Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Broke It

Lee and I rode Paradise Valley on Wednesday night. We each fought the overwhelming urge to sit on the couch and watch TV; so easy to do this time of year. Not only does it get dark around 4:30 but rain has been falling off and on for several weeks and so it came as no surprise that it started to rain again around noon on Wednesday. Yuck. Oh yeah, and it’s cold. These are not the most encouraging conditions to jump on a bike and go for a ride: wet, cold, and dark. 

At the trail head we shuffled around, getting our gear on and chatting about the day as the rain came down. Helmet, pads, gloves, fenders all being put on wet. As if we needed any more of a deterrent, the rain pounded harder to test our resolve. Once you’re wet, well, you’re wet. We saddled up and off into the black forest we rode.

When everything is soaked with water riding becomes more about keeping in contact with the bike and less about getting fast section times. My grip is tighter because my gloves and grips are wet and slippery. My feet are tense because my shoes and pedals are covered in muck. My glasses are fogged by the mixture of body heat, dripping rain and sweat. Not that it matters because it’s foggy and it’s cold enough to see my breath so each time I exhale I push out a cloud of steam in front of me that obscures my already diminished vision.

It was under these conditions that I broke it. For the first time I broke a small piece of Paradise. All the conditions were awful and I felt sapped and unmotivated; being cold, wet and shrouded in darkness does that. Somehow, I managed to set a personal best on one section of single track, Cascara is about a half mile of up/down, twisty-tight trail with plenty of roots and obstacles. I shouldn’t have even come close to my best time and yet I beat it and by a respectable margin. This is the kind of thing that keeps me out there, keeps me going, and keeps me interested. Not because I’m looking to get record breaking times but because even though I didn’t “feel” like riding I did it anyway and I proved to myself that I can still produce excellent results despite having the odds stacked against me.

True to life, my exuberance was short-lived. About 30 minutes later I barreled in to a corner covered in slimy roots and my front tire gave way. My bike slammed flat to the trail and I lurched sideways against a dead tree stump about as round as my thigh. I broke the top two feet of the decayed tree off with my ribcage. It knocked the wind out of my body but not my spirit. I picked up my bike and kept riding, needless to say, I did not break any time records after that. Paradise giveth and Paradise taketh away.

Monday, November 26, 2012


A master Japanese potter will deliberately mark his beautiful and delicate masterpiece with a single blemish. They have a word for this, I am sure but I do not know what it is. Not the point. The point is everything is flawed either by accident or by design, incidental or deliberate, natural or man-made. We know this deep in our bones and yet somehow we strive for perfection. Hopelessly in search of the flawless. So it should not come as a surprise when the simple and humble bike breaks or stops working. They do though and usually at the worst time. 

My heart is pounding hard, I can feel it deep in my jawbone. I normally try to breathe through my nose mostly but not now, I am sucking in all the oxygen I can get. My mouth is wide open and I am eating the air and swallowing hard. Legs are pumping and pushing the bike crank round and round, one agonizing revolution after another. Up the hill I go, over slippery roots, uneven rocks, and loose, wet dirt. My quads are burning with lactic acid, the arches of my feet ache from attempting to hold my feet fast to the wet pedals. 

Every muscle and fiber of my body wants to tighten down and strain against the steep hill climb. I have to intentionally relax my upper body in times like this so I don't injure myself or make a tactical mistake and crash because I'm too tense. It's an odd feeling; pushing my lower body to it's bitter edge while simultaneously relaxing my upper body. Being careful not to relax so much that I lose my grip or steering control. My hands resting on the grips, lightly with all of my fingers relaxed and straight. 

I open my mouth wide to relax my jaw. It's at this moment, during my hardest effort that it breaks, my sweetness, my bike. Not break exactly but expose a flaw, show me a blemish, introduce me to its lack of perfection. It gave way under the force of my hard-charging legs. The pedal stopped resisting and just gave way completely with no fight, no nothing. All I got was the unmistakable sound of the gears changing and not finding it's home, anywhere. The chain jumped free and then jammed.

So there I lay, with my bike. Both of us flawed, broken, covered in mud, sweat, and alone. I'm still breathing heavy. Cussing, of course, looking up at the trees that just stand there looming over me like shocked bystanders at some horrible accident. They are no help to me. I'm not hurt but I am mad. How can I make this better; me, my bike, my riding, my living? How can I do this by myself, where has my master potter gone? How can I fix the flaws, overcome the mistakes, make the right choices? How?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Round Pegs Make Round Holes

Mountain biking, or any worthwhile endeavor that requires self-mastery through consistent effort, sacrifice, and dedication will at some point ask for more than can easily be given. The request usually comes at the point of physical exhaustion, imbalance, or mental fatigue. It never wants anything except absolutely everything you have and whatever is left after that too. 

