Biking these Green Mountains
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend who is an avid mountain biker, and he was trying to convince me to partake in his favorite activity.
“Why would I ever bike up a mountain?” I asked.
“Because it is there,” he replied.
The logic was sound, so I decided to borrow a bike and give it a try on Paine Mountain in Northfield.
I have done quite a bit of road biking the past few years, but this would be the first time I peddled up a mountain. Fortunately, you don’t ride straight up the side of the peak. This massive effort would probably cause your heart to explode out of your chest and roll down the hill.
Instead, you ride up switchbacks which zigzag up the hill, reducing the degree of incline slightly, so that rather than suffering a major coronary, your heart just beats against your sternum like a jackhammer.
While I consider myself to be in decent cardiovascular shape, riding up the mountain was a workout like none that I have ever experienced. Shortly after beginning the climb my legs and lungs burned, my heart was pounding in my ears, and I was sweating like a turkey the week before Thanksgiving.
Eventually I reached the top of the trail and enjoyed a major feeling of accomplishment. But the real excitement was yet to come. You don’t have to be a von Trapp to know that, for every mountain you climb, there is a fun trip back down the slope.
I had been warned about this particular aspect of mountain biking by another friend I will call “Joe.” Joe currently has a steel plate holding what used to be his collarbone together. He was biking on the same Paine Mountain trail when he hit a bump, went up and over the handlebars, and ended up in a pile on the trail. Now he sets off metal detectors at airports.
I told Joe that I wanted to mountain bike, but that I really didn’t want to fall.
“Everyone falls,” he said. “The trick is to fall and not get hurt.”
This struck me as impossible. Sort of like getting a little bit pregnant.
I looked down the steep trail, took a deep breath, and began my descent. Despite my best efforts to take a slow, controlled ride, before I knew it I was tearing down the path at a terrifying speed. For the next 10 minutes I sped by trees and rocks, over roots and branches, and negotiated bumps and sharp turns. At one point I heard this high-pitched screaming noise, and realized it was coming from my own mouth.
When I reached the bottom I was thrilled with the combination endorphin/adrenaline cocktail that I had just enjoyed. I was like a shark that had just tasted blood in the water. I wanted more. I immediately went home, got on craigslist, and found a mountain bike that I could call my own. Not to brag or anything, but my haggling skills are legendary as evident by this conversation I had with the seller of the bike.
Me: “I’d like to buy the bike you have on craigslist.”
Seller: “I was looking for $200.”
Me: “I’ll give you $275.”
Seller: “But I only wanted $200…”
Me: “I’ll go $300 and not a penny more.”
Seller: “Ok. Sure. $300.”
I picked up the bike the next day and returned to the mountain for some more fun. The climb up was just as difficult, but I made it with minimal pain. When I got to the top of the trail I reminded myself to make a greater effort at a slow descent. And then some snotty-nosed kid came zipping up to me and braked right before slamming into my bike.
“Hey Mister, wanna race to the bottom?” he asked.
I had running shoes older than this cocky runt, but I was damned if I was going to let my ego influence a response. I told myself that there was nothing he could say to lure me into a potentially lethal contest.
“What’s the matter? You chicken?”
Actually, there was one thing that he could say; and that was it. He took off in front of me, and I gave chase.
I again went entirely too fast, negotiating bumps and turns. As I was approaching the bottom of the hill, my back wheel slid out from under me and I went down. I had fallen. I did a quick inventory and determined that nothing was broken and it appeared that I wasn’t pregnant. Not even a little bit.
“You okay?” The kid asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said. “What do you say we make it best of three races?”
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.