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When I Georged It

I came to mountain bikes late in life, and recently. I've always liked hiking, for the ability to stop and start, speed up and slow down. I can walk all day, if I can pick the rhythm.

I've never been a runner, unlike my mother and sisters. I don't like the pounding, and would rather hike all day than run for a half hour.

When my son turned 15 and started getting busy, I got him a bike so he could get around town. He's 17 now and still doesn't ride, but that's beyond the scope of this story. I kept having an I want this feeling about the bikes we looked at (and we looked at quite a few, because my 6'3" son needs an X size frame) so I took a test ride.

One ride and I was hooked. Now, while the appeal was obvious to me, I suspect that my more neurotypical readers may be surprised to hear that passing out was sort of what grabbed me.

I was 45, and got my first ten speed when I was 15. I get on a mountain bike, and ride up and down the nice big hill at Western Drive, and out along the paved county bike trail, and it feels like a big fat bike, with gears from medium low to way high. Nice digital gears on the handlebar, none of that analog on the down frame stuff.

Then off pavement, Wilder Ranch, onto the sort of sandy gravel that snags and slips racing tires but the big fat tires ride over it fine. Have to put in a little more effort, though, so I shift up, aiming to keep my feet spinning.

A decision. Engelsmans left or Engelsmans right? Well, left, obviously, so up I go. And up. Turns out that's the steep way. I'm in top gear before I know it, and I'm not spinning.

I start pushing harder and harder. Every so often the front wheel starts to lift a bit, and I consciously shift my weight forward - the bike store guys all said my son needed an X size so he could lean forward going uphill. Finally, I just can't keep pushing, so I get off the bike, and sit down.

I sit, breathing heavily, gradually breathing slower and shallower. Finally I get up, and then things start to red out. This runs in the family, so I lean on the bike a bit until my vision clears but the bike wobbles in my grasp and I just sort of fold up.

Next thing I know, a pretty face is telling me that I passed out, checking for cuts or scrapes. I insist I'll be fine and she runs off.

OK, part of it is that obviously the rules are not the same as for road bikes. So that needed figuring out. And after the years I'd been so vain about being in better shape than most men my age - I had to be able to do this.

I never passed out again. I found easier routes, learned to pace myself, and eventually made it to the top of the ocean loop trails with three or four long stops. But most of 2004 I rode in Big Basin, which is almost exactly 20 minutes up the coast in spring and fall. There's a nice trail that's steadily uphill, but never really as steep as Wilder, and only a couple of hills of any length. It takes you from the beach up through the redwoods, to a bike stand by a footbridge that leads to a trail to a nice waterfall, maybe a half mile up.

At first, this trail is a challenge, especially the first long hill, which includes a fake peak and enough downhill to let you out of uphill metabolism, and then it's uphill again, a bit steeper but shorter. The first time I did that, I couldn't restart so soon, had to stop and sit down. That hill got easier, over the months, and gradually the whole ride got to be something that warmed me and got me breathing deeper, but wasn't really hard any more.

So, back to Wilder which is practically next door. Out my driveway, half block left to Swift St, 300 feet left to Delaware, right to the end of Delaware and right on Staunton, over the train tracks to the bike trail. Maybe a mile and a half, then a mile on the bike trail.

There's a nice set of interlocking loop trails at Wilder. You can mix and match and have dozens of different rides, because a different way on the same trail can almost be a different trail. I learn the steep ways and the long ways, and I start to find that I don't need to stop where I once did - I can just bear down and make it over that next part of the long hill. And this summer I can do a whole up and down loop non-stop, where I used to have to stop three or four times. A personal best at 46 - I will match this degree of fitness in coming springs, after winter rains have kept me indoors, but I'll never again do it for the first time.

So, anyway, on the day I Georged it, I headed back to that first trail, Engelsmans the steep way. Up a fire road to the top of a ridge, and then off the road, left along the ridge, through the trees, the Wild Boar trail. Left again through the trees and down into a creek bed and out up again over tree roots in places, the Old Cabin trail. Then briefly down a fire road at the bottom of the Eucalyptus Loop, then back onto a trail through the trees.

