It started simple enough. My wife’s cousin, Ken, was having a dilemma with a home building project he’s undertaking. My day job as a home builder gives me a little bit of background to help him out (though the distance between us makes it more of an “advice only” kind of help).
We talked about a time that might be good to come out and look at his house. Looking at my schedule, I saw I was going to be near him (sort of) last weekend – as I visited my alma mater, Juniata College. He offered to show me around some of his local mountain bike trails after looking at his project. With that offer, I knew I could make it out.
Ken lives in Ohiopyle, PA. It’s a fantastic place for the outdoor enthusiast! From cycling to whitewater rafting, you can find most anything to do that is adventurous and fun in the area – and it fits Ken very well. Ever since I’ve known him, I’ve known him as an outdoors-y type person. Currently, among other things, he serves as a Guide for the area (mostly in the water sports arena).
On Saturday, Ken asked when I would arrive. I told him I expected to leave campus around 8:00 – 8:30 the next morning. Sunday morning came – and I actually got off to an earlier start than expected – rolling out of town around 6:15 in the morning (eating a bagel sandwich from the local Sheetz store). I texted Ken to let him know I was on my way.
Three and one half hours later, I pulled into his driveway. As I got out of my vehicle and walked to his house, he greeted me through the window. It turns out, he had just woken up – since he didn’t expect me for two more hours.
We spent the next two hours touring his house project and property. It was really nice – a house by a stream. Mountains literally outside his door. I gave a little advice (quite honestly, it was a much different project than I’m typically a part of – more major remodel than brand new build), and we made a game plan to get him some CAD drawings that would be usable for him in the future.
The time came for some mountain biking – and I was excited to see the trails in the area. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast – so I grabbed a Clif Bar for some nourishment.
Ken pulled out his mountain bike – a nice 29″ Specialized full suspension bike. The tires were flat – and he admitted he’d only been riding a few times this year. He couldn’t remember the last time he was on it. He then told me that he really didn’t know anything about the mechanics of the bike – just to get on and pedal. I joked that – if we had a mechanical breakdown, I guess we couldn’t count on him. He cheerily agreed.
He asked me how much time I could spare. I figured only an hour or so – as I had another 3+ hour ride home. So, Ken decided we should start at a point near the top of the mountain. Since I’m not the lightest rider, less climbing was A-OK with me!
As we got to the trail head, Ken admitted he ate too much the night before (2 dinners) and, perhaps, imbibed a bit more than he should have. I laughed and said, “And so the excuses begin….” He was going to be hurting today – and he wanted me to know ahead of time.
As cyclists, we do it all the time (well, at least me and my cycling buddies do). We start making excuses before the ride – so that we can try to save face in the event we’re slow that day. It’s pretty normal and expected.
So, I expected the ride with Ken to be a fairly slow one. My wife’s family members know I’m an avid cyclist (as did Ken) – but I wanted to make sure he enjoyed the ride (as is difficult to do with those who don’t ride as much as I do).
We started pedaling on a trail that Ken never rode. It was nice singletrack – and there were places that had roots and rocks steep enough to make me stop. I figured that I’d follow Ken to let him set the pace. At one point, he stopped at a technical section. I had the ability to take a different line and pass by him. So, I led for awhile.
Ken watched as I did an endo on a small technical section that I should have easily cleared. He watched me do another one a little bit later – again, on a section that I should have cleared. We followed the trail until we crossed over a paved road and hit the wider jeep trail.
That’s when it happened! The jeep trail started climbing…….and kept climbing……..and then climbed some more. Ken was in front of me……….then further in front of me………then out of sight. Oh how I hate the long climbs (who am I kidding, I hate all climbs on a mountain bike)!
It gave me a lot of time to think. “Why are my legs not working today?” “Is it because I hadn’t eaten for 6 hours? That must be it!” “Am I really this out of shape and never knew it? If that’s the case, all of my cycling buddies are also that out of shape. That just can’t be!” Oh! The horror! My reputation as an avid cyclist was being debunked!
Ken was kind enough to wait for me at the top. I muttered that it looked like I was the one who needed excuses now. I told him to remind me the next time we ride – I’ll buy him a third dinner and an entire case of beer the night before. Maybe, then, I’d have a chance to keep up with him. He laughed and told me to not be so hard on myself. “It’s not a race,” he said (which is what you tell the slow guy when you don’t want to hurt his feelings. Yes – I’ve done it with folks for whom I had waited on past rides.).
We rode to an Information Hut to pick up a trail map. It gave me a chance to rest. The Information Hut was at the bottom of a popular sledding hill. After looking at the map, it appeared the trail continued right up over that sledding hill. We jumped back on the bike (ok, maybe I didn’t jump – knowing that sledding hill was facing me), and we started to climb. Ken zigzagged his way up the hill. I did so for a bit – only to get off and push the rest of the way.
After that climb, we soon came to a singletrack out-and-back loop. Only this loop wasn’t really out-and-back – it was UP-and-back-down. I’m not sure, but I think Ken may have been trying to get back at me for making those “excuses” jokes at the beginning. He was always very gracious, though.
As we rode, he told me a story of one mountain biking excursion he ended up leading with some fathers and their high school football sons. Surprisingly, it was the football sons who were pushing their bikes first.
So, I decided at the end of the ride, I’d just tell others that I was able to ride better than teenage football athletes. No one needs to know what that truly means. Maybe I can still keep my Cyclist Card for a little while longer…..