Before It Gets Better

It happens so fast, you know?

They tell you all sorts of things, like to “feather” the front brakes while going hard on the back brakes. Like hanging your weight at the back of the bike. And not to lean forward. And keeping the pedals horizontal–at 3 and 9–instead of at 6 and 12, so that they don’t catch  onto rocks or the sides of deep grooves.

And maybe the bike is a little big on me, but it’s also very light.

I. Am also very light.

Gravity doesn’t care. I’m on two wheels, and there are rocks and roots, and sometimes the trail isn’t much more than a couple feet wide before it falls steep. And suddenly.

There is a lot of skidding. And it is easy to slip.

I’m bringing up the rear, because I know I’m the slowest and most skittish.

Within the first 20 minutes, I fall off the side and into some brush. It’s a soft landing, but: gravity. I grab onto some branches to keep from sliding further.

I call out, “I fell.”

“Are you okay?” The girl ahead of me waits.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a second.”

My bike didn’t slide very far either, so I crawl back up to the trail and pull the bike up to me. I mount and begin riding the trail again.

I hit a relatively smooth section, and it doesn’t seem so bad. I do begin to go faster than I am comfortable, and I begin to squeeze the back brakes. The ground has gone from semi-firm earthiness to mostly dry clay and gravel. My rear tire starts to fishtail a little.

Two people in my group wait for me, about 150 feet ahead. I just met them this morning. The guy had told me not to hesitate walking any part of the trail that feels uncomfortable. He’s wearing full-upper-body armor because he’s a big daredevil. His girlfriend is friendly and smiles a lot and I instantly liked her when I met her. I’m excited to see them.

The trail breaks from the brush into an opening, a stretch of hard clay and rocks.  Some of the rocks are as big as mashers or golf balls, but they’re nowhere near as smooth or perfect. I come upon a drop–maybe 6 inches, with a root giving its edge a half-inch bump–or it comes upon me WAY TOO FAST, and in that instant I do everything wrong.

I probably pump the front brake. Hard.

I lean forward.

My pedals are vertical.

Then I am no longer holding onto the handlebars and my body is airborne.

Not sure for how long.

Not sure if my bike flew; if I landed near it or on it and then bounced off it.

I feel impact to my head. The ground slams the the left frontal side of my helmet, which pushes the same side of my sunglasses onto my left temple.

I land head first, then the rest of my body flips over.

I. Am very light.

I swear.

They say that swearing is a sign of stupidity, but my body is too busy processing pain to come up with anything intelligent to say.

However, I do roll onto my back from my left side to let my new friends know I’m alive.

The guy runs up to me. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“NO. REALLY.”

“I can move my limbs. It just hurts.”

“This is an advanced trail. I don’t know why they decided to bring you here for your first time.”

I learn later that the guy is a doctor.

He suggests we move off to the side of the trail in case other riders come down.

The girl runs up and I sit on a nearby log. She and the guy talk about options.

Do I head back up to the beginning of the trail, since I’m only a quarter of the way down? There’s talk of some sort of outlet halfway down where I could wait to meet the others.

I feel my throat tighten and then tears are rolling down my cheeks.

I can’t stop myself from crying because
-frustration
-embarrassment
-I hurt like hell.

The guy runs to get the rest of the group. The girl wonders if the guy got any of the fall on camera, because: cool story.  I try to laugh and the girl suggests I try eating something to calm down, because she see’s how shaken up I am.

She saw the crash. I only felt it.

The rest of the group comes. I ask one of the other girls for a wet wipe, and she hands me a small foil-lined packet. I open it, pull out the tissue and begin wiping the drying blood from my arms.

The others describe the rest of the trail to me.

They say there are switchbacks and rocky sections. They talk about steep sections with big rocks and roots. They say there are also gently rolling hills and shaded areas where it’s actually nice and I’d enjoy it.

The number of guys and girls in our group is even, so I get a balanced amount of technical riding advice and sympathy. From both genders, and it’s refreshing.

Heading back up no longer remains an option. They talk as if I’ll keep going.

Someone hands me my bike. I walk it back toward the trail, take a deep breath, and shake the nerves out of my arms.

I want to keep going.

And gravity will let me.

A little discussion.

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