03 May 2010

In Which Stan Goes "Technical" and Jim Rolls Over A Bush

Few years back a bunch of us had the notion to do a little mountain biking. There was Mauricio, a stone athlete; the tenaciously capable Finn; relatively experienced trail-rider Jim; Stan, who had just gotten his very first fat-tire bike; and your humble correspondent, of whose mad bike skilz the less said the better. (It was during my hospital stay after my second major crash that the attending orthopedic surgeon suggested: "Maybe some training wheels." My wife, through clenched teeth: "Or a tricycle.")

All of us except Stan had ridden trails with each other before. Three of us had been to Cam-rock County Park, but not on all three trails. All of us -- except Stan -- had full-on hardtail mountain bikes. His, intended primarily for street use, had a suspension stem (with maybe 1cm of travel) instead of a front shock, and tires that would best be described as "bumpy" rather than "knobby". Platform pedals. That sort of thing.

I had to do some fast talking to get Stan to agree to this -- previously, for him, bicycles were things you rode on nice smooth streets and groomed bike trails. But I assured him that the Camrock trails were perfectly OK for a beginner, and that his new bike would be up to it too.

Things went pretty well, considering. We did the grassy #1 trail, over which you really could take a kid in a stroller without scaring them, and the only slightly gnarlier #2. We were hungry for more. (OK, I was.) So onward to #3! "It can't be all that much different", I told Stan. "It's in the same park, right?"

Mind you, these are one-way trails. Once you're on one, your choices are:
  • Ride the whole thing
  • Bushwhack through the tick- and thorn-laden forest understory
  • Pop a daisy-cutter and call for a medevac.
As I recall it was only a few hundred meters in when I commented brightly, "Say, this one's a little more technical, eh?"

Now if, like Stan at this point, you're not familiar with that term as it applies to mountain biking, let's just say that "technical" mountain biking is to Normal Person Bike Riding as "technical" rock climbing is to going up your porch stairs. Except that there's no belayer -- it's just you and the contact patches of your tires versus gravity. And gravity, like rust, never sleeps. Sleeps? Hell, it never even blinks, in fact on "technical" trails it's prone to sudden homicidal rages.

(Helpful Trail Tip: The good technical trails are the ones with the teeth, hair, and eyeballs stuck to the trees. On the really good ones, look about twelve feet up.)

There was a fair bit of waiting. While one of us would test a bit of trail by hurling a bicycle down it with a guy attached, the others would hang out at the top to be clear of the frag pattern. We quickly learned to give Stan an especially generous interval. Now, let's give full credit here, the man never actually crashed. But just as we'd somehow neglected to burden him with the term "technical", he was equally innocent of info as basic as the "attack" position:

because he'd (a) never done this before and (b) his so-called friend hadn't bothered to tell him since we weren't intending anything "technical".

So while Stan didn't actually launch over a rock or French-kiss a tree, we did get to see the sort of balletic maneuvers that happen when, say, your friend's down pedal hits the dirt while the rest of the bike is still thinking ballistic. Did you know you could take a bike without toe clips and hop it sideways down a hill? Neither did we, until that day. I must say I was impressed. Stan was...something else again.

You know that awful scene at the end of Braveheart where the hero gets ripped to pieces by horses chained to his wrists and ankles? Stan looked at me about 2/3 of the way through this little soirée and I swear a little thought-balloon appeared over his head -- same scene, except starring me as William Wallace. It says a lot about our friendship that he's still speaking to me.

During one of these waits, we were perched on the side of a hill while the lead guys plunged. Jim was doing a trackstand -- he had just gotten his first clipless pedals the day before. But he overbalanced just a little...passed the point of no return...and in agonizing, helpless slow-motion toppled sideways, feet still locked to the pedals.

(At this point, every single person who's ever used clipless pedals is nodding and saying "Yup, I did that", aren't you? I know I am.)

Unfortunately, he fell to the downhill side. How downhill was it? Hint: see "technical".

Fortunately he'd started slo-mo.

Unfortunately he accelerated rapidly right through 90 degrees (see "Gravity, sleeplessness of").

Fortunately he landed on a bush.

Unfortunately he'd acquired enough angular momentum by then to just keep right on rotating, wheels straight up in the air, over the bush, and down again.

Here memory gets a little fuzzy. I think he stuck the second landing and just rolled willy-nilly down the hillside till he was back on the trail. And I think Stan met my gaze at that point with an absolutely determined "Even you two-wheeled psychopaths can't make me do THAT" expression. But I could be wrong.

Jim was OK, and his nice Trek was fine too. We all got down that pitch, and the next, and not one of us required any surgical bike-part extractions, nor did we leave any significant anatomy behind.

But I have to say I think it will be a cold day before Stan comes mountain biking with me again. On the other hand, I hear that Joe has a new mountain bike...