One thing I’ve learned about having fun is it’s best to risk one’s life to achieve it, and it must be preceded by excruciating toil. So, Jody, Jim Bob, my wife, and I all bought full suspension aluminum mountain bikes recently, and I met my 2 friends from childhood just off I-20 at Oxford, Alabama at a place called Coldwater Mountain on a snowy/sleeting Saturday morning on 5 hours sleep so we could have fun.
Jody and I arrived 15 minutes before Jim Bob, so I looked at the posted trail map and talked to a local who suggested sticking to the “bear” trails–presumably Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Bearly Legal, Bear Bryant, etc.–as those are the “greens,” meaning they’re good for beginners (like when skiing). So, we followed the bear trails until there was a split, and we had to decide whether to loop back to our parking spot (left) or take a blue trail that’d fly down the mountain on a path called “Bomb Dog” (right). I figured we’d go left, since we’re all pretty new at this, and rain was forecast to begin any minute, but my 2 companions biked to the right.
And so, on my very first time riding my new Marin Rift Zone 3 bike anywhere but my driveway, I was going to speed down an intermediate trail, where, according to the bike manufacturer’s website, I would pursue this:
Climbing up the mountain was painful. I had to walk my “fast paced, epic riding” bike for a good bit of it, as my friends’ bikes disappeared ahead of me, and I realized my exercise regimen is not preparing me for the level of cardiovascular health I need to pedal a bicycle up a couple miles of switchbacks over graveled wooded trails. Before long, I’d shed my jacket, drunk all my water, and was ready to find a nice cave where I could lie down and die.
Eventually, we reached the top, where my handlebars started swiveling up and down, just as I discovered the allen wrenches that came with my bike were in Jody’s MDX’s cupholder.
Maybe a couple hundred feet later, we saw some other bikers taking a break; one was the guy I saw in the parking lot who said we should stick to the “bear” trails. He had a multi-tool and tightened the 4 hexagonal screw things that held my handlebars to my fork. “You’re lucky you found us….no telling what would’ve happened to you on Bomb Dog with loose handlebars!” I knew I should’ve found that nice cave.
We took off down the hill, flying over rocks, up and down dirt hills, around banked turns, over roots and gravel, and down the side of the mountain. I only fell off once (and into some leaves, luckily). It was awesome. It was a forced state of focus I read about in Spring 1999 via Csikszentmihalyi’s “Finding Flow,” but I wasn’t so much an athlete in the “zone” as a terrified middle-aged man trying not to orphan his kids.
We stopped to marvel at our new bikes’ performance (Jody and JB have had other mountain bikes with which to compare their experiences; I have not), have a snack, and take a picture before beginning the ascent back to the parking lot–the sight of which I can only liken to how someone stranded on an island must feel when he spots a cruise ship.
I hadn’t even reached Jody’s bike rack before I’d found a Mexican cantina on Yelp just 2 miles away. “I need a beer…now.”
The 3 of us stopped just before I-20 for enchiladas and Modelos before Jody and I drove 1.5 hours east to Atlanta while JB headed an hour west to Birmingham. “We should do that again sometime soon!” Jody exclaimed before we all split up. “Ummmm…just not too soon…” I forced. “Unless they add a gondola?”
A few days later, I booked us weekend cabins in late March at Cheaha State Park…just a few minutes south of Coldwater Mountain’s biking trails.