From time to time, athletes experience soreness. I am sore today. Not the good type of pain that happens when you have a killer workout, this is the kind of aching that happens when the slippery, snow-covered singletrack throws your shoulder into 26 different trees on one exhausting mountain bike ride.
I had been wanting to ride with this group of guys for a while. They meet up every Thursday at Alum Creek State Park for a 9pm mountain bike ride during the winter. This is a challenge for me because I usually go to bed at this time so I can wake up for an early morning workout.
But, Jon Clous’s email was very clear. It was going to be 28 degrees F, which was one of the warmest rides they were expecting to have all winter. A full moon was going to provide a little extra light for the trail. He also mentioned that Ed Braunbeck, the new president of C.O.M.B.O., said that the trail was very rideable (of course Ed has a fat tire bike which makes his opinion of “rideable” a little more flexible).
Jon made it sound downright pleasant, so I decided to stay up late and go a for a relaxing social ride with my mountain biking brethren. I wanted to escape the basement training regimen and remind myself what I love about trail riding.
BAM! Expectations smacked into reality very quickly when I entered the trail.
The first 100 yards seemed challenging, but rideable. Little did I know. This would be the easiest part of my 5 mile death march through the dark, snowy woods.
When the group headed into the trees I decided to enter with the back of the pack. I had woken up at 4 a.m. and ridden for two intense hours on my spin bike. My legs were worn out and I wanted to take it easy. I was hoping for a nice light recovery ride. What was I thinking?
Being the last one in the woods would foreshadow the rest of the ride. My legs felt like jello and every time the snowy trail asked them for extra effort they politely replied “no”. All of my technical instincts disappeared. Every time the trail went slightly off-cambre my bike would slide off. Every turn seemed to end in a washout. Every incline over one degree was unclimbable because my rear tire would just spin out in the snow.
I’m not sure that I was actually riding. All I was doing was practicing my mounting and dismounting for 5 miles. It was like a circus-full of clowns had entered a cyclocross race.
I was looking forward to the social aspect of the ride, but that was hard to experience because I fell so far behind the group. Occasionally, they would stop and wait for the stragglers, but just as soon as I caught up, they were off and I was falling behind again.
I tried to remain hopeful. I kept getting back on my bike with the thought that the next section of trail was where it would get more rideable. I didn’t want to just walk my bike through the woods, but that seemed to be the only activity that I was good at.
This was not the part of mountain biking that I enjoy. To put it mildly, the trail had a considerable lack of flow to it on that fine February evening.
The night was not without its casualties. Jeff Rice’s light ran out of batteries. Luckily for him that happened early in the trail. I was begging for an equipment malfunction at that point, but persisted in my torturous journey. Jeremy Russell called it quits about 1.5 miles in. His rigid singlespeed was not providing him with a joyful trail experience.
Around the 3 mile mark, at the infamous creek crossing, I caught up to the group because someone had gotten a flat tire. I was so wrapped up in my self-centered misery that I failed to figure out who it was. I decided not to wait for the group with the hopes that I could finish a little sooner.
I was past the point of no return. DNF was not an option. I continued through the dark woods. Hiking my bike up the hills and sledding on my Kenda tires on the way down. Every now and then there was a flat section where I would experience the joys of the trail for .3 nanoseconds before gliding into a bank of crusty snow.
I marched along in the darkness, alone, waiting for a pack of coyotes to rip apart my dying corpse. But obviously, since I am writing this post, I survived.
The group caught up with me and I stopped to take photos as they rode by. Several fell at the turn immediately after passing. I’ve never seen so many expert riders take a spill on the same adventure.
I was relieved to hear that they were planning on cutting the trail short once we hit the road section. I had been strategizing about how to justify this move myself. I had assembled an encyclopedic list of excuses about why I needed to shortcut it back to the car. Luckily, I never needed to pull out the list.
We assembled back at the cars to tell war stories and enjoy some post-ride recovery drinks. In the past, I have tackled this six mile trail in under 28 minutes, but on this night four miles of it took me over two hours. I’m fairly certain I could have done it faster if I just carried my bike on my back the whole way.
After my 4 a.m. wakeup call, my two hour spin workout, a full day of watching children and two more hours on a dark snowy trail, I was exhausted. It was 11pm and I knew I would be lucky to be in bed by midnight.
As I drove out of the parking lot I rolled down the window and yelled, “Goodbye guys, never invite me to this again!”
They laughed. I sped off.
I was kidding of course. The night was epic. Even though the trail was frustrating, the challenge was fun. My body is paying for it today, but the memories of that night will haunt me forever – in a good way.