The first time I went mountain biking was in Moab, Utah, and I hated it. Moab Utah is Mecca for mountain bikers. People comes from all over the world to do Slickrock Bike Trail, Captain Ahab, and the Whole Enchilada. I had gone to Moab with some of my coworkers from Colorado, and we didn’t do any of those trails. What we did instead was ride at the side of dirt roads so we could get covered in dirt as cars pulling trailers drove past. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.
The last time I had ridden a bike before that trip had been when I had comfortably fit on my Schwinn Red Flyer. When I went to Moab, I didn’t have a good bike or the right equipment. I rented a hardtail mountain bike, and off we went.
The temperature was in the upper 90’s and we rode at the side of various dirt roads in the middle of the day so the sun cooked us. Sitting perched on my bike, I felt like a slow-roasted rotisserie chicken. I didn’t have gloves, I didn’t have bike shorts, and the seat felt like it was going to cut me in half. My hands ached from gripping the handlebars. Worst of all, I came back to the hotel covered in dirt and looking and feeling like I had worked a construction job without getting paid. Everyone else had had a blast. I told them they were nuts as I spat out dirt.
The next day I turned my bike back into the rental company and not so politely told everyone that, while they went “mountain biking,” I would go 4-wheeling in my SUV. As they pedaled at the side of the dirt road, I raced past in air-conditioned comfort, honking while making sure they literally ate my dust. I swore never to go mountain biking again.
A Second Chance
In the fall following my trip to Moab, my wife started her junior year at Arizona State University. She got tired of walking to class so she bought a mountain bike to get around. She enjoyed it so she decided to go biking on some of the nearby trails. Arizona is a great place to mountain bike if you are stupid enough to do so. You can ride year-round without having to deal with snow or rain, and there are literally hundreds of miserable trails to ride within a half hour of Phoenix. She bought a book on the different trails and set off. Her first ride was on Desert Classic at South Mountain. She loved it and told me how much fun she’d had. I sneered at her and told her she was delusional.
She did other trails from the book and, after a few months, asked me to join her. I told her no. She kept badgering me about it and after a while I grudgingly gave in, mostly because I wanted to show her how I was right and she was wrong and how she must be doing something incorrectly to be having so much fun.
She took me to a bike shop, and I marched in with my list of complaints. I walked out with a full suspension bike, padded bike shorts, padded gloves, and a gel saddle. We loaded up our bikes and went to Hawe’s Loop. The ride was a revelation.
The Ride Was a Revelation
The trail was narrow, twisty singletrack that snaked over multiple mountains as it made its way down to the Bush Highway. There were no cars to dodge. The bike’s full suspension soaked up the rocks, and I didn’t get covered in dirt. It was also the middle of winter in Phoenix so the weather was absolutely perfect. We finished the ride and she asked me if I’d had fun. I admitted that I had. She asked me if I wanted to do it again. I said I did.
Over the next six months, we rode almost every day. During the week she would pick me up from work, and we would go riding. On weekends, we would ride one day and rock climb the next. Sometimes, we did both. We slowly worked our way through her book, and eventually made plans to pilgrimage to Moab. I called my coworkers in Colorado, and we all met in Moab for a three-day weekend.
Back to Moab
We rode Slickrock Bike Trail. Slickrock is a nine-mile roller coaster that winds its way up and down and across a highly eroded sandstone plateau. The ascents will humble even the best of mountain bikers, and the descents leave you questioning your sanity. About a mile from the parking lot, we came upon a pool of blood where someone had crashed and bled. The complaints soon started, and only my ex and I did the entire trail. Everyone else turned back to ride the familiar dirt roads.
It was the last time I ever rode with them.
Mountain Biking Has Been a Constant
In the twenty years since that trip, I have worked at four different companies, been spun off, acquired, outsourced, insourced, been married twice, had three kids, and owned four different houses. I have bought six different mountain bikes and ridden, and bled, on some of the most technical trails in the world. I have come face-to-face with bobcats, been divebombed by hawks, hissed at by Gila monsters, stayed away from rattlesnakes, and been spotlighted by police helicopters for riding at night.
Most of my rides are on black diamond trails, some with warning signs and most without. Hikers stare in astonishment as I ride up the mountains through rocks and then turn around and fly back down as gravity tries its best to kill me.
People ask me all the time why I ride. It is difficult, dangerous, expensive, and frequently life-threatening. On cold winter mornings it would be easier to stay in bed, and in the middle of the Phoenix summer when the temperature is only slightly less hot than the surface of the sun, I ask myself if I am crazy.
But when I am in the zone and hitting my lines and going up and down routes I have never done before, I am reminded that mountain biking, like most things in life, isn’t about the destination but the journey.
And that journey is done best on two wheels.