Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night….

Rage, rage, against the dying of the full suspension Rocky Mountain ETSX-50, large size.

Alas, the ride today ended early, in tragedy. My trusty, well-loved, well-ridden bike is broken. Snapped at the gusset between the frame and rear suspension triangle. I was riding at a place called White Ranch, just north of Golden, Colorado, rolling along on flat singletrack section hidden in shadows. It was cold, but I was feeling fine. Bumping over a slanted pitch of rocks–not too rough or steep–I spun my rear wheel and clipped out of my pedals. My chain was stuck and I couldn’t move. And then I looked down, and saw the break:

The lower silver bar should be attached to the seat tube, about three inches down.

I’d bought my ETSX a few years ago off Craigslist, for $900–a totally great deal. My first full-suspension, it helped me grow from a timid, sometimes clumsy rider to a much less timid, much less clumsy rider. I love (loved?) this bike. I love how it rides, how it handles, how I feel so well-balanced on it. I love how cheap it was. I love that it’s black, and a called a Rocky Mountain.

I can’t really afford a new bike, or even a frame. I’m not sure what I am going to do. (Boohoo. Why did I ever create”crash and/or break” as a blog category? I doomed myself.)

Nothing lasts forever. Change is the only constant. Stuff breaks. Breaking (up) is hard to do.

The cliches are all so very true, and yes, I will figure out a way to ride. I have an old single-speed sitting in the garage, which I can ride, though it’s terribly hard riding. And yes, part of me is excited about the possibility of getting a new ride.

Tragedies, large or small: you can’t let them stop you. You must keep going. You must find a way to finish the ride, and begin the next one. Things won’t ever be the same. But that’s not a reason to stop.

You must endure. Ah, that old lesson I keep learning over and over again.


R.I.P
.
Rocky Mountain ETSX-50


November Riding. Part 2.

Seems like I am falling into a nice pattern–riding every Saturday.

My two daughters, 6 and 8, have tennis lessons on Saturday morning, and afterward we drop by an exceedingly busy Starbucks to jostle for a table, where we chow on doughnuts and egg sandwiches. Then we’re over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house, where we drop the girls off so they can gorge themselves on DVD movies, online games (barbie.com, games.com, et al). Once that’s all done, my wife and I hit the hills. She jogs. I ride. I’ve always wished that she would ride with me, but alas, as she has said many times: “I don’t like rocks.”

So alone I’ve been going, up the mountain.

This past Saturday, it was warm–almost 50 degrees. We hit Mount Falcon Park, which is a long grind up to a gorgeous meadow and lots of singletrack options. There were many other bikers around–a gang of five hit the trail a few minutes after me, and though I hate to admit it, I hammered it so they would not catch me. I mean, I didn’t kill myself, but I didn’t take it easy, either.

Up to the top, to some old ruins of a summer house, then on to a lovely, lonely, singletrack.

This is why I do this: to feel the pain, to scare myself awake. To be alone, to make myself into something I want to be. To breathe, to be in the midst of the forest. And all that.

If this keeps up, it just might become a habit I can’t break. Which is fine with me.

November is Freaking Cold. Part 1.

This past weekend, I rode at a local hill called Green Mountain, which is ideal for November–and after the first snow of fall–as it’s open, treeless, and snow tends to melt from the trails quickly.

I rode for around two hours, and let me say: it was awfully cold. My fingers and toes were numb; on downhills as I cruised, the chill blasted through my jersey and made me shiver. Such pain made me reconsider the recently decided upon idea that I would, as long as the trails weren’t buried in snow, ride through the winter. I have the gear. I like to ski, and can handle cold. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, for cripessakes. If I can survive that, I can survive anything.

Plus, there’s something solemn about riding in the gray and white, something quieter and more thoughtful, somehow, than the heat and green of spring and summer. Time to cool off, literally and figuratively. And we all know how important that is.

I just need to make sure I wear my warm gloves and my little riding booties next time.

The 401 in Crested Butte

Rode all the way up on the 401 Trail, a Colorado classic.

The view: gorgeous. The trail: thin singletrack, tall wildflowers just past their flourish of color and beauty. The pitch toward the end: wicked steep. The pain: tremendous. The riding time: around five hours.

That night’s sleep: ocean deep.

The quick scene, w/dialogue: A guy on his way down stopped and pulled off the track. He nodded his head, smiled, said “Yeah, dude. Get some.”

I got some.

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The Weeks Slide By

How does time cruise by so quick?

Suddenly I wake up and it’s August, and I haven’t ridden in almost a week.

