Saturday, November 23, 2013

Back in the Saddle, Late October

It’s the end of autumn and things are mostly back to normal. Ahead of me, I hear the low rumble of my 
boyfriend’s brand-new KTM 250 XCF-W winding up to a howl, then the shiny orange machine rockets out of sight around a sweeping uphill turn. He’s ridden maybe three times since coming back after a season with a busted knee, and already my odds of keeping up with him have decreased from 2:1 to…well, nil, by the looks of things. Deciding to ignore my invented statistics, I pin it in pursuit, my rear tire spinning on fallen leaves and mud.

I wring out second gear and upshift to third, but there’s still no sign of Greg. The faster I go, the better the tire feels, and the water bars that made for a bouncy descent half an hour ago are excellent jumps in reverse. After many steep switchbacks, the trail levels out and the water bars turn into with washouts. Flying along under a canopy of evergreens, I see a particularly wide ravine blocking the trail ahead of me. On the right, the ground rises like a ramp before it drops off—I make a half-assed attempt to preload my suspension as I hit it, throttle wide. The bike revs higher as it arcs through the air, then my rear tire hits the top of the opposite bank, slinging mud as it sends me tidily on my way.

Remarkable, I think—that was the most air I’ve ever gotten, at least while still connected with the bike. A hundred yards later, I see a flash of orange amid the gold of the autumn leaves: finally, there’s Greg. Rolling up beside him, I ask how long he’s been waiting. About four minutes, he replies. It has been three minutes since I last saw him. I do some quick calculations and decide that this is impossible unless he’s been going several times faster than the speed of light, which, meaning no disrespect to his skill, I doubt. Before I can confront him about this, a 2005 KTM SX buzzes up to us. Here’s Chris, who has been taking it easy on the downhills because he only has one functional brake: first gear.

The three of us look at each other expectantly until I lose the staring contest and take the lead. I pull a slight gap on the other two as we head down the far side of the mountain—Greg’s left leg still doesn’t hold up too well when hitting those water bars from uphill. When the trail pops out of the woods, we get an incredible view of Camel’s Hump mountain, its trees bare of leaves except for a few yellow aspens and birches dotting its lower slopes. I’m soaked from head to toe, thanks to a giant mudhole a way back, and start to feel refreshingly cold in the wind.

Greg made it back just in time, I think—this is the perfect season for dirt biking. And this—riding around with friends—is exactly what I’ve been missing all summer. Riding alone is a little lonely—and a lot dangerous. Besides, when I’m trying to keep up with Greg and Chris, I get faster way faster than when I’m tooling around by myself, or even when I’m racing, which for a newb like me is more about maintaining verticality than maintaining speed. I know those two will come looking for me if I disappear, which makes me willing to crack the throttle and try new things, like jumping ditches and wheelie-ing over fallen logs (yeah, the latter didn’t go so well today). Greg is just as eager to get some seat time in as I am—he and his friend Bruce are planning to ride in the morning before work once a week.  The thought of those two hitting the trails while I’m catching the bus to school makes me want to cry a little, but I guess Greg has earned it after all he’s been through. Besides, the sooner he’s strong enough to take those downhills fast, the sooner I’ll get faster too. 

Look at thatelbows up  and everything!

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