Those of you who follow my Twitter feed know that I saw the Leadville movie the other night and have been tinkering around with my old (1996) Parkpre, converting it from a city/cruiser back to its original mountain bikeness.
Well, the combination of those two facts got me out in the woods yesterday afternoon, despite a pretty bad cold/allergies. It was a totally different experience than riding on the road, for sure. I climbed rocky "walls", I went down a technical descent - without endo-ing, I bunny hopped a log, I fell over a bunch of times, I got muddy. I almost got lost.
But that's getting ahead of my story. Before I hit the trail, I had to finish the bike.
Other than removing all the "surplus" items (bags, rack, etc), the main thing I wanted to do to my Parkpre was install a new drivetrain. Unlike my road bike, I have no clue how many miles I have on this bike. I've only changed the chain once, and the cassette and 'rings (as well as the tires!) were still original. So, with a little help from SDC on cranks/rings and a little money for cassette & chain, I was in business.
Pretty new chain and (7spd!) cassette (pie plate now removed)
Showing the whole new drivetrain & old C'dale stock Fizik Poggio saddle
After an aborted attempt to raise the saddle a little bit, involving a pipe wrench and a lot of elbow grease (let's just say that despite the now-marred seatpost, things didn't budge), and reinstalling the tires, I was in business.
Old school MTB, all ready to go off-roadin'! Crank Bros. pedals courtesy TJ.
I got the last piece of the puzzle Thursday night on our way to the movie when our sponsor shop hooked me up with new MTB shoes. I'd never been off-road while clipped in, so this was going to be a totally new experience.
Yesterday afternoon was a beautiful, relatively balmy, late fall day. Nevertheless, given my cold, I put on a base layer & long sleeve jersey, stowing a jacket in the back pocket just in case. In keeping with MTB style (in my mind anyway), I kept on my Levis (though the ankle straps likely canceled out any coolness factor), and hit the trails just across the street from our house.
Right away, the different feel compared to road riding was obvious. Much longer wheelbase, straight bar, ROUGH road trail. I realized immediately why folks prefer to have at least front suspension (the Parkpre is a full rigid hardtail). And I got a new appreciation for how grueling a 100 mile MTB ride/race like Leadville must be. I'd only gone a few hundred yards and my upper body was already getting tired(!)
Part way in, I came across a dirt bike rider and ATV-er who gave me the low down on some of the trails ("We've been lost out here for a couple hours; and the trails are either muddy or hard to see with all the fallen leaves") and I hit my first real climb. Not until then did I fully appreciate the granny gear - and climbing in the saddle. Every time I stood, my rear tire lost traction.
When I got to the top, I had to shed my base layer. I'd only been out about 20 minutes, but didn't know how far I'd gone (in my haste to get out, I'd forgotten to start the Garmin). I knew it wasn't far though, so I kept going.
The guys had said that if I "keep turning right you'll hit the powerline" and sure enough I did. I decided to follow that north a bit, keeping the railroad track out of sight to my right (but within earshot of the steam locomotive and its echoing whistle). Despite a few falls - none too bad - and one ill-chosen line through a puddle that turned out to be MUCH deeper than expected (and got me my first street MTB? cred, er, crud), I ended up here:
Pretty sight, but I should have taken a picture of the sign behind me which read something like: "Private Property: Wide Trails for Senior Citizen Use Only" I'm not kidding. My knarly off-road riding led me to a set of trails that were more suited to the senior set. They weren't too technical.
Not wanting to cross the private property - and unsure exactly where I was - I got out the 21st century equivalent of my Boy Scout compass: My Google-maps-equipped iPhone with the cool "My Location" blinking dot GPS. Sure enough, it showed me at the fringe of Essex Meadows senior center - about as far north as I could go in this wilderness.
I set off to the southwest, but found fewer and fewer trails that headed in the direction I wanted to go. Consequently, I ended up doing more hiking than biking. But I did surprise myself a couple times with how steep I was able to climb, over rocks, without dismounting - or falling over. One time, near the top of a particularly nasty climb, I got that "do or die" feeling where I HAD to keep pedaling, or else fall over and maybe crack my skull. I pedaled frantically, rear wheel spinning until it FINALLY gained traction, giving my best imitation of a hamster stuck on a wheel.
But that wasn't the most embarrassing part of the ride. What was worse were the descents. Just about every time the trail headed down - at least when I didn't chicken out listen to the voice of inner reason and dismount, you could hear the scrEAMing of my brakes echoing off the hills and trees, sending chipmunks, squirrels and other potential predators running for cover (assuming they weren't laughing hysterically). Toeing in my pads is job #1 before I ride again.
By this point, the shadows were getting longer and the light was getting weaker. According to my handy-dandy iPhone/GPS, I needed to get back to the powerline and follow it to the road. Only problem was that every trail I came across went away from the power line. So, I blazed my own trail - riding when I could, walking when I couldn't.
Problem with not following a trail, is that you don't really know where you're going. Problem with GPS is that it doesn't show terrain. Those two problems conspired to lead me here:
Not having highly-developed freeride skills, I decided to try to get down some other way. By this time, I was getting pretty tired of walking/carrying my bike and just wanted to get to the powerline, to the road, and home. When you're out in the woods and can only see a few dozen yards around you, it doesn't matter that you're not out in the wilderness of the Rockies - you can still get a little disoriented, especially when the sun goes down. It's been a long time since Boy Scouts, so I was glad the GPS got me - finally - to the power line.
That was the good news. The bad news was that following the powerline meant going either straight up, or straight down. More hiking rather than biking. But I didn't dare stray too far from the open sky of the 'line - at this point, the woods were getting pretty dark.
I knew from looking at the map that the "wilderness" area that I was romping around in wasn't all that vast, but I was relieved when - after what seemed like forever - I finally made it to the road. Not the road I was expecting to make it to, mind you, but at least one I was familiar with - if not quite from this direction.
With the terra firma of asphalt under my knobby tires, I hunkered down to time-trial home. Going by road, I was further away from home than I expected to be, but when I checked my Garmin, my off-road adventure had been less than 5 miles.
Despite my first-time experience, I'm actually itchin' to get back out in the woods. Maybe next time with someone who knows the trails and can give me some direction, literally and figuratively. It'd be a little less scary then, I figure.
I've discovered, as many others have, that off-road riding is a nice change of pace for a roadie and provides some additional motivation to ride during the off season. Mountain biking is certainly less fussy than road riding- from being able to just go out in jeans, to being able to resize a chain by just snapping on/off the "easy link", to just hosing off the mud for a couple minutes and pronouncing the bike "clean." And nothing could prepare me for the difference between riding in the woods, and then having to ride on the road with cars. The feeling - not to mention the noise - was profoundly different. No wonder so many folks forsake the road for the trail.
I'm not going to set any distance records - not at an average speed of around five miles per hour - and I rue the day I didn't opt for at least some suspension on the bike - other than my arms and legs. So I won't be hanging up my road bike anytime soon. I'd miss the speed and being able to cover much, much more ground for the time I'm out. But my "new" mountain bike provides a nice change of pace, helps me develop my handling skills (not to mention my tumbling skills), and motivates me to ride in a way the road bike doesn't.
And if it means more riding, that can't be bad at all.