Byron Scarbrough, Outdoors page writer
Like a ten year old kid again I revisit the sensation of “flying” downhill on my bike. Only it’s not 1976, I’m not on my green Schwinn Sting Ray with the banana seat and the Evel Knieval stickers, and this surely is not Berkshire Road hill. The stakes are much higher than a skinned knee, and my thighs are telling me that I am really much too old to be doing this.
Most men approach midlife by gifting themselves an indulgence like a sports car, a 92 inch Plasma TV, a recliner with a built in massager or such. I am not so keen about “slowing down” as I age, and so I throw a little gas on the fire. I decided to fight mid-life mediocrity by buying myself a birthday present and taking up the hobby of mountain biking. I figured if I put my mind in the frame of a twenty-something, my body will follow. Here, at the bottom of the hill with my thighs on fire and my chest heaving for breath, there appears to have been more to that equation than I thought. A short string of three bikes goes whizzing past me as I turn, dangerously close. The last rider issues the apology, “Excuse me, sir!” and I think “Sir?” How about an old-fashioned “Get out of the way, dude!” But I realize I have earned the modicum of respect honestly, as I am probably near his father’s age. That’s ok, it comes quite literally with the territory, I mount back up and start uphill, my knees creaking like a door on a hundred year old farmhouse.
Mountain biking often involves an element of orienteering or map and compass work. I suppose mountain biking began when somebody took a regular bicycle off-road and made a path through the woods. Pretty soon others followed that guy, but they didn’t know where they were going. Maps play a pretty big part in mountain biking when you’re in a wilderness area or somewhere you’ve never gone before. The compass has generally become a thing of the past as the GPS gives one so much more information including onboard maps, where you’re going, where you’ve been. However, the compass never fails to work on an overcast day or down in a canyon when satellites are out of reach.
Because you’re going off road and away from the things of man, mountain biking is a sport for the self-reliant. This means you’d better be mechanically inclined because there is no AAA for bikes. Also, if something goes wrong, you’re all alone to deal with an injury. Remember that biking allows you to put some miles between yourself and civilization, so you might be 16 miles from the place you started when you hit that bump, go over the handlebars and separate your shoulder. It’s for these reasons that every mountain biker should carry certain minimum gear on the trail, in addition to water and all those expensive energy bars!
Keep a basic first aid kit; just enough to handle a few contingencies. A few small finger Band-Aids for a slice or tear from that multiflora rose bush you didn’t see. A small tube of tri-biotic ointment and some 3×5 adhesive bandages to cover an abrasion or “road rash”, a triangular bandage for binding wounds or holding a dislocated flipper in place, and Quickclot, a fast cauterizing first-aid powder that stops bleeding when what you really need is stitches. If these few items don’t get you back to the car, I hope you carried your cell phone with you.
Likewise, a few basic tools can help keep you from having to call it quits early and making a long walk back. Most hardware on bikes is adjusted by a hex or star fitting, so carry a universal set of Allen wrenches and a Torx tool. From a sticking brake to a loose shifter bolt, it’s a quick fix. By the same measure, carry a couple of combination wrenches in the 2 or maybe 3 sizes you need. Check your bike to tell which ones, don’t carry the whole set if you won’t ever need them. It’s a little extra weight, but it’s worth it, especially if you bike alone like I do. Lastly, a small air pump, for obvious reasons. You’d be surprised how often this will come in handy.
Despite all my complaining, mountain biking has really been a joy in my recreational life, and the great thing about it is you don’t need to bite off any more than you can chew. There are trails for every level of confidence, many in and around Lorain County. Get Outdoors!