Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation that’s well over my head. And that’s okay. More often than not, these situations are learning experiences. But, sometimes, these situations leave scars.
As I slid face first through the gravel, I rolled this over in my head. It’s funny when you think you’ve got something dialed and a small decision makes you realize that you don’t know a damn thing about what you’re doing. That’s kind of how I felt about my first weekend of mountain biking.
A few weeks earlier, I received an email from Teton Gravity Research, asking if I’d like to check out the riding around Mammoth Lakes. I assumed this would be the standard press trip, a light tour of trails and restaurants with more boozing than pedaling. So, without having any trail experience, I thought I’d be okay. Clearly, there was a misunderstanding.
When I arrived at the hotel and began meeting the group— biking badasses like Bike Magazine’s Nicole Formosa, endurance athlete Heidi Volpe, and pro riders Luke Wynen and Phil Mooney— I had the first inkling that I would probably get a pretty good workout. We went for a cruise around the in-town Shady Rest area, climbing and coasting the network of single tracks and double tracks. It was a cute warm-up for Saturday’s blitz.
I needed to wreck. I didn’t really enjoy the dirt-blood coleslaw of my elbows or the spinal whiplash. But eating shit does serve a purpose. A good fall usually makes a good story—especially when you’re already in over your head.
Mammoth is well known in the mountain biking realm for the resort’s eighty miles of downhill lift-serviced trails. The mountain is home to the Kamikaze Bike Games, one of the sport’s gnarliest race series. But beyond the chairlifts and condos of the resort area, there’s a huge amount of riding to be done.
The Eastern Sierra rise more than a vertical mile from the Owens River Valley. In some spots, you can drive to nearly 10,000 feet. In the Mammoth area, trails like Wheeler Crest, Sand Canyon, and Wagon Wheel connect the upper reaches to the floor of the valley.
As I came to find out, these trails are steep, rocky and technical, but also beautiful. They drop from the subalpine, with its big gnarly Jeffrey Pines and small lakes, to the sagebrush desert. The White Mountains stretch along the horizon, and the Sierra peaks tend to jump out around the corners.
Rock Creek Canyon, a winding nine mile singletrack, is an absolute must for any trail rider. The first section has flowing chicanes along the creek. The lower parts start to get narrower and more technical. A few rock piles offer sketchy lines that would probably be thrilling, if you shred. I was lucky to make it down without falling in the water.
As we rode, the group stopped often for photos and I’d come chugging up behind them. But it wasn’t too long before I started to get the hang of dodging rocks, pumping into turns and generally letting loose on open downhill stretches. That was all fine and well, until I got cocky.
Most of the group was waiting at the bottom of a long steep double track on one of the higher trails. Despite my overall out-of-control-ness, I made it through this section without falling and without completely melting my brakes. To show off my new competency, I thought I’d bust a little air off a jutting rock. The instant my wheels touched down, I found myself bent scorpion, face in dust, with the handlebars massaging my back.
All heads turned, but no one seemed especially surprised—myself included. I imagine they’ve all had their falls, the majority of them likely much worse. I untangled myself and stood up.
In some ways, I needed to wreck. I didn’t really enjoy the dirt-blood coleslaw of my elbows or the spinal whiplash. But eating shit does serve a purpose. A good fall usually makes a good story—especially when you’re already in over your head.
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