It’s coming down to the wire: the days are short, the temps are low, the fork oil is more viscous than usual and falls hurt more. Not to mention grad school apps are due. Mine would be done already if it weren’t for that pesky personal statement. At least my biking and yoga are on point; I’ve been doing them every day.
The trails have been dry for the last three weeks, and the wet spell we had before that was short-lived. It just hasn’t been a very snowy winter. I say that matter-of-factly, but inside I’m jumping for joy; I’ve broken more vertebrae snowboarding than biking – more bones in general come to think of it – and right now I’ve got a nicer bike than snowboard. I just have more fun biking. It doesn’t hurt that after having to sell my precious Stump Jumper in 2013 I hadn’t had a “real” mountain bike until I bought the Trance Advanced last fall.
And real it is. I recently put a 2.6 in the front and a 2.4 in the rear, both with double-wall casings. I got a full face helmet, and I started riding most days, even if it was short. I roped in friends here and there, and kept doing yoga. And today, 2 days past the solstice when the air was mild and the sun was warm, was a culmination of that consistency.
I hit the trail with my after burner on and was warm almost immediately. I slowed to a crawl with calculated precision. I rolled the flats and positioned my body forward on the rocky climbs, should I need to lurch the bike forward for extra traction. The first slippery section fell away without fanfare, but that’s happened a dozen times this month. The second appeared around the next bend and I slowed to calm my breath as long as I could. This slippery climb too has fallen away remarkably on many a ride, but only once during the same ride as the first. Even then, a later, easier climb bested me, steeling my chance at a clean ascent of the entire Link.
As I used the force of my legs to generate the right level of torque to float the front wheel up the first bouldery ledge, I noticed a difference: a boulder was missing. And at once I realized what had happened last week when I had to stitch my leg up after falling backwards here: that boulder that rolled over me as I lay on the hillside below had been a part of the trail construction!
I pulled my attention back just in time for the awkward section: a V-shaped gap between some of the on-end boulders that formed the floor here, which must be negotiated while rounding a corner and transitioning back onto dirt tread. The rear tire slipped ever so slightly, but with so much on the line my efforts immediately redoubled and brought the bike the rest of the way past the gap and up onto the dirt with ease. Lungs burning, I rode on, slowly. I noticed another rider up ahead, a rarity. I almost caught him as he walked a rocky section, but surprisingly he remounted and sped off. I slowed and relaxed to bide my energy, so I didn’t see him climb the third most difficult obstacle on Betasso Link: a ledge formed by a root that has become polished and slick from years of rear tires spinning out and sliding sideways on it. As is my custom, a lifted the front wheel over the higher side as I pivoted ever so slightly on the rear, so as to end up with my rear tire squarely in the nook of the root. My line as I climbed through the ensuing boulders was a little different than usual, and if I had a close call today that was it, taking an untested line, but I came through strong and regained the other rider.
I watched him as he climbed the section that had bested me only once before but had taken my shot at cleaning the ascent in one go. It was an awkward slab of rock that pushes you into a tree, and he salvaged his bid by steering with one hand while pushing off the tree with the other – an impressive feet of dexterity, if a clumsy show of his mountain biking ability. I couldn’t blame him, after a long climb we would be leveling out shortly, but it as normal to be dog-tired and winded at this point. I passed him as he stepped off to the inside of the trail on the last switchback. If he said anything I couldn’t hear it, my earbuds were sealing out that part of the outside world.
I stopped to take some photos in the sun, which I immediately sent to Instagram. It was a day worth bragging about. Plus, I needed to feel a little better about procrastinating on my grad school applications. I decided I’d stretch things out a little and do the first loop. A quarter mile in I knew I’d made the right decision. A mile in I was thanking myself for that decision. By two I was in tears. I finished out the loop and found myself alone in the dry grass on a sunny hillock. I thought about my sisters, and sent a picture of myself ther on the hill to the one I still could. I played a little, warrior poses and handstands and cartwheels.
The 20 minutes that carried me to the base of the Link from here left me august at every corner. I wondered what had happened to that dead feeling in the fork. Had it left, or had I ceased to care? It was yoga, on a bike. The front wheel now only seemed to touch the ground exactly when it was needed, the back wheel so light that traction could always be broken. The combination of the two, short enough to fit in the perfect position between each obstacle. The bike felt playful, the possibilities quite innumerable, and the consequences understood if not minimal.
Amazing. The lower, flowy section, I had never ridden so fast. The sketchy portions, I had not previously found a line so comfortable. It had taken falling of that cliff, getting a little timid, and keeping consequences close to my consciousness to take things to the next level. Rather than stoppies like I usually rode back at the pullout, I rode wheelies. I had discovered a new measure of my ride.