Yesterday, at work, two of my buddies told me they were going mountain biking after work. They have actually gone a couple times over the last two weeks and their chatter about it has had me thinking about joining them so, yesterday, I did. I've actually owned a decent entry level mountain bike for about 7 years now; it was a fathers day gift after Shannon was born. However, I have never ridden it on anything other than the streets of Huntington between work and home. In fact, I've never really ridden any bike of any kind off road at all. Needless to say I had no idea what I was really getting myself into.
Once I was off work I headed up, grabbed my bike and helmet, and then headed up to the Barboursville park where there exists many miles of mountain biking/hiking trails. Ed and Sean had gotten there about an hour and forty minutes before me so they had already hit one trail, broken a spoke on Ed's bike, and repaired it by the time I had gotten there. Ed has been doing this for a long time (and seems to flow across the trails) but Sean just started a few weeks ago yet is already quite a bit better at it than I am. I, on the bottom of the skill spectrum, suck. I was fully unprepared for both how difficult and how heart poundingly nerve wracking mountain biking can be. We went on a trail that I imagine most skilled riders would think is very easy. Ed, for instance, was cruising along and hitting jumps to add a little excitement to his ride. Sean was managing the trail OK but wasn't adding any additional thrills and got off his bike when it was necessary to avoid a spot that was dangerously tricky for his skill level. I got off my bike when it was necessary and, once, when I wasn't planning on it. I also spent a lot, and I mean A LOT, of time off the trail blazing my own path through the undergrowth and trees. It turns out I'm not very good at steering my bike when on a narrow track of dirt that is regularly decorated with large rocks, fallen trees, and branches. Quite frankly saying I'm not very good at it is being generous. By the end of the run I had slammed my left ankle into my bike frame three times, flown through the air once (trees don't move for bikes), and cut my cheek sufficiently enough to have blood all over it (the cut looked worse than it was and I didn't even know I was bleeding until Ed saw it).
I think we rode about 3 miles over the course of an hour. It didn't really feel like we had traveled that far when all was said and done but I was thoroughly exhausted. My legs were weak and my breath was coming in deep gasps. After we had finished cruising out of the woods we actually had a big hill climb on a road to get back to our vehicles. Unlike Ed and Sean I had to stop twice to get my legs to stop burning and to be able to breath. My past 8 months have not been good for my overall conditioning and mountain biking, it turns out, is a hell of a work out.
Ed and Sean both were cool about the whole experience. They waited for me when I fell too far behind (which was fairly frequent) and they seemed pretty encouraging about the whole experience. I'm not sure they are nearly as concerned with self preservation as I am on the trail though - or else I've just turned into a coward. I think the biggest thing I need to gain at the moment is a level of comfort with riding my bike off road. I was often unsure of whether or not my bike was going to just stop and throw me and I almost always felt like I was going too fast down hill (even though I was the slowest). Overall it is actually kind of amazing how much crap those bikes can just roll over without much problem; I just need to learn to trust that my bike will actually do most of that stuff. As uncomfortable as I felt all day yesterday I still had a blast. I liked the rush that came with the danger but also the fact that I was constantly having to work hard and think about what I was doing. It was the most challenging sport I've ever participated in. I'm definitely going to do it again.