There is nothing quite like bombing through a forest on your bike, a bed of fallen leaves beneath your tires. One moment you're in a sparse maple forest, the next you're on a bed of pine needles shadowed by towering spruce trees.
Not only do you get to experience nature, but as a cyclist it's a whole different challenge. Staying upright as you navigate between trees, across sand or mud, over a stump, around tight turns... you figure out how to keep a bike upright very fast, or end up on your butt.
If you attack the trails, you get the adrenaline junkie experience of trees whipping by your head and being just a little bit out of control. Or you can back off a bit, take it easy, and soak up your surroundings.
And the surroundings can be spectacular... especially when the fall colours are at their most brilliant, it's amazing.
With the challenge comes the occasional painful moment. I had two this weekend.
First, we ended up on a trail blocked by several downed trees. As we crawled over and under them, I managed to get a few good gashes from dead branches that were sticking out (see picture). No big deal, they clotted and I kept riding, but not for pretty boys!
Second, as we rode down a rather narrow trail, I failed to notice a thick branch at head level... as I went under it, it clipped the top of my helmet, snapping my head back. My neck immediately hurt which made me quite concerned I'd done serious damage... fortunately it felt better within a minute and after a sleep it's fine.
Most of my spills have been at low speed and didn't do any damage, other than to my pride.
But we've had other incidents over the years... a buddy of mine cracked a helmet on a fall, that and I had a pretty good spill at high speed when I hit some sand that knocked the wind out of me. Both were scary, as you realize just how far away any real medical assistance would be. We've been more cautious since, and we're better riders than when we first started.
Joy > Pain
Is it worth it? Absolutely! If you're just starting out, here's some tips:
- Stay on the main trails ("double track") until you get used to it and get your bike handling skills up to snuff
- Keep in control - and that really means keep the speeds low, especially downhill. It's easy to get going quick, only to realize too late that there's something in your path.
- Watch for mud and sand... these can be right smack in the middle of the trail, and it takes practice to be able to navigate through them without taking a spill.
- Wear a Lid - helmets are absolutely critical while mountain biking, it's suicide to be out there without it.
- Carry first aid stuff and cel phone - just in case
- Don't ride alone
Next up... mountain bike skills 101.