Today Yoshi and I went for a spin at the dump. I was riding my hardtail, and since we were alone, I decided to do an old school ride. I wanted to ride the trails I rode when I first started mountain biking. The hardtail on old school, what a combination.
As I was riding I began to reflect on how I as a rider had changed. I first looked at my clothing. When I started riding, I was an all-cotton kind of person. I was in University and had not yet learned how awesome technical fibers were. Rain or shine I was out there in cotton everything (except socks, those were wool). My thought today was that I didn’t have a stitch of cotton on my. A smile crept across my face as I realized that was not quite true; I am sure that the stitching on some of my clothes was cotton.
The air was crisp. It had dipped below freezing last night, and the ground was still pretty solid. The sun was out though, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Years ago I would ride rain or shine. In fact I loved the rainy rides the best (even in the cotton). I would ride around the puddles at the beginning of the ride, but on the way back to the car I would purposely go through the middle soaking myself and my bike. Now, before agreeing to a ride I will consult the weather report. Puddles are to be avoided, and if I have to go through them, I do my best to go slowly. Times change, but riding is still riding.
I still remember my very first off road mountain bike ride. Again, I was in University, had no car, and had very little cash. A friend of mine, James Cox, told me he was heading out, and invited me. I thought what the hell, why not. My steed at the time was a Bauer Caurus. Alas I have no pictures of that pink and white monstrosity. 🙂 It was my commute to school bike and it served me well. James had no car either, so our plan was to ride out there, ride the trails, then ride home. No biggee. I forgot to mention I was just on the tail end of a bout with mono. Totally unprepared for mountain biking (never been before remember?), I headed out there. We got to the trails, rode around a bit, then stopped for a break. My rear tire was a little flat, so I went to pump it up. As I affixed the pump, the stem ripped free of the tube. I remember that sinking feeling. None of the three of us had a tube. Thankfully we were able to bum one off another rider. On the way home from the ride I bonked bad. I could barely pedal any more. I was tired, I couldn’t think straight. I told the other two to go on, and I slowly made my way back to my house. Once there I emptied the fridge of food, then fell asleep on the couch. I was sore for quite a few days, but I still remember that ride fondly.
Today I stopped by the same spot where the valve stem ripped out of the tube. I took a rest break and watched my dog run about sniffing things. It was quiet, peaceful … spectacular. I sat facing into the sun, and closed my eyes. I have ridden this trail system countless times, but todays ride was different. It was truly all about the ride. As I sat there I could hear the ground thawing around me. Tiny bubbles being released from their icy tombs. Yoshi found a stick and started chewing it while standing on a frozen puddle. I could hear the ice cracking under his feet. Carefree and having fun. It really was all about the ride.
From that first ride grew a passion. Some called it an obsession. I started to ride regularly, thanks in part to Mike. As our skills and fitness progressed, so did the adrenaline rush. That became why I rode. I wanted the next rush, I wanted to ride that rock face that I had never tried before. I wanted to jump higher than last time. I saw that hill that I had never made and tried and tried until I finally got it. Yet riding then was still about the ride. It was about getting out of the house, onto the trails, and out in nature. Blowing off steam that pent up while in school. I dedicated Sundays as my day off. Mike and I would usually ride Sunday mornings, then I would flake out back at home after a hot shower. That was my religion.
After a while it wasn’t enough. I started riding 2, 3, sometimes 4 times a week. Almost every time I went out I enjoyed it. Crashes happened, parts were broken, pieces wore out, yet I loved the sport. I couldn’t get enough of it. I got the dreaded upgrade-itis disease that every “real” mountain biker gets. I read the mags, I stayed on top of the news. I was a mountain biker. Yet, it was all about getting out there and having a good time. I was never into serious training, so riding had a very big social aspect to it. Friendships were formed out in the woods. Friendships were cemented over war stories on the ride home. Life was grand.
Soon I was out of University, and I had more free time, and more free cash. Riding was what I did during my time off. I got a new bike and riding took on a new meaning. It was about progression. For a while I lost why I was out there on the trails. I pushed myself to ride bigger, higher, faster, better, steeper, more. I started having bad rides where I didn’t have fun, and didn’t want to be there. Some rides I even cut short because I wasn’t having fun. I had lost. I started riding less. One November I had some worrying physical anomolies and my doctor told me I shouldn’t ride until they were sorted out. One month later I was cleard, but in December I had no time to ride. Christmas, holidays, travelling, food, drink. Two months off the bike, and when it was time to get on again, I hated it. My physcal condition was horrible, riding my bike was hard since I was so out of shape, and it just wasn’t fun. It wasn’t about the ride it was about riding how or what I used to be able to. I had lost the reason I was out there.
It is starting to come back to me now though. Days like today remind me that above all else I am a mountain biker. I may not ride as often as I used to. I may not ride as long as I used to. I may not ride as big, get the same adrenaline rush, feel the same push to get out on the trails as I used to. Now it is about the ride. These are the thoughts going through my head as I was riding with my dog on he old school trails, on my hardtail. It was a great ride. I sure have come a long way since my old cotton-wearing rigid bike riding days. And yet I feel like I am back where I started. I can’t wait to see what is in store.