A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
Over the Edge
Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota I played several different sports. I was never the best on the team and I was never the worst. I guess if I had to grade my childhood athletic performance I’d give myself a B+. As I look back on those years with the wisdom that comes from being an adult I’m able to identify the barrier I faced in those early years and it seemed to be the common denominator that prevailed through all the games I played. In football I was leery of the "big hit", the one that seemed to pass through my whole body. In baseball it only took getting hit by a pitch one time before I began to give away a little more of the plate to the pitchers than I probably should have. Hockey just seemed to move so fast and with a violence of action that I chose to pick up the loose pucks that squirted out of the fray. The list goes on while the theme remained the same.
The experience of significant pain tends to be a powerful motivator when it comes to self preservation. I’m no stranger to mind bending agony. A broken arm, two broken clavicles, four broken ribs, a torn rotator cuff, torn spleen, and one torn meniscus has left me hesitant when my brain sends out the "red alert" signal in the face of danger.
So, when I grabbed my Horsethief and headed out to my local trail system this past fall I had one mission, face my fears. I was heading toward the trails with the black diamond and the squiggly line on the sign. "I hope I don’t break my neck", I yelled to my wife as I pushed out of the driveway.
I’m a cross country and gravel rider. That is to say, I’m most comfortable with my wheels on the ground. However, in order to get better one has to push out into the unknown. Throughout the next hour and a half I can’t tell you how many drops I rolled up to the edge of and stopped only to turn around and try again. The uncertainty of what would happen after my tires left the edge of a rock, sending me into gravity’s grip was getting the best of me. I was a little kid standing on the edge of the pool while everyone counted backwards from 10. What would I do when they were finished saying "1"? Eventually, I was able to take that deep breath and allow myself and my machine to fly. The feeling was like discovering gold. Like a little kid, I would instantly turn around, push my bike back up the trail, and hit the drop again, bent on making the landing just a little smoother. Now, these weren’t big drops by any stretch of the imagination, but to me they felt like I was hitting Red Bull downhill runs at top speed. Eventually, I was able to "clean" an entire enduro trail that had me walking 50% of it on my first try.
Time was running short, I needed to head home soon, but one feature still loomed large. I’d been thinking about the boulder for the entire ride, asking myself over and over if I had the courage to slip over its point of no return. I’m not sure if the rock has a name or if it’s simply called "Caution" with two ominous arrows pointing down. All I knew for sure was that I’d seen others ride it and that I’d ridden up to its edge probably twenty times. Now, "Caution" is not a drop that one shoots off, but rather rolls down, Here’s the catch, from the saddle of a bike the roll down appears as a near vertical piece of rock about 15 feet long that transitions into an almost flat exit line. This gives the rider the impression that if something goes awry after crossing the point of no return the front wheel will simply stop rolling upon hitting the flat section sending the rider to the orthodontist for the next decade. I slowly rolled up to its edge noting the view of a granite slab that slipped away into the horizon line of Lake Superior in the distance. My heart rate was increasing by the second as I approached the spot where I’d scout the line one last time. Reviewing in my mind the sequence of steps I would follow I stated them out loud, "Roll in slow, release the front brake, get your butt way back, let go of the rear brake as the front wheel hits the flat section. It seemed all that was left was for me to do was trust my bike and my plan. I turned and rode back up the trail far enough to ensure that I’d have enough time to clip in and make this thing happen. With my front wheel pointing toward "Caution" I snapped both feet in and began to roll. "5 … 4 … 3 …2…" the people on the side of the pool counted down. It happened, I was over the precipice and bailing out now would only result in a catastrophic end. "THE PLAN, FOLLOW THE PLAN" I yelled in my mind. Releasing the front brake my Horsethief eagerly went over the edge, but something began to go wrong, I was picking up speed! The back brake was not enough to slow my free fall down the rock. I squeezed harder and my acceleration increased. I was skidding down the smooth granite! I had not calculated this factor. There was no other option but to bring the front brake into the fold. Although time seemed to stand still the flat exit line was getting closer. My memories fluttered through a rolodex of pain, the searing agony of broken ribs, collar bones almost poking out of my skin, what would be next? "RELEASE!!!!" I silently screamed as I opened both brakes allowing the front shock to gently thud as it hit the bottom of its travel. I shot out of the exit line like a bullet from a gun. Pulling off to the side of the trail I looked back at the view of the rock I’d yet to see. I was on the other side. "Whew" I sighed as my hands shook on the bars and my heart pounded in my ears, "You did it" I said, "Time to go home".
I spend a lot of time on a bike and I have seen things many others haven’t, but to push myself outside of my comfort zone was a feeling I’ll never forget. I hung tight to the plate while the pitcher buzzed one under my chin. I filled the gap, taking the big hit from the running back that I didn’t think I could handle. I got out in front of the net and stole the puck when I didn’t think I had a chance. In the face of fear and uncertainty, I rode over the edge and came away with feeling I’ll never forget.