A quick mental scan of my riding-buddy-list knocked it down to less than 4 candidates. The filter on this particular occasion was rather fine. The first condition, which sliced 90% of the list, was the fact that I had to be on the road headed to my favorite trail by 6:30am and, the second, which took care of the rest of the list, was the speed at which I wanted to do the trail. My plan was to do two fast loops in time to make it back for a family thing (dad’s 65th) starting at around 2pm. Being a Saturday morning, most of said friends would certainly be in no condition to ride that early in the day let alone at almost race pace. It didn’t take long (only 4 phone calls) before my short list was exhausted and my ride plans were changed to a solo outing. Extra provisions would now need to be packed but, it didn’t bother me. A disappointment, no doubt, not to have some friends there to heckle or to be heckled by, but, I knew I could now go at my own pace and not feel pressured about either being held up or holding them up. I don’t normally like to rush my rides but in this instance there was no alternative. It had to be done this way or I’d have to settle for spending my day doing yard work or cleaning the house or something: not today!
I arrive at the trailhead at 7:40am and get out stretching the highway from my legs. I’m surprised to see a couple of hikers coming out of the woods (they must have been hiking in the dark if they did the entire loop) as I let out a big yawn and try to rub the red from my eyes. As soon as my mouth closes I excuse me rudeness and say good morning. My fresh bold cup of coffee and the 1 hour drive did nothing for me as I felt as though I had just rolled out of bed and stood up. It’s usually a bad sign when you feel like this before a ride.
I make my way to the back of the car and quickly realize that, despite checking over and over like someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder what I had packed the night before, I had forgotten my towel that I use for changing. My changing tactics now had to be quickly refigured. A swift run to the back of the car in the cold morning air while the coast was clear gave me just enough time to change from my old torn blue jeans and black CBGB’s ‘T’ into my tights and riding shirt. As I wrap that up, I hear a “good morning”……”giggle giggle giggle” from behind. It scares the hell out of me. I follow the sound of the giggling and see two twenty-something girls come around the corner who had also, presumably, been hiking the trail in the dark. I acknowledge them and I’m convinced they were completely aware of the look of concern on my face.
What were they giggling at? I felt an incredible urge to yell out “The air is really cold this morning!!” like George Costanza did in the episode where he was seen after getting out of the pool. You know the one.
Unfortunately for me, the cold air wouldn’t change much at all if I’m to be totally honest ;-/
Anyway, I shake my head with embarrassment (or should I spell it em-bare-ass-ment) being fairly certain I had just given them a show. As I continue to change I watch them as they walk down the road to see if they are with the other group of hikers that had passed not long before. At this point I’m putting my shoes on standing on one leg as I do so. Just as they reach the vehicles parked a little ways down amongst the other group, the Velcro from my right shoe grips my sock as I try to put my foot in. I loose my balance and try to grab the corner of the car to catch myself and completely miss. This then forces me to put my foot down: something I was trying to avoid at all costs. The reason is simple. Looking out over the nicely trimmed lawn of the parking area, you could see the sun shining through billions of droplets each clinging to its respective blade of grass. They looked like diamonds spread over a nice green blanket of felt. It goes without saying then that, despite being picturesque, my sock wouldn’t go well in the middle of it especially on a morning as cold as this.
The Velcro grips my sock and my sock holds on to the Velcro and it’s two against one - no fair! My shoe is ripped from my hands and I almost roll my ankle as I half step on it’s side when it hits the ground. My foot is instantly soaked and my socked foot leaves a perfect size 9.5 print in the pristine piece of water art. I curse as now I have to ride the loop with a cold wet foot. The chuckles start up again in the distance. I look up. The entire group had just witnessed that little scene as well. The man of the group (I assume the dad) yells over, “Off to a good start!” and to this I have no response. I just laugh, nod and give him the thumbs up as I bend down to pick up my shoe. He’s right. What can I say? So far it isn’t good and I haven’t even hit the trail yet!
Oh boy.....here we go.