The trail post that marks the beginning of a wicked single track bears a sign with one of the most ominous trail monikers, "Braveheart". Just to begin requires a hard swallow, a gut check, and a sternly worded pep talk. To start is to commit fully, there is no stopping and getting off or quitting once the front wheel rolls over the top ridge of the trail head. 

The ground falls away from the bike so steeply that I am completely off my seat with my arms stretched to their limit as I try to counterbalance the quickly descending bike by nearly sitting on my rear wheel. My bike speeds, tumbles, and bucks down the face of this fifty-foot luge. The side of this hill is packed with jagged stones of various sizes and shapes. These misshapen blocks force my direction and at multiple points they actually drop off completely on the downhill side by a foot or more. 

Under normal conditions this trail is technically challenging to say the least. Add to that the fact that the Northwest has been saturated with rain for a solid month. This rain turns everything into mush; wet leaves, spongy moss, and gooey forest debris all mix together into this sort of slimy and slippery Vaseline that coats every surface; especially jagged stones of various sizes and shapes. 

In situations such as this descent, foot position on the pedal is critically important. But with all the other things I was trying to manage, navigate, and control (like NOT killing myself) it slipped my mind. Mountain biking made me pay for that lack of attention in-full, plus interest. About halfway down the face my front wheel leapt from the top edge of a drop and slammed hard on an unyielding block and my ill-positioned left foot slipped off the pedal. The results can be seen in the picture above. I didn't crash, I just kept going, riding, pedaling and pushing myself up the next hill. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


I do not intend to do all seven deadly sins but I simply cannot avoid this one: sloth. I never understood why laziness would be listed in the top seven bad habits that warranted the moniker of "deadly", until now. I rode heavily this past summer. It felt great. But it's been over two weeks since I've even looked at my bike. I have, however, riden the couch in front of the TV like a mad man. 

The body atrophies quickly with lack of exercise. I have done more harm than good by resting for as long as I have. Now when I go back out to ride it will feel very much like the first time. It's not going to be pretty. In fact I am so bored and disgusted with myself that I don't even have the motivation to write this blog entry. How sad is that?

At some point, even the sloth has to get up off the dirt and forage for food right? Right? He does eventually get up. I am pretty sure that other animals don't actually come serve him meals like ordering room service at the Fairmont Hotel, which sounds really good at the moment. 

If we let our inner sloth take over, then the view never changes, if we never challenge ourselves we never learn anything. We grow through doing, not sitting. It's been raining pure sadness here for two weeks straight and so that makes it crazy hard to get up the motivation to go ride in the muck. But into the muck I must go. My sanity depends on it.

Okay, so I have resolved to not let my slothfulness be the death of me. I am committing to myself and the throngs of my devoted followers (all four of you) that I will rise up this weekend and ride. But not before I eat something. Hey what's the number for room service again? Let's all say it together: ice cream is my friend!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Being listed as one of the seven deadly sins can hamper a word's image. Add to that several centuries of religious dogma declaring it a tool of that rascal Lucifer and it can be rather confusing to see our culture embrace it with such reckless abandon. We live in a culture of conspicuous consumption. Lust is the icing slathered on top of every salacious news report, advertising campaign and Hollywood romantic comedy. It is inescapable. It seeps in to our subconscience despite our best efforts against it. 

With that said, I have a confession; I have lusted after YETI mountain bikes for longer than I care to admit. Now they have really outdone themselves and I find myself starving for something I didn't know I needed, until I saw it: the YETI SB66C (C is for Carbon Fiber). The frame weighs 6 pounds and boasts 6 inches of rear travel. What?! Plus, they've spent the last two years engineering their new "Switch Technology" platform. I won't bother to describe it here, suffice it to say: it's bitchin!

The question I always ask myself, when it comes to spending more money to upgrade to something different: Does it really make a difference? In this case it's not a matter of throwing done a few hundred bucks or even a thousand. A real top-notch build out of this frame would set someone back about eight grand. Wow! Now, the bike magazine editors would have us believe that it makes all the difference in the world. These guys ramble on for paragraphs about how they can detect the difference in a bike's weight change of just a few miserable ounces. Uh huh, sure.

The problem with giving in to lust is that once the seal is broken it cannot be fixed. The gash never heals and in most cases the opening just gets bigger and bigger until one day it just flows through without resistance. So how much is enough? When is good enough acceptable? Even if I do decide that enough is enough and that my current ride is more than acceptable, how do I turn off the craving, or at least dial it down so I can get some sleep?

It's a pretty straightforward choice at this point because I can't really justify laying down that kind of cash. That doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about it. It doesn't mean I've stopped trying to justify doing it anyway. I've come up with some awesome rationalizations. None of which have passed the muster of trying to convince others that it's important. Because even if I had unlimited resources I'm not sure I could bring myself to spend that much money just for the sake of lust. It is dreadfully tempting though. I guess that's why it's still on the deadly sins list. Lust:


See more delicious pictures of the SB66 Carbon here