Mountain Man

Needing a change of pace, I decided to pull out the old mountain bike and give it a try. I think the last time I went mountain biking was late 2005, and before that was maybe a year earlier. All told, I’ve probably ridden my mountain bike a half-dozen times since I first got into serious road riding. I used to do more before that, but at most I could only be described as a semi-weekend warrior – getting out once every weekend or two to be humiliated by my mountain-biking friends and then returning to my sedentary, gluttonous lifestyle that made me what I am thankfully no longer today!

My mountain bike sucks! It’s old (1994), with old technology. It was one of the first dual suspension bikes and only cost $700. As you can imagine, it weighs a ton. I didn’t put a lot of miles on it when I was riding, but I didn’t take care of it either (hard to believe, considering the dirt-phobic prissy roadie I am today). I just didn’t know any better. I haven’t done much to upgrade it either – last year I got a new chain and cassette, and I just recently had to get a new rear derailleur (thanks TK!). It has maybe 1” of travel front and back and still has the original tires! Despite all this, it’s more mountain bike than I deserve right now, considering my complete lack of technical skills. I may not have been near as strong years ago when I was riding it more regularly, but I at least had decent enough skills.

Wanting to avoid virginal embarrassment the first time I took it out – at least in front of anyone I knew, I went out to Castlewood for some solo reacquaintance with the trails there. I warmed up along the river, cut across the field, enjoyed some speed alongside the railroad track, and then flubbed horribly on the washout stretch after the little foot bridge. I was scared to go down the drop. I was scared to carry speed over the roots. I had more toe touches along that stretch than I used to have on an entire ride. Still, I was having fun and looking forward to trying what we used to call the Blue Ribbon trail (the sign said something else). More warming up at speed on the Stinging Nettle trail, then through the tunnel to begin the Blue Ribbon. I was feeling a little more confident and started trying to roll over obstacles at speed. Before the first climb there was a log across the trail – I pulled up the front wheel, shifted forward and cranked over the rear just like I remembered. I was so excited with my success that I forgot to keep looking where I was going, hit a rock, and flew off the bike into the weeds before I even knew what was happening. Thankfully there was nobody in sight and my landing site was ragweed instead of stinging nettle – I brushed myself off, got back on the bike, and took off again. I had a great time on the Blue Ribbon trail, easily taking climbs that before were a real challenge to make it all the way. But I was such a pussy on the descents! I just need to get used to the bouncing and shaking again (and my fear of falling). It took me just under an hour to complete the warm up, Blue Ribbon, and ride back to the parking lot, which I’m sure is no land speed record, but I was feeling like I got a pretty good workout. I was just about to take the low trails to Groetpeter when I ran into LC and the long-lost DavidG. They convinced me I wouldn’t be a ball-and-chain if I tagged along, so we hit Groetpeter west to east together before I called it a day. I was feeling pretty good by now, only needing one toe touch to climb the switchbacks. Of course, just shy of the top I inexplicably drifted off the trail straight into the trees while DavidG watched, undoubtedly suppressing a guffaw! I rode the top fast but again turned pussy on the descent while DavidG screamed past me to show me how it’s done. It was the most frighteningly thrilling descent of the Groetpeter I’ve ever experienced – I knew the general layout of the descent but was completely in the dark regarding the obstacles and the best lines around them. I ended up just shooting straight down the middle – including the railroad ties – and miraculously did not crash. I think I had my butt over the rear wheel more than the saddle. Not crashing left me wanting more, but my body had had enough so I called it a day.

Glutton that I am, I let Jose talk me into doing Greensfelder the following weekend. I’d done Greensfelder once before – don’t remember which trail but I remembered it as not too technical. We had gotten lost and ended up coming out at a parking lot on Fox Valley Rd. Jose did not take me to this same trail, but a different one called DeClue. I truly did not know what I was in for! This has to be the most difficult trail I’ve ever tried – it took me almost 40 minutes to do the first lap (it’s hard to make good time when your walking your bike!). All I can say is man, them rocks is tough! Jose was nimble as a bat throughout. The rock garden scared me so bad the first time that I didn’t even try on the second lap, but on the third lap Jose coaxed me into trying it and coached me to some sort of beginner’s success. After that, I started trying harder on the rest of the lap, and it looked like I might even turn in a halfway decent lap time until about halfway up the long rocky climb at the end of the lap when my chain kept getting dumped between the cassette and hub. At first I thought the derailleur limit screw needed adjusting, but then I felt the derailleur itself was loose and no amount of tightening would snug it up. I tried up-shifting a gear but it wouldn’t hold, so my ride was done. Turns out the derailleur was toast, but TK has since got me rolling again.

I guess now I need to get some baggy pants!

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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3 Responses to Mountain Man

  1. Anonymous says:

    have you considered cyclocross? my guess is you’d be riding right w/ mike w. in the b race.


  2. Ted M. says:

    I don’t understand cyclocross – why would anyone want to get off a perfectly good bike?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Uhh….so you can get back on!!!

    (thx for the great set up line.) i enjoy reading your race reports, and hope you heal up good.

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