I’m finally changed. With tights extending beyond my baggies, my trusted old black jacket keeping my upper half warm and all the extra provisions packed in my Camelbak I’m looking more like a bike courier who took a wrong turn than a guy out for a few hours on the trails. I head off at speed. It hasn’t rained but the trail is just soft enough to allow the knobbies to sink into its upper layer and this robs a lot of the energy I’m trying to put down. It’s not long before I feel that my legs had not yet fully recovered from the 80-something km road ride I had done the day before in the wind. My thighs begin to burn after only a few km’s so I quickly decide to slow up a little.
The trail starts out a little mellow but allows for some very nice, fast, twisty acrobatics between the trees and over some small drops along the way. The air is cool but it’s refreshing and smells of springtime. It’s a beautiful moment. The silence of the forest is broken by the sound of my starving lungs as I climb and my buzzing freewheel when I descend. It’s the first “real” test ride for my new bike and so far I seem to have dialed the settings in perfectly for the conditions. With each revolution of my cranks I’m propelled deeper in to the forest and deeper into bliss. I’m so happy that my rough start is turning out so well but still can’t help but feel how cold my foot is.
After a time I enter the pine area. The area smells especially strong this morning as I assume that the brisk winds from the past few days probably cause a lot of needles to fall. At this moment the air is calm and the smell hovers, still, it drifts nowhere as the source holds it in place. The pines are densely packed in this area and are surrounded by low-lying vegetation unable to take any real root. The large pines starve out much of the sunlight and the ground is rich in its acidic sap. The trail snakes though it and stands out well against the green surroundings.
Instead of tall buildings surrounding this “courier” I’ve got trees scraping the skies above! Sweet!
The reason I like this trail so much is that it takes you through many different sections in a relatively short mount of time. Each section has its own uniqueness. They’re distinctly different. One section may be flat but lightning fast while the next is technical and slow-going. One may be higher up densely covered in trees and the next low lying covered only in grass such is the pic below.
I descend a rocky part of the trail and through some 4 foot tall ferns before ending up in a low lying grass area which is where the river’s bank spills over during the winter and early spring months. Only the hardiest of trees can survive here amongst the naturally occurring grasses as the rushing water will either sweep them away or the over-saturated soil will drown them to death. It’s another quick and simple section of trail that sees most everyone hammering the big ring and zipping along the river’s edge before darting back into the woods for more singletrack.
On this day I stop for a break and enjoy the sights and sounds. The grass gives away the invisible wind’s location. The blades teeter over slightly as the wind tumbles across it. The lush green turning grayish momentarily as it does so. The grass does a perfect wave across the field and I feel like I’m in the center of a stadium. The fans are showing their appreciation. Collectively the blades sound like hissing or static on a TV screen when they rub together. Yet again, I’m thankful for not pulling the plug on this ride. My foot is still cold and wet.
I head back into the cover of leaves and straight for a section I like to call “the brain”. This part of the trail is so heavily covered with roots you’re lucky if rubber actually makes contact with dirt. It’s off camber, very uneven and there are several large rocks that nature has strategically placed for some added excitement.
Of course the pictures never do any of this stuff justice (as you all know) but trust me, when this is wet, it can be tough to stay upright.
I’ve hit this section enough to know the secrets to clearing it but I’m a little nervous on my new steed. I question if it’s capable of carrying me over if I use the same devices I used on my old rides. I hit the opening section pointing slightly upward and across with heavy speed and the bike heads right where I want it to before it slow with the incline. I twist and maneuver slowly but steadily over the section applying nice gentle pedal strokes when the need arises all while trying to keep my weight even above both wheels. One pedal with too much force and you’re down before you know what is happening. The bike bumps along progressively while I swing my weight from side to side and front to back before finally clearing the section without slipping too badly even once. I’m stoked and really starting to fall in love with this new rig. It’s a beauty to ride so far.
Shortly after exiting one technical section I’m faced with another that requires concentration and some finesse. I’m heading up a short climb. A section that I feel will be the last true test. My ride passes with flying colors.
