My wife is a 4th grade teacher in a Los Gatos
grammar school. She brought home some papers to grade. I read one. It went something like this:
Mountain Biking in Los Gatos
Mountain biking in Los Gatos is a fun thing to do. And it's good exercise too. All you need is a bike and you need a helmet because otherwise the police will stop you and take your bike. You should have good air in your tires and they should not be flat. And also water.
All you need is water and a helmet and a bike and then if you're in Los Gatos you just go to the mountains and go up. Mountains are all around Los Gatos and also they're full of trees. Just go there between the trees and pedal. It might be hard to pedal uphill but you just switch to a low gear and its easier but still hard. Then when you're at the top you can go down.
Going down is the best part. Faster!
I insisted my wife give this lad an A+. She was worried about the grammar and the overall tenor of the composition but I didn't care. This child is a scion of the faith, and so deserves our nurture and support.
Don't for a moment think of Trout Fishing in America. When Richard Brautigan wrote Trout Fishing in America he was not yet one of America's premier beat writers. There was just a strange idea in his head about a guy named Trout Fishing in America who actually was sort of simultaneously a person, and fishing. Not a person fishing--but the idea of fishing.
Hang on a minute. I'll be right back.
My bike is the Moots YBB. It's the Vincent Black Shadow of mountain bikes. The ultimate bike. The bicicletta del tutti biciclette. The uberbike. The prophetic bike of the apocalypse. The one true bike. The alpha bike.
My bike. When I bought it, the magazine ad for it was: "Wake up and smell the Titanium," which is the coolest ad ever for anything.
My YBB is ten years old. It's full of scratches. For years I kept it immaculately clean but that whole scenario ended for me about six years ago when I realized that bikes have souls, like dogs. A bike has to be what it is instead of an advertisement for more bikes. You have to learn how to let it run out on long bumpy downhills. How to keep it locked up with the dirt on steep climbs. How far you can push it into turns.
When you crash, she crashes. When you hurt, she hurts.
Eventually, my bike asked me to stop the senseless show-off washings. Now I leave her dirty all the time.
I have never let anyone else ride my bike. She feels like me. She smells like me. She's like that girl with the dirty face that lived down the street who couldn't get over the fact you had different parts in your pants and would show you for a nickel, and later, anytime you wanted.
We loved each other before we knew there was a word for it. That's how I love my bike, with a word nobody knows.
I have taken apart every piece of that bike. Had bearings rolling around my living room floor. Axle grease all over. Springs and bumpers and handlebar grips forced on with compressed air and hair spray. There isn't a single atom of metal or rubber or kevlar or grease in my bike that I haven't touched or put there, inside and out.
You can't do that to a dog, by the way. There are laws.
I run IRC Mythos tires on heavy-duty Sunn rims. Run the 2.2's in the front, the 1.95s in the back. Not so concerned about the weight. When you weigh 195lbs you need the grip, and by the way a couple ounces of rubber don't mean that much, it wears.
Full XTR gruppo, though a mish-mash from different years, pre-nine-speed cassette. Avocet O2 saddle mounted on a Syncros aluminum post. Salsa releases. Scott performance grips. Tomac bar ends. Phil Wood bottom bracket. Shimano SPDs for pedals. Moots Ti stem and Ti handle bar swept back three degrees.
Every part on the YBB has been replaced at least twice. After every crash I bring her in for service. Runs around $300 a year to keep her on the road.
The last time I crashed was when I slid at twenty-five MPH coming down Kennedy Road after doing "Dog Meat". I was just a little too inattentive. Lost it on the 90-degree right hand bend and went about twenty yards on the pavement, shaving off a couple teeth on the outer chain ring, tacoing the front wheel when I hit the curb, mangling my bar end.
The tally was nearly $500 for that. I thought about springing for the latest 9-speed XTR gruppo, but the ridiculous injury situation sort of ended my season, so I just replaced the parts with equivalents. (The Kooka cranks were nearly irresistable. If they'd had them anodized in camo, I'd have done it. But they only had blue.)
Oh. And my helmet, too.