And I am already nostalgic about the rides I have taken, like the one at Buffalo Creek where my riding buddy Ed and I ran across this:

horse and edA horse in the middle of a national forest. There was no one around. She had blue eyes and was very friendly, but alas, she did not have wings or a curly horn.

Now that would have made my daughters very happy.

Watching the Tour

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I’ve been watching a ton of TV coverage on this year’s Tour de France. I’m watching to see who’s going to win that day, will those wild breakaways succeed, who’s in yellow. I want to know what those crazy-long stages look like. I want to be an HD tourist, gently flying over the ruins of Roman castras, the gorgeous French countryside, the vineyards and quaint little towns, the majestic cloud formations above the Alps. And to see those nutty dudes who run alongside the riders—often in silly outfits, or, um, naked—as they chug up the mountains.

But mostly—like many others, probably—I’m watching to see what Lance does. To see if he still has it, it being that ability to ride himself away from all other men and suffer an immeasurable amount of pain.

I read somewhere that Lance is able to ride like that because he knows pain intimately, has survived a level of pain that few others have ever known. In a way, his body has adapted to it—the unspeakable and indescribable pain and exhaustion that goes with cancer and chemotherapy—and it is this pain that has taught him not to be afraid of death, of all things. Because the mind’s response to such an output—when someone pushes themselves past the brink of what the body thinks it can do—is to tell the body to stop what it’s doing. Lance can break past that threshold because at one point in his life, merely getting out of bed felt like such a task.

So mostly I watch for Lance, and then I think of these things. I think of both my mother and my sister, who both endured (that is the perfect word for it) chemotherapy and invasive surgeries. Both women amazed me with their stamina, their ability to keep going no matter what. Their determination has always astounded me.

I seem to be in love with the pain of pushing myself to this brink when I ride to the point of exhaustion and the edge of fearing for my life, but I know that my effort is nothing compared to what they have done. Their struggle is one of survival; mine isn’t. I can always slow down and get off the bike. When my sister wakes up and gets ready for another round of chemo or radiation, there is no stopping or getting off the bike. She has to go on.

And I find that remarkable.

Confluence

Sometimes you get out on a ride and everything meshes together. Your bike shorts seem to fit perfectly–no binding, scratching, impinging on, ahem, certain special parts. The bike feels lighter somehow, it seems to want to stay underneath you and not get pushed toward lousy lines. The rocks on the trail don’t stop you, they merely thrust you onward and upward.

I had a ride like that yesterday, at the Apex Trail, with my friend Josh. I suppose part of it was because I didn’t think to much, I didn’t feel too much pressure to ride perfectly (where that pressure comes from, and how it sometimes goes away, I don’t know).

I pulled into the lot, parked the car, and thought to myself, I will clear all those impossible sections today.

And mostly, I did.

The nasty ramp about a half mile into the trail; the will-to-live sapping series of switchbacks in the north side woods; and riding down all the many nasty drops and narrow, dangerous sections, I bled fear outta my veins and let the wheels roll.

I have to say it was pretty cool. Considering how it went,  there are some lessons I’ve uncovered. To wit:

  1. Don’t think too much;
  2. totally don’t dread anything;
  3. always bring enough water, so if you forget one of your bottles, you’ll live;
  4. let go of the goddam brakes, choose a good line and let the bike carry you down;
  5. doing wall sits actually can make your quads stronger;
  6. ride with a buddy who doesn’t care if you ride well or not;
  7. the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour rule is about right: the more you do it, the better you get, though you probably can’t explain why or how, so when you’ve seen the trail for the 50th time, it’s suddenly much easier than those first 49 times, which means that small lessons learned coalesce and then become major breakthroughs.

I’m looking forward to the next ride. Though I feel like I’m getting a nice, blooming summer cold.

–MJH

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The Trail Always Lies Ahead

The season has begun in earnest, though the weather has been incredibly bad here in Denver these first few weeks of June–daily tornado warnings, wicked heavy hailstorms. Plus, as usual, I am a very busy man, with classes to teach, kiddos to hang out with, garden plots to weed, lawns to mow.

Sometimes I wonder how much I would ride if I had no job, no home maintenance tasks, no kids, no worries. Every day? Twice a day? Or does this ironic idea exist somewhere in truth: you do it because you love it, and because you can’t do it every day.

Image027Maybe I love it because each time I get out onto the trail, the suffering is pure and brilliant, and because it’s a precious and fleeting thing, something I have to fight for, something for which I have to sacrifice and stress.

It has value because it requires that I give up (or squeeze time and energy out of) other things: sleep, care, love, attention, writing, work, etc.

Just something to consider.

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