The Ride Inside You

March 5, 2008

Clip in, drag the pedal to about two o’clock, then push forward to begin your ride. If you’re harder core, then you pilot your bike to the trailhead, circle the parking lot for about four minutes collecting a posse and then dash into the woods.

For mountain bikers, starting a ride is that easy. You know where and when a ride begins…it’s the end of a ride that people often have difficulty delineating.

Does a ride end when the leader has had enough? When the light gives out? If the bugs get too blood-thirsty? If it’s close to 8:20 and you know that if you get to Redbones too late there won’t be an empty stool or table in the joint?

Or does a ride continue well past the baby-wipe wash-up and helmet for baseball cap trade? Does the ride drift into the night taking the form of laughter and conversation over beer, sangria and multiple glasses of water?

We’ve just come off a fairly productive winter season for Mother Nature and my mind is still full of ski trails, snowboard runs and thawing my feet at the lodge fireplace. But the flashback isn’t because I miss the snow, it’s because riding a trail during cold weather holds the same karmic and physiological impact that cruising the dirt offers.

Come back with me for a second to a Caprice Classic station wagon jammed with kids. Or better yet, a diesel-scented bus that departed the high school at 5AM on a weekend morning. After an entire day of attacking the trails to the strains of Rush, Wham and Richard Marx, you found yourself back on the bus with exhausted classmates and friends.

And you took the trails and the rides with you.

Even as the bus rocked down the road you laughed about each run. You could still feel the sudden slip of the board beneath your feet as you almost lost it on a turn…but recovered. You shriek about the air you caught (any air counts as shriek-worthy, just getting the board off the snow or the wheels off the dirt is an admirable feat). And the ride continues.

I liken the physical feedback most to being on a boat. I’ve grown up by the water and have fished, skied, sailed and sped along the water for more than 30 years. But that familiarity doesn’t dull the sense of bringing the gentle rocking of the water with me when I step on shore.

Even now, as I take the commuter boat into Boston I feel the water rolling underneath me as I stroll through the Financial District and Boston Common.

The dirt does the same thing for me.

Rolling through the playground at Otis, I feel each whoop in my gut and my throat.

Screaming down the switchbacks at Wompatuck, the inertia stays with me long after the smell of bug spray fades.

Climbing the loose gravel at Vietnam, freewheeling the wide lanes at Great Brook, hopping on rocks at Lynn, and riding politely and carefully at the Fells all give me a sensation to take home and cherish.

Ultimately, it’s not how much air you get or the equipment you ride or even where you take your bike. It comes down to how much riding is left inside you after you leave the trail.