The wife and kids were a bit nervous that the road had torn off my jersey and the right leg of my riding shorts was split to the waist band. And then the bleeding parts made it hard to get the rest off me because the shorts had been road-burned and clotted into the muscle. The exposed bone sent the wife into spasms about needing the emergency room.
She doesn't understand mountain biking.
Here are some rules for mountain biking in Los Gatos. Read up. We're leaving soon:
- The mountain is the only truth. Everything else is a lame-assed whiny excuse.
- Mountain Biking is 90% uphill and 10% downhill. If you don't like climbing hills on a bike, you won't like mountain biking
- You will learn to love climbing
- The top of the hill is a lot closer than it looks
- You like that it's far away
- There's only a mile to go
- Dilute your Gatorade with water so you don't puke
- When going downhill, always shout to the uphill bikers how many more descending behind you so they don't drift into the center of the trail and get whacked
- Shift into a lower gear BEFORE you start climbing
- Nobody thinks they look good in lycra
- Everyone gets blisters
- Not wearing lycra while riding is painful. Wear lycra
- Everyone gets cramps because they forgot their damned electrolyte-rich sports drink
- Having pains that aren't caused by a crash is normal and may be caused by your own stupidity. Nobody wants to hear about it.
- Everyone pukes.
- Shut up and ride.
- When a mountain biker recommends a cool trail to take it's because he had a near-death experience there.
- The top of the hill is right there.
- When you're going uphill, and the girls are coming downhill hunched over their handle bars so you can see right down their jerseys, it's okay to look because they'll be gone fast and besides, they're smiling.
- Learn to bunny hop your bike. One day you'll need to hop your bike over something. Probably today.
- If you whine, people will ditch you and you'll have to find your way back to the car by yourself
- The first time you try to bunny hop something on your mountain bike you'll miss and crash.
- The second time you try to bunny hop something on your mountain bike you'll miss and crash
- Eventually, you'll get sick of crashing and learn to bunny hop
- All women look great in mountain biking clothes. You will see some and you will remember this.
- When you're falling at high speeds, try to curl up into a ball and hit the ground with your shoulder first. Sometimes it doesn't work and you may be paralyzed for life.
- When you get that dizzy, sick feeling and you pass out it's because you bonked. Now you get to eat your power bar and you have that great downhill to cruise dizzy, besides.
- If there's no blood, it's not mountain biking.
- It's ok to eye the guys. It makes us less self-conscious of how we look in lycra.
- Mountain bikers lie. All the time.
- The mountain is the only truth
- Mountain bike sex isn't all that great and you get dirt and leaves everywhere. But hey, you just had sex and all those sweaty bleeding schmoes are killing themselves biking to the top of a hill
- If you've just had mountain bike sex, you have priority
- Nobody knows what that means
- I swear. We're almost there.
- Yes, I actually like this
- Shut up and ride.
We'll take Shannon road over the hill. There are cars here. Stay to the shoulder and don't mind the bastards who try to clip you with the side mirror. I only know two people who were ever clipped and the surgery repaired everything.
We're going to do about two miles to the first crest, glide back down and in the gulley we'll take the right hand turn down Kennedy road. It's cool in here. Take advantage of the shade and the relatively flat grade. We can do eight--ten miles per hour easy here. Just think, Lance Armstrong averaged thirty miles per hour on a grade like this for five hours.
Shift down when we get to the peak. Then over the top. Clutch the seat between your thighs, hang your butt over the rear wheel and see if you can get it to thirty-five before we stop at the bottom.
Now up Kennedy. This one's a little steeper. These gates along the road bar the driveways of rich people. Peggy Fleming lives up there. Jimmy DeGrasso lives up there. He used to play drums for Megadeth and Alice Cooper. He's a mountain biker too. He's out all the time. Real nice guy. Rides a Trek. (My bike is better)
A little steep around the switch back. Up the curve. Now look to your left and see the valley floor for the first time. To the left the hill rises and there are goats and roosters up there. Behind an old barbed-wire fence we can see the dirty-white goats grazing on straw; chickens strutting between their feet.
There's a deer. Didja miss it? Right there. A buck. Four points.
No, no mountain lions sighted up here, yet. Though when there are a lot of deer like this you never know, they sometimes come in out of the hills. At least once a year someone gets killed by one. Chances are we won't, though.
