My first “real” mountain bike trail/the rattlesnake adventure

Several months have passed between the happenings of the first two blogs and this one. We’re skipping today to an adventure I had last Friday, just 3 days ago!

I’ve been ready for some time to move on to a more challenging trail. It is 12.4 miles round trip, and single track. I’d only heard about this trail from friends, never actually seen it myself.

We set off in the afternoon, excited about our new venture. We were right beside an old railroad, narrow trail with a pretty steep bank and then LOTS of the New River on the other side. I was paying close attention. It didn’t take long to realize this was going to be a BIG challenge for me. I saw before me LARGE, thick, mucky, dark mudpits. We did our best to ride around them, but I soon realized I was going to need to push forward and NOT turn my wheel! Next, the tree roots. Who knew how many tree roots one could ride over in just the span of five minutes! After that came the occasional railroad ties interspersed with more tree roots and ROCKS. I had a few spills. Jim kept saying, “Power through, don’t stop, keep pushing, and stay in first gear!” One railroad tie looked especially TALL. Ilet my fear get the best of me and before I knew it, took my first full fledged plunge, complete with head crashing against log! “Wow!” I thought, “Now I know why we wear helmets! That didn’t even hurt!” All at the same time trying to jump up before Jim saw what I’d done. Too late. He was already heading toward me, helping me up. He hadn’t seen me hit my head, and I was a bit put out with myself so didn’t mention it. He dusted me off, made sure I was ok, saying once again, “Oh man, are you SURE you wanna do this? I think you’re gonna kill yourself!” Of course I said yes. “Well at least you fall loud!” “Why, did I yell?” I asked. “No, you just crashed really loud.” As he started off again. “Well, I hit my head on the log.” “YOU DID?!?!?” (Thankfully, he had already started on, so we continued.)

And then, there were the hills. The rocky, bumpy, hilly hills. Complete with more tree roots, bridges, and general rattling of the teeth. Some of these I rode, some of these I walked. Mostly walked. To a young rider, who just learned how to stay upright on flat ground, this was a whole new challenge!

We came to a bridge. At the end was a pole. You were supposed to ride on either side. There was not much room on either side, and I almost lost control coming out of it, but I righted it. Then, the trail narrowed even more, through lots of HIGH weeds. I imagined lots of wild things waiting in those weeds that were slapping against my legs and arms. I peddled on. We stopped a couple times for water. One of these times I looked up, and to my surprise, two guys came riding down the highest hill I had seen yet – like it was nothing. I let them pass. I tried to ride up but had to jump off towards the top, there were lots of rocks, and I chickened out. Then next hill was even worse, a large hole in the bank on the other side, in between the tree roots, and then a shallow stream at the bottom. I walked.

Eventually, the trail widened into an old road. This was a bit easier to ride, although there were still lots of the mucky mud pits, an occasional tree down to walk over, and more hills. We made it the 6 miles in and took a breather, proud of our accomplishments. I noticed someone had a tent set up. Jim heard something moving in the woods. I felt a measure of comfort when the park ranger drove into the little camping area, making his rounds. It was awfully deep in the woods. And then, the guys that passed us on our way in came riding out, waving as they followed the road the ranger came down. “I wonder if there’s another way back?” I ventured. “Uh, well, we can take that road on up and around, but it’ll be even a longer treck back, is that what you want to do?” Jim asked, rather amused and yet, sympathetic.

We started back. This part of the ride was relatively easy compared to the rest, and we joked and rode. I actually led for a while. We traded places back at the mudpits, and at one point Jim chose the wrong direction and we both got bogged down, laughingly sloshing our way out. I decided to tackle the whole trip more bravely, now that I was retracing where I’d already been. I was relaxing, enjoying, and then, it happened.

Jim was about 5 yards ahead of me when he screamed and kicked his leg out, motioning with his hand and yelling, “Stop!!!” I did, and I heard the dreaded sound. “RATTLESNAKE!!!” He was off his bike and looking for it, when he did some kind of jig that scared me to death. “Where is it?!?” I yelled. “I see it now!” He yelled. “He was lying beside the trail and when I rode by he struck my bike, then tried to cross the trail and I ran over him with my back tire. He’s MAD now!!! Can you hear him?” Could I HEAR HIM?!?!? It sounded like the loudest thing I’d ever heard in the woods!!! Of course, it was the only thing making noise in the woods, so that magnified it even more. Jim started throwing things at it to get it to move off the trail – rocks, large limbs, anything he could get his hands on. All I knew was, once he got it off the trail, your’s truly was going to have to ride right by it, because that was the only way out!!!

Jim proceeded to document the snake’s every move and how large he was and how his rattler was the longest he’d ever seen out in the woods. And Jim has had his share of rattler encounters growing up in the hills of WV. I thought to myself, “There is a little muddy ditch in the trail right there across from that snake. I cannot waver, I can’t lose power, and I can’t turn my wheel when I get in that ditch!” Of course, this ditch was very small, but to me it seemed like a cavern at that point!!!

