Ride the Red
I got home today from my new morning ritual involving red dirt and saw a link on facebook to a radio interview with a friend of mine talking specifically about an event coming up called the Cayuna Lakes Klunker Ride and Scrap Metal Jamboree and in general about his experience riding the red dirt of the Cayuna Lakes MTB Trail System. Aaron said something in that interview that rang true to me. But before I tell you what he said, I want to tell you my story.
When I was a young teenager in the mid 80’s I wanted to be a road bicycle racer. I loved riding. My parents had bought me a cheap 10 speed bike and me and my brother or me and a friend would take 50 mile rides. We used to think we were so fast. My friend Lenny and I thought we had it in us to be real racers…all we needed were real bikes. So I went to my parents and asked them to buy me a bike. I had my eyes on a Cannondale and had even ridden to the shop several times to drool over it.
One thing that I never really recognized until I was older was that my family was actually pretty poor. My dad had a job and worked hard and saved money but he and my mom had both grown up having to work for everything and there was never an abundance. I always had shoes, and clothes and food and never really felt like I was missing anything. Until I grew up and remembered that, other than rare exceptions, all my shoes and clothes were hand-me-downs, we never went out to eat, powdered milk was a staple, and much of the dinner table was set with food my mom grew in the backyard and canned herself. The idea of a new bike seemed totally reasonable to me, but I’m sure to my parents it was completely out of the question.
Well, I never have taken rejection very well and when I was told that a new bike wasn’t going to happen, I did what teenagers do, threw a fit, got angry and stopped riding pretty much altogether.
Once I started driving, the thought of bike riding was a distant memory. But after getting married and having a few kids, I saw a mass market, first generation mountain bike for sale for $50 at a garage sale. It seemed to be in good condition and it was cheap and my kids had little bikes to ride around so I bought it. Other than a few spins around the neighborhood on the very rare occasion, that bike sat in storage (on the open-air deck of the condo and then the back of the garage when we finally got a house). Never cleaned, greased, oiled, tuned and rarely ridden, I usually looked at that bike longing for my $50 back.
Then about 6 years ago, my chronic knee problems started getting to the point where walking was painful and I had to consider giving up the one thing I really loved to do that gave me some exercise, basketball. I still played off and on but the pain was bad. A few trips to the orthopedist and I was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a condition usually caused by an accident or significant impact that leaves a small piece of bone at the end of the femur detached. In my case, it never healed and at this point is unlikely that it ever will. Surgery is an option, and in fact with one procedure, their has been some improvement in the pain, but the underlying condition remains.
So, after starting to play basketball at the age of 8 and playing consistently for my entire life, about 3 years ago I stopped pretty much altogether. It was heartbreaking. I tried to replace the activity with trips to the YMCA to ride the eliptical. I went 5 times a week for 10 months. I hated it. I told myself it wasn’t that bad. It was so boring!
Then I saw it. Sitting in the back of the garage. That neglected machine bought over a decade earlier at a garage sale. Without so much as a dusting, I jumped on and went for a ride. It was good. It worked. It had off-road tires, but with no shocks I had no desire to take it anywhere but on pavement. So I started riding again. It was fun. I rode for 2 hours at a time. 25 miles on a mountain bike on the road and I felt like I was doing pretty good. It even crossed my mind to go buy another bike. But, as things seem to do, life cycled around and now I was the father struggling to put food on the table. Money has always been tight and it when we have it, it doesn’t get spent on me. 5 kids makes sure of that.
So, for two years I rode my $50 garage sale bike. Funny, it never even occurred to me to oil the chain, check the gears or cables or even inflate the tires. I just rode it. A lot. The only problem I ever had, one broken chain. Making my total investment into the single instrument I used for exercise about $60.
In late fall of last year, pretty much after all the good riding weather had gone, the missionaries for our church, who often rely on bicycles for transportation, had a problem getting one their bikes shipped in and they asked if I had something they could borrow. I was happy to loan them my bike, after all, I had little invested into it, or so I thought.
The bike was returned in early spring, and clearly, it had not survived being ridden through a Minnesota winter. The missionaries told me that the chain had broken, but they repaired it and other than a developing problem with the gear shifters, everything else was working as it had when they received it. I threw it in the garage without much thought, eagerly awaiting warmer weather so I could get off the elliptical again and back on the road.
Warmer temperatures and sunlight revealed that my bike was unrideable. The chain they had fixed was clearly 2-3 links short, the shifters were completely cracked and dysfunctional and the cassette and front gears were totally rusted. After some internet research discovering that I didn’t have the knowledge or the tools to do much with my bike it visited a bike shop for the first time, probably since it left one after it’s initial assembly. It didn’t even make it through the doors. The shop proprietor met me in the parking lot and after giving me a rough quote of over $250 to get the thing rideable again it went back in the van and found it’s parking spot in the back of the garage.
Having bought my wife a new Trek 7.2 earlier this spring so that she could go on bike rides with me and seeing that she loved it and rode it nearly every day, I was dejected. My wife told me to go buy myself a bike. I had proven I would ride it so the investment was worth it. But I already spent the loose change on her bike. So, even though I’m trying to learn spending lessons taught painfully in earlier life, I broke out my credit card and bought myself a matching men’s Trek 7.2. The rides were back on. I had no idea that one could go so fast on a bicycle…and my Trek is just a bottom of the line fitness bicycle.