How are you feeling? The trail head is just up ahead. Over that rise.
Did you hear that? Golden Eagle hunting rats and rabbits. Look at the sky. It's getting bluer. We're getting close to the dirt, away from the cars; the noise.
A car goes by. It's the last one we'll see for a while. Go through the gate. Other side is the dirt.
They call this trail, "Dog Meat". It's also called Sierra Azul on the maps. But the bikers know it as Dog Meat. You'll see why in about an hour.
There was a lot of rain this year but it's been dry for the past few weeks so the dirt is hard and compacted. Great time to ride because there's no dust. Just gotta watch out for the ruts--those petrified tire tracks in what used to be mud, but is now something close to rock. In a month, this will be a half-inch of dust and it will be a bitch and a half to climb here.
Ok. Drop down into your granny gear, this first pitch is steep. Follow me. Get out on the front of your bar ends, slide your ass to the point of your seat--yeah sure, it hurts if you keep all your weight there--weight in your legs, ok? Forearms parallel to the slope and hit the pedal hard in slow, smooth strokes. Think circles. Get low. Like your belly button is going to touch the top tube of the frame.
Come on. one-two-three you can do it. Stay with me. Don't let your rear wheel spin---awww shit.
No problem. Get up--fast. Hurry before those guys coming down run you over.
"Howdy. Good ride?" Get up and say hi to the ladies. You can't? Stop whining. It's only a little blood. Remounting the bike on a hill is a skill we're about to learn. Point the bike perpendicular to the fall line. Get to the left of the bike. Your other left. Now, left foot on the left pedal, wait till nobody's coming down, then hop up on the pedal, swing your foot over, stay really low, get your right foot on the right pedal and stomp it down, then aim north up the hill and follow me.
Good job. What would have happened if you'd have gone over the side of the hill? Damned if I know. Never seen anyone do it. You'd die, I guess.
Ok, now the grade is more shallow. Let's take it easy for a while. Smell that sage? The spicy scent of the wild herbs? Notice the quiet?
You can feel the sunlight here. It dribbles from the sky like pancake syrup, warming the muscles. Feast of the gods, my friend. Feast of the gods.
See that? Rattlesnake. Ever seen one that close before? Once I had one strike at me. I guess the bike frame was the same temperature as my skin because he struck the seat stay and missed my leg.
I bunny hopped, like six feet. No kidding. Heart going a million miles per hour.
See that huge red and blue butterfly? No, don't know what it is. Those bright orange flowers are California poppies.
Watch this guy--he's coming on fast. Damn. Bastard doesn't know where his brakes are. Guys like that who come bombing down hiking trails is what gets us bikers banished from beautiful places like this. He said, "Three back," so stay to the side till his three friends pass. One--two--there they go. Ok, we're clear.
Watch this. Watch this. Come up over the top of the hill, and...wait for it...wait for it...there.
Look at that view. The mountains, how the ones in front are green and they get bluer the farther away they are. The white mist in the valleys. Listen to that--ever hear anything that quiet? I know you're breathing hard after the climb, let's just sit here a while.
Feel that? That's truth. Didn't know you could feel it, did you? The truth is the mountain, my friend. The power is the mountain. We come to the mountain in supplication. With humility. And what do we ask? We ask for the mountain's power. And we are granted that power in tiny increments. Every breath of mountain power wears us down. That's why you breathe so hard. Every ounce of mountain power pushes us higher toward the heavens. We move forward, the mountain pushes us upward, and to prove we're worthy, we push back, and our heads come closer to the clouds.
Now follow. Stay low. This trail is steep. Remember the prayer.
What do you ask? Are you worthy of the mountains truth?
Step by step. Crank circles. Think smooth. Lowest gear. Belly to the top tube. Climb out onto the bar ends--follow me--hard to speak.
Don't stop. See the ridge? See the top? That's it. It's pulling us. We can't stop.
Couldn't if we wanted.
One. Two. Circles. Smooth circles.
Watch the rock. Low. Crank.
You can do it.
You can do it.
The mountain wants you. Follow.
