The trick to breaking in your biking legs in the spring is to not actually break a leg. This proves challenging when most of your winter balance exercise was limited to not wiping out while salting your driveway.
With these snow-barren days, it seemed only appropriate to acquiesce to the reality that my skis have little use. However, the trail conditions are pretty stellar, so long as you can dodge the critters coming out of hibernation early.
It seemed appropriate that I pull my bike out for a little spring-ish riding and start the mountain biking season in … February. Up here in Sandpoint, that’s about 3 months ahead of schedule.
The trick to having a good first-spring-ride experience is wearing all the appropriate gear. As most of us outdoorsy folk know, gear is more important than actual skill, ability, or experience. This is why we invest a small fortune in accessories. Looking like a real rider makes you a better rider.
By this logic, I headed out with the ego of an Olympic cyclist, strutting to the garage with the click of my cleats to warn the bikes of my approach. I opened the door, light pouring in behind me, shadow stretching forward, and stood before my bikes like Caesar addressing his people.
“Spring is upon us, my friends,” I said, “and we must ride.”
The bikes blinked. I’m pretty sure one said, “It’s 30 degrees outside, fool.”
I pulled out my mountain bike and walked it into the sun (where it sometimes reached 34 degrees). There is something ceremonial about that first trail ride every year. I used to think it was akin to fertility rituals or something, but now I think it’s more about getting used to kissing trees again. I seem to forget that every year though, or I’d start riding with a first-aid kit more often.
I took hold of my handle bars, swung my leg over to mount my trusty steed, and promptly jammed my pedal into my shin with a force strong enough to bring a grown man to tears.
Thus, the season began, with its usual bout of swearing – either from injury or realizing the tire is punctured.
In a flash I was back on the bike and cranking down the dirt road toward the trails. The wind was fresh against my face (frostbite fresh) as I launched out of my saddle in visions of Tour de France glory and pumped up the first incline.
Or at least up the first 50 feet of it because I was sucking air already and had to hang out in granny-gear to get to the top without pushing. I’m not too proud to hike-a-bike, but it’s a little embarrassing on the road.
I reached the trails in a verifiable sweat, my ego now in check, and worked my way toward the summit with a steady gasping and choking. I made it to the top without going into cardiac arrest (which is good as I’ve used up my Search and Rescue credits for a while).
As I began to ride down the hill, the grimace turned into a grin and the freedom of the flowing trail brought the playful, childlike joy of biking back to my heart.
Every familiar corner was like reuniting with an old friend.
By the time I made it home, I had cuddled with a rock or two, flown over the handle bars at least once, and had 14 impressive new bruises.
I parked the bike and limped back to the house with the much more defeated stride of respect for sharp sticks, general humility, and happy anticipation for the next day out. It was a perfect ride.
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