I’m not sure of the grade on this climb but it’s very steep. Loose, perfectly round stones cover the path and it looks like a giant bag of golf and base balls have been dumped down the hillside. Again, nice gentle pedal strokes are needed to clean this short climb and the classic circular pedal stroke is the only effective means of getting over it without dabbing. It’s tricky but if you can keep certain urges in check, it's doable.
Smooth consistent pedaling action will see you up without incident but uneven pressure simply spins the wheel below you and all momentum is instantly lost. There is no recovering from it when on the climb. I'm uncertain at the climbing prowess of my latest quiver addition but head straight in for the fight. I lower my shoulders, slide forward on the saddle and get to work. The rear end stays where it needs to and I have no issues with grip. I muscle through growing more and more confident on the bike the further I go. My legs burn as I crest the top and my lungs are filling to capacity but calling for more. I slowly pedal along to allow my systems to level off again as I was definitely in the red.
I wrestle the trail for 20minutes or so after it flattens out again without incident. That is of course until I reach a gradual descent that I like to take at speed. I like to come into the section fast and freewheel down the short grade which twists its way to the river’s edge again before coming back up and almost running over itself. Littering the trail are basketball size rocks and some hefty exposed roots but nothing too crazy if your line is right.
As the section approaches I stop pedaling. I’m content with the speed I’m carrying. Just before the trail begins to dip downward I feel, and hear, something strange that isn’t going away. A quick glance to my left reveals the source.
Startled, I realize that there is a bird attacking me. Not a big bird either (please no jokes about Sesame Street) but a tiny thing about the height of a coffee mug. All the same, it takes me by surprise as it cries out loudly for its size, flaps its wings in my face and I can hear it repeatedly pecking at my helmet whenever it gets around behind me. The distraction sees me go off the trail after missing a turn and suddenly I’m bush whacking – not good. Judging by the plant life that is toppled over ahead of me it’s clear that I’m not the first to have had a run in with this little angry mother. She’s nesting and, to her, I’m the bad guy. She’s gone now, happy to have sent me on my way and I’m astonished by her bravery. I mean would you go after a 7-story building if it were barreling toward you? I think not.
Immediately after regaining my composure and getting back on the trail I remember that it turns back up and in right towards her. The one down side to the popularity of this trail at this point is the fact that she has certainly learned that the threat will be back momentarily. She’ll be waiting for me.
As I head back up I slow towards the top. I know I’m getting close to the little mad momma. I scan the trees and spot her I think right when she spots me. She lowers her head and begins walking slowly sideways along the branch to get a good line at me on the trail. I pedal back a little to get my right foot in the 2 o’clock position for maximum acceleration.
If this were a western movie, this would be the scene where there would be a close up of my dirty sweaty face as my eyes start to squint; I stare down the bird. Then there would be the close up of the bird slowly crouching and squinting as she stares me down. Next the camera would be focused on my hands that are tightening around my grips and her maybe slowly rolling her wing feathers ready for me to make the move.
We stare each other down. Each of us is waiting for the other to make a move. I leave it to her and by now she has had enough. She starts to call out her warning and I know the sh!t’s going down. As though in slow motion I watch her lean forward and drop from her perch a full 15 or so feet before spreading her wings. She’s got some serious speed going. I’m barely rolling despite full power and she’s already on me. I curse and swat at her kinda laughing at the same time and she stays with me for a good 2 minutes (that’s a long time to be attacked). That was the first time (on this trail) that I’d been attacked by a bird and I just hoped that she didn’t pick that same spot next year. Man she was tough but damn that was funny. The only thing that was good about that whole scene was that I’d forgotten about my wet foot!
Once she disappears I relax again taking in the sights and sounds. My knobbies hum as my speed is up again and the trail is dryer here. I hit climbs and downhills without a soul around and feel refreshed in this air and thankful for my freedom. I know it is only a few more km’s before I hit the car parking area but the good news is, I’ve made good time even after taking photos along the way. The plans won’t change.
Me and my wet foot are heading straight back in for some more wrestling and I know that bird’s gonna be mad as hell.
Bring it on.