Yeah, Baby!

(Note: I wrote this a year ago in 2017. Not sure why I never published it then. It was a fun read for me, because I’m cleaning half the stuff I didn’t when I wrote this piece. And I’m glad there’s still stuff I don’t clean.

It was 50 degrees. Korey looked at what I was wearing and said incredulously, “Do you know where we’re going?”

Korey and at Chris were in shorts. I was overdressed, but damn, it’s February. In New England. The leg-warmers came off and we headed out to the mud of River Road. A quarter of a mile on, we ducked onto a trail, up and over a rise and a rock garden and then down a steep, rocky bit. It’s wet and I’m nervous. Keep my weight back, relax, look ahead, ride it out.

We hit some fast and twisty rollers next, roll down and up a gully, and then dismount to carry our bikes up the stairs to the narrow truss bridge, all twisted laterally from the floods a couple of years back. Across the river, we walk some rocks and then mount up, riding the old rail bed for half a mile or so, legs cold from puddle splash.

It’s coming. I know it. We turn off the old train bed, almost back parallel to it, and hit the wall. I’m not warmed up. No one is. My friends clean the pitch, but I spin out at the bottom and trot up. (2018 – Still not cleaning this – It’s a goal) The grade lessens. I remount, start spinning. Almost make the top, but I’m in too low a gear and a big rock stops me. How the hell do you get over a big rock in the middle of a climb? (2018 – Clean this) I wonder. I know, speed. Korey and Chris are out of sight over the top. It flattens and I ride hard to catch them, lungs burning.

Downhill now. Remember what Jeff said. Relax. Trust your bike. Look ahead. Don’t look at your wheel. If an obstacle is at your wheel, it’s too late anyway. Trail. Trail. Where’s the trail? There. Korey and Chris are waiting for me. Down the old log road, through rocks furry with moss. Plan your line, I think. Roll, bump, back wheel bounce. I’m through. Let it roll down to the hayfield. I blow the big stream crossing, but now I see the line is between the rocks and not to the side. Next time. (2018 – Clean it)

Catch up, dart through the stone wall, cross the stream; pedal, pedal, pedal, don’t lose momentum. And here it comes. The real climb. It’s insanely steep. Not even Korey cleans it. Chris tries hard though, his breathing sounding like a rutting buck. (2018 – Still no)

Over the top, across the charcoal mound left from when colliers used to burn piles of wood to make charcoal for the iron furnace, through the laurels and over the stream. I hit it too slow. Stop in the middle, my left foot in the water. Fuck me. Waddle out, clip in, pedal. New bike. Trust the bike. And now we’re out on Weller’s Bridge. Turning around on the pavement, we head back the way we came. Trails look completely different depending on the direction you ride them.

I nail the stream crossing this time, but only make it part way up the next climb. (2018 – Clean it sometimes) Then a quick left onto what I think of as the Laurel Trail. It’s a short, technical climb that I walk up, to a serpentine trail that slots through a grove of laurels with almost no room for a bike. (2018 – Clean it) Ride, ride, ride. Can’t see my boys. Hill. Trail. Where’s the damn trail? There it is. Center my weight. Pedalpedalpedal. And spin out. Damn. (2018 – Clean it) Trotting again, then I’m rolling the rock ledge on top, onto another old log road, or maybe it’s the same one. I don’t know. We never ride it through, stopping at one point and reversing. (2018 – Rode it out last fall) Korey and Chris are waiting for me, and it’s back through the laurels. I clean the trail. Never did that before. Sweet!

Down the big hill that Chris rutted up, across the little stream cleanly, back through the stone wall. Zig. Zag. Fast. Coming back, I clean the big stream crossing. First time. I whoop. Chris hollers back, “That sounded like a fucking whale breaching!”

We slow through the hayfield, chat a little about bikes, and we’re going up the log road. I follow Chris’s line, give him shit about how bad it is, and then make it uphill though most of the rock garden. The spot I don’t clean, Chris misses too. I don’t feel so bad. (2018 – Spent half an hour sessioning this last fall. Still not cleaning it.) We ride on. I stop to pull a stick out of my wheel, clip in, pedal. Hill. Where’s the trail? There’s the trail. Steep. Center my weight. Pedalpedalpedal. Damn! I’m up the steep part. Lungs on fire, I pick a line through some rocks to finish the climb and I’m over. Riding down now, I drop easily over the rock that stopped me coming in and it’s down the first big hill. I give the bike her lead. Yeah, I’m thinking of my bike as a she now. Picking a good line, we pick up speed. The back wheel slips out on a curve, just a little, just enough to caution me because next comes the really steep part but there’s a great run out at the bottom and no rocks and then I’m back on the rail bed and riding out.

Feeling good. I rode that better than ever before. We drink a beer or two in the parking lot, but it’s colder now and even Chris’s propane heater doesn’t compete with the call of home and dinner.



About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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