I’ve always known I could go over the handle bars. That’s what kept me from really opening things up when heading down hills on my mountain bike.
I imagine crazy hypotheticals such as a brake breaking, a tire coming off or a list of other catastrophes that end up with me flying.
I assume this tentative nature comes from childhood experiences. I think. At this point it’s a matter of me remembering copies of memories so who knows how it really went down. I do know that I used to ride with no one hand, then no hands because that was the fourth-grade flex. I remember riding around town or to the river with friends and getting close enough to rub tires, “on accident.”
I also remember bombing down a hill and the front tire wobbling. I remember the sickening feeling of a loose shoe lace wrapping around the pedal of my Huffy. I remember the chain grabbing the leg of my Carhartts and laying track.
At some point I took my first flight over the handle bars. I came around a corner a little hot, missed the turn to the gas station but figured the tall grass would slow my progress. However, there was a shin-high rock hidden in the grass that stopped the progress altogether. I was approached by a man in logging attire who asked me, almost laughing, if I was OK. I remember being more confused than hurt. There was no blood and I managed to tell him I was fine.
I’m not offended the dude laughed. Not everyone has the same response to bearing witness to a shocking event in which the participants appear to be fine and in some cases, it’s an odd yet uncontrollable reaction. Two buddies and I were robbed of $6 at gun point in college. As soon as the thief ran away and the cops were called, we started laughing. Weird.
Anyway, I have good biking memories too. The first time my hands shared the handle grip with the head of a salmon and I returned home a triumphant provider. I remember a particularly good day in which there were at least two on each side, handle through the gills, tail swatting at the tire, trying to find its way into the spokes.
I contemplated all of this over the weekend as my buddy, Dave, and I started the 4-mile trip back to the dock on a logging road that was steep in spots, but in pretty good shape. At 39, the rush still exists, but a fully-developed prefrontal cortex, housing information about the possibilities, makes risk assessments that it didn’t at 13.
While I agree with the “send it” ethos, I don’t want to send myself into unconsciousness and my buddy into the role of first responder.
I rode the brake hard and squeaked down the first of three steep declines. I gave Dave plenty of room so if he went down, I wouldn’t go off the road trying to avoid him, or run him over.
The road flattened and we casually chatted about hunting as we finished the route back to the boat which was tied up at a dock an hour or so from town.
It’s funny how riding bikes went from a simple mode of transportation and investigation as a kid to a satisfying mode of exercise which warrants something cold from the cooler and an afternoon of nothing more than being out of cellphone range.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.