Finally, he got it about 4 feet off the trail, made sure I had backed up sufficiently enough to lower my gears when taking off, and said, “Come on, full speed ahead, don’t stop, just keep comin’!” I did. The closer I got, the louder the rattling became – “Keep coming, keep coming, don’t stop, just keep coming!” It was THE scariest thing I’ve ever done. Literally. Hands down. I blew by Jim and kept going a few more yards. “You ok?” He asked. “Yeah, let’s get out of here!” and I was off! But then, I slowed to let him pass, knowing I would NOT be leading on this trail anymore!!! My adrenaline was pumping so hard I knew I was going for every hill, every rock, every root, every ditch, every ANYTHING because I was NOT getting off that bike anymore!!! I amazed myself. And as I continued to amaze myself I thought, “It’s all in the perspective. What was once scary, is now nothing compared to what I’ve just done. If I can do that, I can do anything.” And, I did. I plowed right into the side of that bridge with the pole in the center and not enough room on the sides. More wounds, but who cares, I’m staying ON!!! I even scaled the large, rocky, steep hill that I saw those guys ride down!Towards the end of the ride, I saw Jim stop up ahead as a deer tail leaped up and down beyond the brush and then came into full view and up the mountain. He commented that he’d seen deer tracks on the way up, but now coyote tracks were in full view. EEK!!! We rode out of there.

My left leg was cut and bruised, pedal markings now dotting the front from several slip ups. I was covered in dirt and mud. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back to that trail – maybe I’ll wait till the snakes hybernate – but I do know this: I’m proud of me. I faced my fears. And I conquered them! In mid life, I am finally getting some courage. I’m finally growing up, and it feels pretty good!

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Learning to ride

As I said in my first post, there were many adventures in learning to ride that lead up to this blog. They were pretty ridiculous, to say the least. First, I just tried riding around my yard and down my paved lane. For someone who grew up only riding a cruiser, adjusting to a bike with different speeds is a bit of a challenge. Especially if that person is NOT in ANY WAY athletic. Not to mention having no sense of balance. I did not know how to even get on the bike. I did not know how to start the bike in motion. The guy at the bike store showed me that I need to have the seat pretty high. You need to realize that I am all of 5 feet, 2 inches. So raising the seat was a BIG deal for me. Once I raised the seat, I couldn’t just sit on it to start the bike in motion, because my feet now could not touch the ground. Every time I tried to raise my feet to pedal, I fell over. I had yet to realize the need to actually push off with one foot. This too was scary to me. I was like my mentor bike friend Luke’s 4 year old son learning to ride – I tried to hold onto something to keep the bike upright while getting both feet on the pedals. Jim’s truck, a tree, bushes, anything! (BTW, that four year old kid blew me out of the water and learned to ride within a week.)

Jim, who grew up riding bikes, motorcycles, etc. with brothers and cousins, stared at me in amazement. “Ruthie, just PUSH OFF, like this!” No dice. I’d fall over sideways. He knew then this was gonna be a long road. Once on the bike and in motion, things weren’t too awfully bad. Except then I had to change gears. I had already broken one of my kid’s bikes trying to do that before, not understanding the whole “You have to be moving in order to change the gears” concept.

I did wear my helmet at all times. I had watched this amazing video of mountain bikers where one guy rode across a narrow precipice, the ground gave way, and he rolled halfway down the mountain. He jumped up and lived to tell it, though, and the tuck and roll was to his advantage. This came in handy during our yard ride on the side of our grassy hill one day. Jim rode up oh, say 6 feet. I thought, “I can do that! I was in third gear. I got three feet up and ran out of steam, the bike started to tip, and I did a tuck and roll. Hopped up just as Jim was turning around (was hoping to avoid him seeing that). “Ruthie, are you ok?!?” Me: “Yeah! That was FUN!!” Him: “Woman, you’re gonna give me a heart attack!!!” He was just sure he had made a major mistake buying this bike by this point. But oh, there was much, MUCH more to come!

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Where to begin

My husband, Jim, bought a mountain bike for me as a present for Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010. You may be thinking, “Why on earth would he do such a thing for his wife, why would she even want that?” My answer is: because I asked for it! Well, I asked for a bike. We went to a bike store. The guy says, “Do you want a road bike or a mountain bike?” I look at Jim, because I have no idea the difference between the two (hence, the name “novice mountain biking adventures”). Jim looks at me (knowing I have almost zero experience in ANY type of biking) and says, “Well, you don’t really want to ride on the road, do you?” (Thinking I may kill myself more quickly that way.) “No”, I reply, not realizing the alternative. “So you want a mountain bike, then.” ….”Yes….” I reply, wondering what all that entails.

As it ended up, Jim and I both left the bike store that day with mountain bikes, and I am so glad, because I would never have had the courage to go it alone. Since that day, I have learned a lot, wrecked a lot, and ENJOYED it a lot! I only wish I had started the blog then, as I have many stories already. As it is, I will highlight these adventures as I go, interweaving them with my daily adventures from this point on.

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