Clearly I was way out of my league even as a beginner mountain biker. I think my stitches make that clear.

(NOTE: this is a video of the trail I was on. It is not my video.)

So I decided to try my hand - actually my arm, but more on that later - at mountain biking this past Sunday. I ride 10 miles 2-3 times a week on roads with a decent number of hills. I have good bike control, so I thought, "Hey, there is a beginner race, why not?" So this past Sunday I loaded my bike into the civic, which requires dropping both seats, moving the car seat to the front and taking the front wheel and seat off the bike. And I drove 22 minutes to Wakefield VA.

This is not a 'hard' mountain bike trail. But I was to learn that I am not a 'competent' mountain biker. That's not really true. I am certainly in good enough shape. I was not sore after the race. I took to the back of the pack and focused on making it to the end.

And I did, unlike a poor gentleman on the trail who had to be gurneyed out over the berms on uneven terrain. I don't even want to know how long that took. But I understood how it happened.

You see, 'beginner' mountain biking is not like a beginner road race where you can just ride along at a clip and get passed; or a 5K run where most people can suffer to the end. You need to train on trails. Get comfortable with the bike. Learn positioning, traction on different surfaces, handling as you get tired, and so on and so on.

I had not been on a trail in 15 years.

The first lap went ok. I was passed a lot. No problem. My hands hurt from gripping the bars for dear life. I was amazed that anyone was comfortable zipping between branches. I will say that loved the stream crossings. The second lap started a lot better than the first. I knew the trail. I knew better where I had made mistakes in my line and gearing choices. I was focused and tiring some, but I was chugging. Then we hit the switchbacks heading down the berms and I ate it on a left turn.

How? Well, first let me say that I did this on my 'mountain' bike - a TREK 3700 that is perfectly nice on a bike back, but whose bottom bracket (the place where the pedals pass through the frame) was low enough to bottom out and hit many obstacles and knobby wheels were not up to this course. My fellow riders' bikes started at 3x the price of this thing and went up from there. They had larger tires with better rubber and tread patterns and better ground clearance. That would not have solved my problems, but it might have helped.

As I road away, I thought, "God, I hate that falling here means leaning forward into the fall (unlike skiing)." That was interrupted by a wet sensation on my left arm. Looking down at a flat spot I saw that my gloves were helping me grip the handlebar because they were soaking up blood from a decent sized cut. The rest of me was covered in red clay.

A mile later, tired and trying to ease it home, I fell again. Again on a left turn. This time, the browning blood got a layer of thick dirt. I got up and kept going. I finished near the bottom (but not at the bottom) and I was lucky enough to avoid a 'dnf' reserved for two of my compatriots in the class (Men < 34)

At the aid station, they looked in the cut. Poking a cut isn't fun. Just sayin'. Then it was up to me to clean off all the mud in the park bathroom - enough to get in the car, load up the bike, and drive home for a visit to the ER for a second poking. 3 hours later, I was showered, the car was clean, and I had 2 stitches in my arm. Oh, and I don't plan to head out in to the woods on a bike any time soon.

Don't let the happy music fool you, the trail at Wakefield VA is hard.


Shoshana said...

Technically the park is called "Wakefield" and the city is Annandale. I grew up about a mile away and we went to the park (and rec center) so many times. We used to pick blackberries (probably illegally) along the beltway and access the site from the park. I hadn't know that they had a Mountain Bike course but I know from your write up not to try it, as my skills (and bike) are surely lacking.

Flipper said...

When I was unemployed, I frequently drove to Wakefield Park with my (very old) Mountain Bike. There's a partially paved trail from the park to Lake Accotink, which has about a 5-mile loop trail. Good fun. Should try it again (along with the MTB trail) as I have a new mountain bike now.