Stop. Look. Suck in the air. Look how high we are. The sky is almost black up here. No clouds. No sound but the wind and the blood pounding through our brains and ears.
Look at that view. All the way north--there's the city of San Francisco. To the east, that's San Jose. There's the Mount Hamilton range, those brown mountains. All the way north, you can see Mount Tam, the birthplace of mountain biking.
And here, here are our sisters and brother in lycra. We all stop at the top of the hill. This is where we stop and thank the world for the sperm and egg that became us. This is where we thank God for the privilege of meeting his mountain, of breathing his air and meeting his sky. This is where we're human become gods.
Thank you mom and dad, for screwing and making me so I could do this.
Hey, those women are eyeing your ultra-cool poly-pro Dilbert biking jersey. Damn, they're checking you out. She's coming over.
Great day for a ride!
You ladies come up from down town?
"Yep. Up the hard way."
Oooh. That's hardcore.
"You guys come up Kennedy?"
Yeah, well, I have a friend here. First timer on a rented bike. Next time I'll show her the way you came to instill the proper humility.
"What kind of bike is that?"
This bike? My bike? I dunno. It's some kind of old bike.
Damn--Look at that sky. Look at the sun. Look at the valley below us.
God, how I love this.
I'm not much of a descender. But we're up here so we gotta go down. So here's what you do.
First--don't lean on the brakes. Some of that rough stuff we came over on the way up--you need speed to get over it on the way down. Go too slow, you'll catch your front wheel and endo. Broken neck. Rest of your life in an iron lung, sort of thing. Okay?
So keep up with my speed. Remember to counter-steer in the turns. Inside foot up, outside foot stomps down on the pedal, weight is on the outside foot, okay?
Now, you gotta get off your seat--opposite of climbing where we were in the seat the whole time. Off the seat, lean back. Where it's really steep, you might even have your belly on the saddle.
Don't white-knuckle the handle bars or your teeth will chatter apart. Hands loose. Palms resting on the grips. I know, it feels like you gotta hang on for dear life, but the truth is, when you're plummeting downhill at forty miles per hour grabbing onto a twenty-two pound bike isn't going to mean squat when it comes to stopping one-hundred and twenty pounds of flying you. So you may as well be loose about it.
Look way out front. Doesn't matter what's going under your tires. By the time it's close to you, it's too late to do anything. Follow the line, and plan your turns in advance. Lean way back. Remember all your braking power is in the front brake, so you gotta stay backward to keep from endoing.
Remember--endo--paralysis. And besides, you'll look like a total jerk in front of those guys and women, who are going to follow us. Ok? Uphill climbers have the right of way. Ok? And remember to tell them we have four riders behind us. Shout it to whomever we pass. Ok? Can you remember all that? If you remember anything--just keep your weight backward.
Let the speed take you.
I GOT NO FRIENDS THEY ALL READ THE PAPERS, THEY CAN'T BE SEEN, WITH ME, NOW I'M FEELING REAL SHOT DOWN AND I'M, FEELING MEAN. NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY!
Wheeeeooo. Was that fucking cool or what?
Yeah, I was singing. I always sing on the downhills.
No, my knees aren't shaking. I'm just kind of jazzed.
Your knees shake when you have an orgasm? So it was like that? Was it, you know, that seat shaking or something?
No More Mister Nice Guy It's an Alice Cooper song. For some reason it comes to me when I'm flying downhill.
No, I didn't. You actually came?
Jeezus. Now I know why so many women do this.
No, I swear. I've never come on the downhill. I don't think that happens to boys. We're sorta built different. In fact, it kind of hurts if the seat smacks against--well, you know. It's just sort of a spiritual experience for me.
Well, I'm glad you liked the dialog.
I wish you'd stop calling me that, Richard Brautigan not withstanding.
Yes, it was a good ride. You didn't hold me back. I'm not as macho as I used to be, anyway.
Wanna get some coffee?
Yes, we can go again next week. Just don't tell my wife about the orgasm or I'm, like, in huge trouble.
I am a disciple of the mountain. I am a scion of the bicycle. I am a true believer.
Mountain biking is sex and god all together on a Saturday afternoon.
This is my essay.