to sit beneath a tree I had once reclined against when I was a young writer believing I might become inspired by restfully taking in the surrounding natural beauty only to find that inspiration does not come so easily, with rocks supporting your tailbone and ants scurrying up your legs, as it does back home in the den.
All I sought this time was reprieve from the pounding my body was taking; a moment to steel my nerves to get back on the bike and get home without a compound fracture somewhere or other inside my already dinged and scratched flesh. At this point, it would have been shorter to retreat back to where I had begun this revelatory odyssey, but I knew the dangers salivating at the prospect of my return there. I chose instead to move forward with water bottle encapsulating only vapors, but heart filled with hope. My pride was gone; there was little left to lose in the autumn of my athleticism.
Roger Marolt thinks less pressure might be the answer, so he will let a little air out of his tires to smooth out the bumps. Email at email@example.com.