I distinctly recall riding by a mound of dirt in Grand Junction, Colo, six years ago and thinking, "I really ought to get into mountain biking." I proceeded, thereafter, to do absolutely nothing about it. I didn’t really know anyone who rode other than my entire extended family, and besides, mountain biking could be dangerous or even hard. Oh yikes. But really, I’d like to cite, as my main excuse, the fact that I just plain didn’t know where to go or what I’d need, and I didn’t want to wander off into the woods on a hard-forked bike with no concept of what I was doing. So I stuck with riding my off-road, knobby-tired mountain bike on the roads as my commuter, and my main source of transportation. I did occasionally take it out for rides of 10-20 miles in potato fields or out in the backroads of Idaho. That is, until …
Here I was, chugging along through college working two jobs and taking full-time classes when I received an assignment in my editing class: produce a mini-magazine about a certain subject to demonstrate publication consistency. The magazine’s topic? Well, we’d get to choose as a group between several assigned topics, one of which was mountain-biking. I crossed my fingers, and hoped that if I didn’t get mountain biking I at least didn’t get stuck with something cheezy–interior decorating or something. The assignments came out, and it was official, my group and I were doing mt biking, which meant that I’d actually get to do something fun and get credit for it. How often does that happen?
We started researching and studying, buying mt bike magazines, looking at photos, reading stories, trying to get current with the technical lingo, etc etc. Eventually, though, it came out that none of the four of us–Mack, Cassy, Bre, or myself–had really ridden any trails. That was a problem. So we decided that, as an opportunity to gather photos and develop some writeable material, we’d hit the hills sometime and see how it went. I borrowed my roommate’s hiking guide and looked through the trails marked "Bike-able" for one that was nearby. Eventually, I found a trail up to Packsaddle Lake, listed as a ‘beginner’ trail, which sounded like it fit. We chose a day, and the four of us headed out for the trailhead in the girls’ pickup trucks.
Cassy and I were driving up in her truck when she turned to me and said, "You’re not going to take off on me when we get there, are you?" I asked for clarification, and she responded, "Like, you’re not going to ride on up ahead of me, right?" Now I’ve never been one for that chauvinist idea that woman can’t keep up with men just because they’re women, and Cassy was a kickboxing instructor, so I responded that I probably wouldn’t be able to anyway because, hey, I was new to mt biking too. And on the inside, I admit, I was a little nervous: What if I really do stink at this like I do at basketball?
As we followed the instructions to the trail, we found a large mud pit part way through the road on the way to the trail. The girls didn’t want to get their trucks all muddied up, so we parked and pulled the bikes out–two rental Trek hardtails for the girls, a Huffy for Macker the slacker, and my Caloi. We rode up the road, and then happened on the pleasant-looking trailhead with a pleasant-looking trail sign–"Packsaddle Lake 2.1 Miles."
After about the first 100 feet or so, the trail went straight up, and I got a little tired of hanging with the group. I admit, it wasn’t the coolest thing to do, but come on, riding slowly uphill is a pain in the rear. If you can’t get some momentum going on those wheels, you’re just making life harder for yourself in the long run–it’s simple physics. So just as everyone else hopped off their bikes and started to hike, I picked up the pace and climbed off into the distance. I hadn’t gotten far when guilt (or lactic acid) prompted me to pull over and wait for the group. It wasn’t long before the rest came crawling up the hillside. Feeling guilty, I took Cassy’s backpack and loaded it on my back. I had all my stuff packed into a top-tube saddlepack.
"I thought (huff) you said (puff) this was a (huff) beginner trail," Cassy said, staring me down.
"I thought it was a beginner trail," I responded. "I don’t know. Maybe it’s a beginner hiking trail. After all, that was a hiking guide I found it in."
We resaddled and started riding up again, and again I found my legs. The only technical element to deal with was a gutter created by water runoff, so it was just a matter of climbing strength. Number two in the pack was Bre, a bandanna-wearing gym-rat who could probably beat up your dad. As I’d ride up to the next point and then pull over under the canopy of the trees, she’d inevitably be the next person to come rolling on up the hillside. Eventually, I came across the crest and then followed the winding trail down into a sunlit bowl-shaped meadow. I waited for the group where the trail forked. We started climbing again when we happened on the prettiest view of the Teton mountain range (which was right across the valley). When Bre showed up at the next waiting point, she apprised me of the situation.
"The other guys turned back," she said. "Have you seen a lake yet?"
Oh yeah, I forgot about the lake. Too busy climbing. I hadn’t seen it, though. It had certainly been more than 2 miles (or maybe it just felt like more), and still no lake. We turned around and I let go of the brake handles. The descent was incredible–sun streaming through the trees making horizontal tiger stripes across the dirt, a groundsquirrel running out in front of me at exactly the wrong time, breathing in clean mountain-fresh air, wo, cattleguard! I was in heaven. I’d found my sport. That was it; I was sold. Of course Cassy gave me a hard time about ditching her, Mack missed half of the class periods and meetings we had scheduled to do the project, none of our photos really worked out, and we got an A- on the mini-magazine, but it rocked!
Of course, a month later I picked up a copy of bike in the Seattle airport and realized that our mini-magazine was far from deserving that A-.