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It Did Not Go Well

September 5, 2005

I tried something new yesterday: mountain biking. (Well, trail biking with a few hills–we don’t have real mountains here in metro Detroit.) Mr. Karen’s been into it for the last year or so, and one of my former coworkers was talking it up when I ran into her at a retirement party this past spring, so I figured I’d give it a go. After all, I liked skiing when I finally tried it, and I thought that was going to be scary and cold and miserable all the time. Plus, it sure would be nice to share a sport with Mr. Karen that doesn’t require leaving home for whole days at a time like skiing does (or like kayaking did before I gave that up).

So Mr. loaded up the bikes (both his–I haven’t had my own bike since college) and we headed off to one of the state parks. Not the one closest to our house–the bike trails there are not suitable for beginners–but one about 30-45 minutes away. There were a lot of people in the parking lot, and that made me nervous–I’d prefer not to have a crowd watching me learn something new.

I took my first fall in the parking lot. That was embarrassing. I was just pedaling a small loop behind the truck to see if the seat was adjusted properly for me, and Mr. Karen said something to me and I headed back toward him, but instead of coming to a stop like a normal person who’d ridden a bike before, I pitched over sideways onto the pavement, landing hard on my left hand and scraping up my left calf. Not an auspicious beginning.

When we finally got onto the trail, I was surprised at how narrow it was–just a single dirt track one bike width wide. I didn’t feel comfortable at all. I wasn’t happy with how I fit on the bike, either–I couldn’t seem to get the seat in a position that was low enough to let me get off easily and high enough so my knees weren’t scrunched up all the time when pedaling. I figured it would get easier as we went along, so I kept at it even though I was feeling pretty frustrated at how I was having to walk up all but the very gentlest hills and feeling very unsteady on the downhills and even some of the flattish parts. I was glad I was walking the bike when we came to the section that had two-way traffic. Two-way traffic? No one told me about this. I was having enough trouble as it was without people riding straight at me.

Fortunately there was only that one two-way section and we soon cleared that. Things were going to get easier any minute; I just knew it. Except then I wobbled just a little and veered off the trail and slid down a little embankment, scraping up my left arm quite nicely in the process. It was oozing blood, but all the dirt I’d ground into it seemed to be acting as a sort of bandage, so I literally dusted myself off and got going again.

A little while later, I heard clicking behind me–someone was coming up to pass. I didn’t like that feeling at all, knowing someone was there, but not how close they were or how soon there’d be a wide enough spot for me to pull over and let them by and whether I’d manage to do that without falling over again. I felt pressured by the other riders’ mere presence, even though they called out when they got close and let me know which side they were going to pass on and when they were going to do it.

I was feeling a bit better about the whole thing when we got to a nice gentle downhill; it felt especially good to be back in the shade of the trees after a sunny section that wound through a meadow. Because I was being so careful and slow, Mr. Karen was having to stop and wait for me periodically. This time, I came up behind him on a curve. I saw that the trail split in two there before rejoining a few yards later; he was on the left fork, just starting to pedal again, so I turned to the right. I shouldn’t have done that. I misjudged the terrain and probably misapplied my brakes and before I knew what was happening, the left side of my forehead was slamming into the ground. Big ouch. I sat up and blood was dripping off my face–that would explain the sharp pain I’d felt by my eye, I guessed–and Mr. Karen ran up and gave me a tissue to hold to my face after I took my helmet off.

Fortunately, we were close to a parking lot and I hadn’t hurt myself so badly I couldn’t walk over there, so I sat and watched the river and the fishes in the shallows while Mr. Karen went to get the truck. It didn’t take him too long, but it was plenty of time for me to ponder how very, very bad I was at mountain biking. I really hadn’t expected that. It’s riding a bike–who can’t do that? I thought it would be more like skiing, where yes, I fell a lot at first, but I showed at least some innate aptitude right from the start. I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculously awful I’d been on the bike.

Just as Mr. Karen pulled up, more people started to arrive at the parking area–both by road and by water. I was glad I could go hide my bloody, scraped up self in the truck while Mr. tied the bike to the rack. When we got home, I made him take a couple pictures so I’d have a souvenir of my maiden voyage, and then I got in the shower to wash off the dirt and grease and blood. Once I was clean, I could get a better idea of the damage–a couple cuts above my eye and some swelling below it where my sunglasses had been pushed back into my face and a nice collection of abrasions, some already starting to bruise, on my legs and hands and left arm. I bandaged up the ones that were still oozing and then iced my face and the worst of the bruises on my leg while lounging on the couch most of the rest of the afternoon. I’d earned some down time, I figured.

I’m planning to let this set of bruises and cuts heal before I decide if I’m going to give mountain biking a second chance. I can imagine I’d get quite a sense of accomplishment if I eventually got good enough to complete a whole trail rather than breaking my face halfway though, but I wonder if there’s a message from the universe in all these bruises (I found a few more last night before bed, too, as if I didn’t look bad enough already) that I should stick to safer pursuits like sliding down snow-and-ice-covered mountains with waxed boards strapped to my feet.

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