Down I flew, enjoying the steep descent, a smile twitching at the corners of my mouth. Then -- a sudden sharp bend, lined with buckets of marble-sized gravel. A quick skitter, a futile application of fancy disk brakes, a full-on macarena-style shimmy in the front wheel, a leg out to correct myself, nearly okay now, but OH, NO, a DITCH! hidden in the grass at the edge of this thing they call a "road," and then...
... sailing... over the bars and through the forested air...
...the usual thoughts have plenty of time to make their leisurely way through the mind: "Not again!" "How much will this hurt?" "I'm all alone out here..."
WHAM! goes the body. BAM-SLAM!! goes the bike, ahead of me somewhere.
A choice expletive splits the quiet morning air. A few moments to see if a) I can breathe (check), b) there are any broken bones (negative), and c) I can move -- which I start to do, gingerly. Oh, so gingerly.
This happened last Saturday morning, about an hour and a half into a very rugged back-country ride through protected land in Shutesbury and then Wendell State Forest. The rest is the short story of a long, sweaty wrestling match with a tweaked rear derailleur, and an even longer slog back to the car, and thence, back home.
I was okay, not seriously injured. But how many times do I get to tell myself how lucky I am not to be seriously injured, before my luck runs out? In years of road cycling, I've crashed maybe twice on the road (once badly, but I was 16 and stupid). In one-plus year of off-road riding (mountain biking or, as on Saturday, nasty double-tracking), I've crashed about six times -- four of them serious, and three bad enough to leave me sleeping upright on the couch, or limping in abject pain, for weeks afterward.
* * *
Now, Mrs. V is the most supportive wife you could imagine. She knows I have to get my ya-yas out; she supports me in every way as a cyclist. But even saints have limits. When I recounted the tale to her upon my return (c'mon, I had to tell her, guys), she smiled sadly, and eventually worked her way around to the long-awaited moment where she asked me outright not to do any more off-roading.
Heaven knows, she's put up with a lot -- Saturday mornings with me gone for hours on rides. Weeks of yelping and whimpering from painful injuries. Sudden, lightning-like decisions to buy whole new bicycles, costing a lot of money. And yet she still gets happy that I get excited to ride, she loves that I love it. She's like that with every part of my life that's important to me -- encouraging, compassionate, forgiving. She is the original 24-carat gem.
So when she asks me directly to stop something, it's time to hit the brakes.
And here I was working my way around to buying myself a modest mountain bike! "Hey -- 26-inch wheels, that would certainly solve the problem, right? More maneuverability, lower center of gravity!" Yeah, right.
The bottom line is, I'm not meant for mountain biking. I've quickly reached the limits of my potential. I grew up in an apartment building in Manhattan, surrounded by pavement 24-7. The first time I climbed on a MTB, I was 45 -- and I came home with a deeply bruised trocanter (thigh bone) and various badly torn muscles. It took months to recover. She just smiled and rolled her eyes. I couldn't quit, I loved it too much.
Well... I have to quit. I'm 48, starting my own business, adopting a child, I have a wonderful marriage. It's time to think of others first. I can't do any of those things well with a cast on, or from a hospital bed.
The road riding stays -- that's a given. Its my provenance, my roots, planted way back in 1980. And I'm keeping the Vaya for now. It works beautifully on dirt roads, and I love dirt roads. I'm just going to have to stick to the tame ones. No farm fields (injury, caused by a hidden, rock-hard tire-rut). No single-track (headers, teetering sideways destructos). No "gravel roads" which are actually washed-out stream beds (Saturday's debacle).
I'm off to cry under the covers.