For some, it does not make any sense: 80,000 acres of remote eastern hardwood forest, hundreds of miles of singletrack, doubletrack, old logging roads, bridle trails, and forest roads to be experienced by one lone mountain biker.
100 oz. of hydration
Energy gels and bars
Spare tube (despite riding UST)
Mobile phone (despite no signal on most trails)
It is a Tuesday afternoon. Chances of seeing anyone on the trail are nil. More than two hours from the nearest city, my home trails are for the few and far between. A small group of local riders find themselves in the midst of some of the best, burliest, gnarliest, rockiest, rootsiest, sickest, remotest riding found way off the beaten path on the east coast.
But this day, I find myself alone, like 99% of the time, on these trails.
Why people go alone into the wilderness has been discussed by the existentialists, the heretics, the mavericks, the poets, the lunatics. I will save the “whys” and “hows” to their better philosophizing.
The note on the counter top says:
I will be parked at Dead Woman’s Hollow. Riding the trail over to Grave Ridge, back to Dead Woman’s via the lower switchbacks, up Dead Woman’s, across 3 Mile, up and over Woodrow to Rattlesnake, back to Woodrow, descend to cut in that drops out at bottom trails along 233, ride the figure 8s, across 233, climb up and over to Woodrow, singletrack connector back around to 233 to take the hard road back to the car. Be back by 3. If you don’t hear from me by 5, call the shop. They’ll find me!
As always…loving you.”
We have an agreement, my wife and I—I ride when the spirit moves me, which is more often than not, and I leave a note of my whereabouts in the event that the trail takes its toll on my well-being. I take the cel phone too, in case I endo and break a bone or two where the signal gets a few bars.
Whenever I set out on two wheels into the woods, I say a simple prayer: “May I return to drive my car home.” Let’s clear things up right now. This is only said when in the state forest where bailouts and recovery possibilities are somewhere around a 2 on a scale of 10, 10 being the most positive outcome. Local park riding, and group rides, need not require a wish to return with the ability to drive home. The technicality of such riding and the fact that you are in the presence of other riders does not warrant as much worry.
Twenty to thirty miles of cross-country riding, up and over ridges, across streams, through sharp-edged rock gardens, down tight, twisting singletrack with trees on both sides, dropping off boulders, and around forest road turns that can result in head-ons with oak trunks require the solo rider to be in a constant state of “flow”—where confidence and risk meet on the x-y graph. Otherwise, the solo mountain bike rider is merely out for a Sunday stroll in the park, where getting back to the point of embarkation will take far longer than anticipated. Taking too long leaves those in waiting to go into a state of panic.
Taking too long causes me to not fully engage in the rhythm of trail too. Why go slow if it does not allow me to taste the cockpit body position of a hard, descending bend? Why hike-a-bike if it does not allow me to feel the exhilaration of muscling through a hundred and fifty feet of rocks determined to cut open my flesh?
I am now on a most difficult spine of trail, meandering on for a mile or so, and littered with technical difficulties characterized by nearly impossible rocky sections that are almost incapable of being cleaned. I feel a surge of confidence.
The sky is forever blue with no clouds. The sun is warm.
I come to the first of two cruxes: big rocks with only one possible line through them. If I get off camber, I’ll be bounced around like a pinball.
I pedal strong through the first mini-section. I come to the rock that bashes my rock ring. It is scraped up from many a big ring slamming into it.
I clear it, bob off the rock on the other side, standing in the saddle. I have to power over the next rock sitting in front of the double tree trunk that I have to squeeze between.
“I’ve done it before,” passes across my mind.
I shouldn’t have thought about it. I fall hard to the left, my ankle smashing into a rock. My right shin bangs against the down tube. It hurts.
I unclip my right foot from the pedal. I try to walk it off. More pain.
No choice but to get back on the bike. No bloodletting present. Only a scrape and what will be a deep bruise lasting weeks.
Ego deflated, I choose to take it easy on crux number two. But, at least I’ll return to ride another day…the solo rider recognizes his/her abilities on any given day when out alone, and takes whatever actions necessary to guarantee another day of riding solo.
Another day: when I return and run a perfect line and clean the same trail, with only moss and chipmunks as witnesses to the smile on my face.