In June we had a family reunion in the Rocky Mountains near where I grew up. I love it there. The days are bright, the skies are blue, nights are cool, the air is dry and crisp and the scenery is to die for. I grew up in these mountains hiking, skiing and camping. It was nice to be home. But one thing I never really tried was mountain biking. I mean actually taking a bike off-road on to a mountain. But on this trip, my son and his cousins were eagerly awaiting doing some. So, I went ahead and rented a mountain bike with them and planned to ride.
We started early. On the trail by 5:00 am. It was going to be a long ride and we had to be back by 9:00 am for our reservation on the zip line. 300 yards into the trip and I wanted to kill myself. My legs and my lungs were burning already. Here I am trying to keep up with teenagers doing something I have never really done before. They trail was a killer. It was literally “mountain” biking. We started at the bottom of a mountain on an un-serviced mountain road intended for 4×4’s and we rode it to the top of the pass. My philosophy? Embrace the slow. I put my bike in 1-1 and peddled. And then peddled. And the peddled some more.
We started at about 8700 ft above sea level and rode up to about 10,300 ft above sea level. Did you know that there is no air up there? Miraculously, I made it. I was in pain and thought I was about to die. I even had that most bizarre of heart attack symptoms, the “impending sense of doom.” My legs were rubber and chest heaving not to mention what my rear end felt like.
And then someone said it. “Let’s head down.” My initial thought was that this sounded good. I can stop peddling. Well, my baptism by fire of mountain biking really didn’t begin until that moment. Turns out, it’s really hard work going downhill on a mountain bike. And that’s all that was left. 1600 ft of down hill. I did learn one thing that has helped me since. A mountain bike really will go over just about anything if it’s going fast enough.
So now I have to tell you the story of another bike. This one, a Trek 4500. It retails around $900. It’s black on black with hydraulic disc brakes and finger triggered lock-out front fork with 100mm of travel. It’s a pretty good bike. Nothing like the $4500 Rumblefish Pro Aaron is trying sell, but a good, solid mountain bike. This bike has also been sitting in the back of my garage. We bought it for my son for Christmas almost 2 years ago. Other than a brief stint at the bike storage facility where my son went to college (ironically at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in the Utah Valley mere minutes away from great trails and 40 minutes from the only gold medal IMBA ride center in the country at Park City), that’s where it has sat. Ridden only about 3 times and never for more than 10-15 minutes and never more off-road than my front lawn.
After my foray into mountain biking in Colorado and having read many a post by Aaron on facebook about the trails in Cayuna, I thought I would try to put some dirt on the tires of my sons bike.
Not knowing what to expect, and afraid of embarrassing myself, I loaded the bike into the van and headed out at about 6:30 am Saturday, July 27th. Surely, no one will be there to witness my folly.
I parked near the Pennington Mine Lake, found the trail head and headed off. From that moment till the time I climbed out of my car more than 3 hours later, including the blown tire and the 2 mile walk carrying the bike, I didn’t stop smiling! It was AWESOME! Fixed tire and Sabbath observance and I was on the trail again around 6:30 am Monday morning. After that ride, it’s official, I’m hooked.
But now I have another problem. This isn’t my bike, and when Nick realizes how much fun I’m having, he’s going to want to come. My 7.2 can’t be ridden here…well at least not with me and the bike surviving, and like I already mentioned, there’s no money left for another bike. I was getting down. I found this “thing” and now I won’t be able to do it because I’m poor. Nothing more depressing than that.
Well, for maybe one of the first times in my life…at least in recent memory, I was not going to let money get in the way. I started searching Craig’s list daily, looking for extra work, searching websites and stopping at the bike shop. I looked at renting or buying a rental. Anything used and cheap. Anything.
A few weeks earlier I had agreed to do some code study work for another architect friend of mine. We had never really discussed price. I knew he would be fair with me and I was happy to help him out. Well, I got an email from him right during the time I was panicking about trying to find a way to get back on the dirt, this time with my son. He agreed to pay me a total of $400 for the code studies I had done. Within an hour, I got back on Craig’s List, and there it was. A brand new Raleigh Talus 29er. Never been ridden. $400. Less than 5 miles from my house.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. I always miss the deal. I never find the diamond in the rough. I never get the job or win the raffle or get the favor. I called immediately and arranged to meet during lunch break the next day. No sleep that night, I was sure someone else would make an offer before I could get there. When the time came it was all I could do to not control myself to not look like a complete idiot, I was so thrilled.
In the month I have owned my Raleigh 29er, I have ridden 99.64 miles, burned 15,000 calories and spent 17 hrs. 16 min. in the Cayuna State Recreational Area painting my body and my bike with red dirt!
In his radio interview, Aaron talked about his experience in Cayuna. He said that he was uncertain as he went out on his first ride, “but I went out and rode it, and my life changed…in one day…from that day forward my path took a different path…”
I know EXACTLY how he feels!