Another Positive Interaction With my Mountain Bike

Since all my bellyaching after riding the Jay Hoggs trails at Georgetown Lake (okay, maybe it was the all the bean tacos I’ve been eating), I redeemed myself to my bike and again feel worthy of owning such a complex yet simple machine. Evan and I nursed our egos with a short, spry 15 mile road ride around the farm towns just East of Austin. Again ready to face our two-wheeled friends, we tried our luck at Walnut Creek, Northwest of Austin. It was a Sunday, around 11 a.m., and the park was absolutely packed. We talked to a lot of riders, including cyclists associated with the Austin Ridge Riders group ride (though the ride itself had already taken off), and set out exploring. The trails were much more in line with what I’m used to riding: punchy uphills with lots of turns and not a lot of visibility, some creek crossing, and more roots than rocks. It felt like riding Pittsburgh during the best day of the year, when the trails are dry but not decimated, all the dogs are on leash or otherwise controlled by their human friends, all the cyclists are happy to be out and see other riders, and the trails are fast and swooping and hold onto tires not like peanut butter but like a well-made wooden roller coaster whose bearings have been properly greased and maintained (dig?). ┬áRickety but the leap of faith isn’t totally unwarranted. I felt alive! Really!

After that, I felt like I had made up with my bike, whom I’d previously embarrassed at Georgetown. Evan and I spent the rest of our time in Austin taking care of errands and riding bikes around town when we could, enjoying local paved trails and the joy of warm air. We left Austin a few days ago and headed to Marfa, which was unfortunately not the place for us outdoor kids, and after one night decided to keep moving down to Terlingua, Texas, outside Big Bend State and National Parks, and home to the Lajitas trail system.

It was an adventure getting the camper down there, and had a few moments where our hearts stopped as the camper and van slowly pushed up hills too steep for some cars I’ve owned. Once in town, we stopped intoDesert Sports, a great little mountain bike shop and all-around outfitter run by some old hippy types. Dogs ran around the showroom while Major Tom antagonized them and we tried to get some information from the large map of Lajitas (the local trail system) Mike pulled out for us. He showed us all best trails and gave us very helpful advice on everything related to the trails, natural environment, Terlingua, and even some life advice, whether or not he meant to. Meanwhile, one of the women who worked there called around the gas stations to see if anyone still had gasoline. No one did.

At the recommendation of the fine folks at Desert Sports, we stayed at Rancho Topenga, a new tent campsite in the area. We were the only ones staying there, and again had some problems maneuvering the camper into the tight spot down a ridge and on a cliff, but we survived and through on some cycling clothes to hit the trails, which were a mere 2 miles away.

The storm could be seen rolling in over the mountains to the Southwest and wrapped around to the North. The trails were all facing Eastward so we took our chances and rode the Trail Loop 3, the best trail in the park. Lighting bounced from cloud to cloud and the sun shifted dramatically above us. It sprinkled intermittently, pushing us to pedal harder to make it back to the van before the rain. We made it just in time, and had to sit inside our van back at the camper to wait for a relative break in the winds and rain to make a run for it.

Lajitas, as a whole, was the most fun I’d ever had on a mountain bike.

Despite the Wind Advisory boasting 40 mph gusts, we headed back to the park to ride the whole thing (with a few jeep roads emitted, because they did not look awesome). Every part of the trail system delivered something magical. Whether it was incredible speed, swooping whoop-dees, challenging rocks, ridges, and downhills, impressive climbs, or just epic scenery, there was no part of the ride I would have done without. I say this now, after having whined about the relatively flat, open section that Mike referred to when he warned us about “heeming and hawing” for too long, while the strong winds gave us a headwind that decimated any speed we might have maintained through the very gradual ascent. Evan convinced me to keep riding, though, pointing at a section of the map up ahead called “Fun Valley.”

“C’mon, don’t you want to go to Fun Valley? Yeah, you want to go to Fun Valley.” Of course I did, I’m not a monster.

The wind came back in my sails and of course, eventually we changed direction and the headwind again became a crosswind and then a tailwind to take us back to the van. It was a good ride, and the first time in a long time that I felt like a mountain biker, like a person who knew how to handle her bike. I rode a lot of sections that would have been too difficult in other parks, because I was having enough fun to try them, and maintained enough speed to succeed. At these times, I thought of an article in that I read the day before, called, “Don’t Take It Personally, but Maybe You Need to (HTFU)” (Harden the F–k Up). It was true. During the first challenging descent, which I knew I could ride but physically had a hard time not shifting my weight forward and trying to put my foot down, I kept going back to the top and forcing myself to do it until I just rode it. A few other sections were the same way.

When I used to ride a fixed gear, a common romantic notion was that the bike is a part of the rider and vice versa. While it was too nauseating to actually admit publicly, I did agree with the sentiment to some degree. In the case of mountain biking, it’s more real than that. Arms are no longer arms. They are extensions of the handlebars and fork and you have no control over them; any control you try to maintain will only cause grief. Eyes are part of the wheels. You need to look where they are going, not where they are. You are a brain, a set of lungs, a set of legs, and a gigantic, beating heart. To think anything more of yourself is to fool yourself. We have to give ourselves to our bikes if we want them to do their jobs, and if we don’t want them to do that, why don’t we just give them to someone who will?