The Road Less Travelled

Inside every man, even the most responsible, strong, and seemingly grown up man, is a ten-year old boy.  This was evidenced this week as Michael and I went to observe a nearby cyclocross race.  

Cyclocross hasn’t really caught on in a big way in our area, but we have friends who engage in this activity and it looks like fun, so we wanted to see what all the excitement was about.  Apparently cowbells and beer are de rigueur so, although we didn’t have time to scare up the former, we made sure the cooler was packed. This is a race through grass, dirt, and preferably mud – if you’re a 10 year old boy, that is. At times you need to hop off your bike, lift it over obstacles and jump back on as fast as possible and trudge through more grass, dirt and mud, over bridges, and up steep hills.

We arrived in plenty of time to observe racers reviewing the course, adjusting their bikes, and testing the obstacles.  I could sense the spirit of a ten year-old boy leaping out of this man that I love.  He was working very hard to maintain composure.  He did a wonderful job of staying by me and just observing, but I could tell he wanted to go up to all the guys and ask them questions about their bikes, about the course, about all kinds of guy things that I have no idea about.   He harnessed his excitement well, after watching the race for about half an hour and taking in the sweat and grime, the blown tires, broken chains, and other mechanical issues of the racers we left, one of us barely able to refrain from hopping up and down with excitement at participating in next week’s race.

We also spoke of amending the usual Saturday long ride plan to one involving riding mountain bikes through the trails at a local park.  I was open, but not particularly enthusiastic.  The 10 year old was stoked, and commenced changing out pedals, adjusting cleats, buying new pedals for my bike, and hopping up and down with a very wide grin.  I on the other hand, was successfully able to restrain myself from the hopping.

Saturday morning woke with wind and downpours, and the boy is even more excited about the coming adventure.  Me, not so much, particularly because I had never even BEEN on a mountain bike before… in my life… ever.  

But there we go, off into the woods. The maps says there are beginner, intermediate, and expert trails.  I’m not even sure what any of that means, but find out soon enough.  Beginner trails have you pedaling along like a fool unaware of impending doom.  Once I reached the intermediate trails I was sure of this.  Roots to avoid or bounce over while careening down or straining up steep sandy hills.  I am sure that expert and immediate are not to far removed from one another.  I was following Michael as he was careening down the paths, grinning from ear to ear, and still, every once in a while looking back to make sure I was till there.  

He says to me, he says, always go left.  So, I follow along pretty well, albeit shaking and straining to keep up, when Michael is enough ahead that I don’t see him.  What I do see is a trail going left.  So what do I do?  I take it, of course.  It doesn’t take long for me to realize that I may have gone the wrong way.  When I reach the log laying across the path, I’m sure.  I call out his name to no response, but decide that I had better just keep moving.  (Don’t ever do this!)  I rode for 30 more minutes thinking that I would come out to safer ground.  The more I rode, though, the scarier it got, and the shakier I got, and the more indignant I got about the fact that I had been left behind, and I was lost, and scared, and alone.  I went by “Grunt,” but was not to be able to avoid “Misery.”  Go figure.  I came out of the worst trail to paved road and almost kissed the ground.

 Instead I made a straight line to park entrance where we began. I got back to the car, took off my shoes, climbed on the car, and waited.  After about 20 minutes the ten year old showed up with a very annoying grin on his face.  I was still shaking.  

I’m not sure what happened after that but the next thing I know I’m back out on the pernicious trails, trudging, climbing, bouncing over roots, escaping decapitation and all other manner of destruction.  The emotional energy expended in this sport is more than I had imagined.  Save the bruise on my butt, my body was fine; it was my brain that was exhausted.

After a brief discussion of what this cyclocross race would entail, I decided that I was still game, but perhaps it would behoove us to practice this dismounting and hopping back on thing that is integral to the cyclocross race.  We started off slowly trying to simply figure out which leg to unclip first and how to get back on.  After a few mishaps and falls we were getting off and with a semblance of confidence; hopefully not  misplaced. We’ll see on Thursday.

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