Up and down a bit, and then a wide avenue with good surface and wide turns through trees into a meadow where whoa! I'm going awfully fast, there are big ruts here, they snag your pedals aim for the high side and oh! a rut the other way. Unflustered, I might have jerked the handlebars up and flown my center of gravity over the rut, but I don't - the front wheel drops into the rut, slowing the bike but not me. I fly over the handlebars and hit the ground at maybe 20mph. My glasses are askew, things are gray, I'm making sounds like bitta bitta bitta. I stop the sounds. I can see, and sit up straight. Straighten my glasses.

Sit still for a long while. Collect water bottle, find out what I can move. Lump on my right shoulder is pretty obvious, but is it dislocated? My father and brother have dislocated their shoulders, so maybe it runs in the family, but I didn't think I could do anything with a dislocated shoulder, and there are some things I can do with my right arm. And it doesn't hurt all the time. Try to stand - quickly sit again for a while.

But I have to get out. Maybe I will meet someone, and I can ask them to have a ranger come with a pickup. But maybe I won't meet someone, and even if I did maybe they wouldn't be able to find a ranger, and I'm much more likely to meet someone on the fire road - it might be tomorrow before the next person takes this trail. And short of some guys with a stretcher, I've got to get myself off this trail, onto a fire road. So, I start to walk my bike along the trail, to the road out.

Jostling hurts. I gradually find that starting to breath at all heavily hurts me in the back, below the right shoulder. At first all I know I is that I can only go a few yards before I have to sit down and rest. I pick up technique - keeping the bike in the narrow path and walking on the grass to the right jostles less than walking on the path and walking the bike along the left verge.

I get back to the fire road, and decide to try to ride. It's almost all downhill from here. I push it up to the lowest gear, and ride slowly. Fast downhill jolts and hurts my sides. Fast uphill I have to breath deeper, which hurts under that right shoulder. So, slowly, riding the brakes, I'm two thirds of the way home when I finally see somebody. Stop and ask him to get a ranger or an ambulance now? I keep riding home.

I plan as I get to the county bike path. Tane' doesn't drive. The engineer across the street often works at home, and is the sort of guy who'd take me to the doctor and wait with me and take me home. If he's not home, there are one or two other neighbors who might and there are friends at various distances, but it's probably a taxi to the orthopedists. I want to see Dr Schwartz who tended both my son's broken legs and who'd been described as the best orthopedist in town.

I preview announcements, putting first things first. I'm home, lean my bike against the garage and go around it to the front door, wearing my helmet and taking off my gloves. One of Tane''s friends is visiting.

"Hi. Uh. I think I may have dislocated my shoulder. I'm glad you're here, M, can you drive me to the Doctor's office? (I was hoping Joe was home, but now we don't have to check.)"

We're on our way quickly. I ask Tane' to call ahead, and call me on my cell if anything comes up. She calls - the orthopedist doesn't take walk-ins. We should go to my family doctor or a local clinic. My doctor is across the parking lot from the orthopedist, and should just be back from lunch by the time we arrive. I walk in - I may mention here that I'd just been to this doctor to have some chest pains checked out, Monday, two days ago- and told the receptionist that I might have a dislocated shoulder. She knew my name, got my charts, and I'm the first one in after lunch. No vitals, just a manual inspection of the shoulder, some questions, and well here's what to expect if it is dislocated, and then he's on the phone to my orthopedist of choice and I have a deformed shoulder and, oh yeah, my lungs are as clear as my heart.

Across the parking lot with M. We're expected but we have forms to fill out. M fills them out for me. And we wait. Just stopping there, waiting, things start to hurt in a way that they didn't when I had things to pay attention to. Then x-rays - both standing, holding weights, and lying flat on my back. Not dislocated, just a couple of torn ligaments, will heal 100% in six weeks, wear this brace.

This is all Wednesday. By Saturday, I'm ready to tell my parents, and by now mountain biking is starting to seem like a really Georgish thing to do. Do I really want to share a sport with this President? I mean, so OK, I do put in more billable hours a year than he does. But here I was feeling a little pleased with myself, and womp, I got pretty thoroughly hurt when I didn't know the way quite as well as I thought I did.

Created on September 6, 2005, last updated November 30, 2005 • Contact jon@midnightbeach.com