The Last Ride of 2020

When I got to Waldo, the gate was closed so I had to park outside. The day was cold, gray, and a little windy, but the night was supposed to bring rain, so this was the moment. I was alone – No one else was able to find the time.

Riding alone scared me until Chris set me straight a few months ago.

“You’re no more likely to get hurt. If you do, someone will probably be along soon anyway. Plus you have a phone. And if you want to repeat a section, you’re not holding anyone back. Don’t be a pussy.”

I’m not sure he actually said the last part. I heard it though.

Chris’s rationality is one of his best attributes.

I almost cleaned the first rock on Red, but my roadie-spin instinct got in the way. My front wheel got over, I but needed to be one gear higher to complete the move. Mainly though, I wasn’t afraid to try it.

The first two rock gardens were easy like they used to be, the lines obvious and my feet light on the pedals (which, I think, really means heavy on the pedals because my ass was light on the seat). The third was cake, and I made it over the logs.

For the third or fourth time in a row, the climb to the power lines was no big deal. Pedaling and looking ahead got me through the break in the stone wall, and looking ahead and pedaling more got me between the rocks and over the bump between the trees. The little chicane with the root and the trees and the rocks took just a little dance and a kick on the cranks and the next thing I was climbing the gravel ramp to the power lines.

I schralped the Schralpin’ Turns just fine. The re-route from the May 15 storm, the one that shoots up the rock slab to an immediate 90 degree turn between some jagged rocks, went perfectly. The slab scrubbed off just the right amount of speed to make the turn. After that, I got through the stupid rooty turn that’s always a problem and shouldn’t be, and then across the big beech root that looks like a big deal but isn’t.

The Yellowvator was nothing. For the first time ever I didn’t ride around the stone wall beyond the big new log-over. It too was nothing, but then I managed to fall off the boardwalk. Taking a turn too tightly, my back wheel dropped off. No big deal except the inside pedal was bottomed. It jammed on the boards and levered me sideways to land on my side in the mud, laughing at the absurdity of my Artie Johnson tumble.

Then on to Purple, where once again, I cleaned the first rock garden handily. It’s so psychological. I’ve been physically capable for months, but just didn’t have the grit to look ahead and pedal. Then, I followed someone else through, saw them take the line I always did take, and somehow that convinced my brain again that I could do it. I love that feeling when I’m halfway through something that scared me and I suddenly know I’m going to nail it. There’s a high line that’s better here, but the low line looks safer.

I took the high line.

Catching up to a group, I stopped by the quartz mine for a pull from my Camelback to give them time to get out front. Dismounting, I moved a few sticks out of the trail, then clipped back in holding onto a tree so I could zoom the ledge into the turns. As I came down from the turns after the quartz mine, a woman had her phone out videoing a man going over the rock before the high stone wall crossing. He hit it fast and there was four feet of air below his tires before he nailed the landing. I whooped out, “Nice!”, just for having seen that.

Moby bounced around more than I’d like on the descents. Probably need to let a little air out of my fork. Climbing up from the lake was the easiest it’s been in a year and a half. By the time I got to the top of the Yellowvator again, it was time to ride out. I’d been aerobic for a full hour and my legs were feeling it.

But I was feeling it. I’d been engaged with the bike and the trail for a solid hour of problem solving. Sure, I know the problems well, but also not so well. Not only am I still at some uncertain point on the Dunning-Kruger slope after fucking up my knee, the trails are different every time I ride them. It was good to have ridden alone. There were no distractions, no chats, just my brain and my body learning to trust each other again.

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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