All the powerful stories of knightly triumph have those moments when the laurel-sitting heroes pull themselves out of their comfort zones and onto paths of even greater glory. And in the case of truly gallant heroes, they also get a horse. My own moment (and my own steed) arrived when I got a mountain bike.
For years now, I have been a road biker exclusively. When people talk about taking the local trails, I respond with enthused non-committance. “Oh, yeah! Dead Cat Descent. Man. Go you,” I say. “Me? Oh, no mountain biking for me right now. Iron Horse training, you know. I can’t risk going 127 Hours until after the big ride.”
Of course, if I HAD ever mountain biked, I would have rocked it. I just had really good reasons for not mountain biking, like not having a mountain bike. Then someone had to go and generously give me their old ride.
This bike is no show horse. It is a hardtail, weighs as much as five road bikes, and sports—sit down, fainters—mere 26-inch tires. I mean, I’m not saying it’s the kind of bike you ship to third-world countries along with all the “Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers” T-shirts, because at least it has front shocks. All I’m saying is that this bike is a little closer to Ichabod Crane’s Gunpowder than it is to Gandalf’s Shadowfax.
A rickety steed never stopped a true sportsman, though. So I agreed with myself that I would learn to mountain bike—as soon as the Iron Horse was over. And as soon as I checked the bike out, washed the frame, lubed the chain, adjusted the seat, installed toe clips, pumped up the tires, test-rode it around the block, watched how-to videos online, read the trail maps, consulted my horoscope, and waited for the right weather.
While I waited, I had to come to grips with a certain fact: that excelling at mountain biking meant I would have to excel at falling. Falling was a given. All mountain bikers fall, and then they brag about how many ribs they cracked. To be perfect at mountain biking, I would have to give up on having my face un-smashed by fence posts.
Well, dammit. I could get good at falling. In fact, I made falling a goal. I declared that when I took my steed for its virgin spin, we would ride until I fell.
So this weekend, the stars finally aligned, and my bike could stall me no longer. I rode up to this back training ground at the college. I went at a time when I expected no other cyclists, so I would have free rein over the grounds. Yet this space is also—in support of the school’s interdisciplinary liberal arts approach to all subjects—a frisbee golf course. And several groups of frisbee golfers mingled about.
It would have been easy to let their presence deter me. After all, they might laugh at my poor bike! But I believed in my ride. Screw whatever these frolfers thought of my wheels.
I have to say, parts of my first mountain bike excursion were easy. The easiest parts of all were forgetting that I had brakes, and how to use them. So on the little downhills, the bike flailed about like Pokey while I masterfully jockeyed it out of the weeds. But we were doing it—careening through wide, sloping turns. Skidding out on straightaways. Dodging frisbolfers. We even rode over a rock! And to be honest, I don’t remember which way we were going when the bike wiped out.
What I do remember is getting up, dusting off my Spandex, collecting my water bottle from the brush, and fist-pumping to the sky. I did it! I fell like a pro, and I didn’t even fall for… let’s take a look at my phone… man, my screen sure is shaking a lot… how does basic subtraction work again?… nine whole minutes!
Now that may not sound like a lot of time to you professionals reading this. But to this noob, it felt like—well, like time didn’t exist while I was riding. It felt gooooood. Like being high on adrenaline and not dying even though you have every right to be dead by now. A lifetime’s worth of action packed into nine whole minutes, and it wasn’t even prom night.
And although I fulfilled my promise to go until I fell, and even though I suspected I might now require arthroscopic knee surgery, this ride wasn’t finished yet. Oh no. I still had to ride home, and I wasn’t about to let a bunch of frigolfers see me walking my bike back to the road.
Without going into details, we made it back. I interneted a list of famous horses before the shock wore off and came across Rocinante. According to the tamper-proof Wikipedia page, “Rocinante is not only Don Quixote’s horse, but also his double: like Don Quixote, he is awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities.” Now I’ve never read Don Quixote, but that sounds like an apt bike name to me.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The Durango Telegraph and Four Corners Free Press.