Life lessons from shoulder season


(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.)

The weather was windy with a chance of rain, so we drove down to AEDC for some mountain biking. The mid-September light was yellow and contemplative; you could sense the transition in the air.

We’re into shoulder season, where outdoor conditions vacillate and no activity can be ruled out for long. There are plenty of sunny, wind-free days for road biking, but they’re mixed with days like this one. It’s time to get ready for climbing, as the bugs and poison ivy retreat for the cold times; however, that definitely doesn’t mean you can put away the shorts and flip-flops.

We’ve even had a morning in the 40s this month, though it was 62 as I pulled into the trail parking lot. We rolled into the woods as the advancing front pushed around the tops of the trees; the sumacs were already showing blood-purple.

As we wove our way through tight turns between young pines and swooped down and up swales, it occurred to me that this was like bike riding as an 8-year-old: pedaling furiously and then pausing, taking sharp turns and small jumps. I flashed back to a day from about that time in my life, when my buddies and I spent most of a day at a construction site.

I remember riding down into a huge (to me) hole, an excavated dirt pit, and back out.  Next to the pit was the excavated mound of dirt, which we climbed on our Schwinn Stingrays and early-70s “English racers.” I made it home at dusk, filthy and exhilarated.

Back on the mountain-bike trail, I realized another pertinent fact about this kind of riding: it’s a full-body sport. You lean around turns, contort past leaning trunks, lift over gnarled roots. If you’re after some exercise for your core, this is for you.

We crossed a fire lane, stood up for a few steep, rocky climbs, and were back in the parking lot. The sky darkened and dead leaves skittered and crackled as we loaded our bikes and made lunch plans.

Summer felt so last season.

Continuing Life Lessons from Mountain Biking:

- Your tires will go over most obstacles if you let them, and if you don’t overinflate them.

- When approaching an obstacle (tree root, rock), try to meet it with your tire as perpendicular as possible, not at an angle.

- If your front tire does hit something and go askew, there’s more time than you think to correct the situation.

- If you’re approaching a bend in the trail too fast, slow before you begin to turn; if you try to brake and turn at the same time, you’re more likely to skid.

- Once you place your hands on the handlebars, you gain pretty much nothing by gripping them more tightly.

- If you choose a bike with only one gear, the ride will be simpler, but you’ll occasionally have to work harder.

-  Look directly in front of you, but also look farther down the trail.