I should have read the signs the night before, when Fez suggested riding later in the morning and closer to home. If I’d followed that thread and joined that ride, I would have been able to make the morning meeting that I canceled, so I could do the more ambitious plan. But Koop was like, “I’m going to New Hampshire!!!” and I’m here to aid and abet bad ideas, especially if they involve fast, flowy singletrack and shirking responsibilities.
Now as a piece of obvious foreshadowing, I will tell you that I have this habit and reputation for failing to bring my cycling shoes to rides. It’s a source of constant mirth for my regular cadre of riding buddies. I have tried to develop a mental checklist to avoid repeating this error. Often, now, I have shoes but leave my water bottles on the kitchen counter. Obviously, the system needs work.
I threw my shoes in the car, loaded the bike on the rack, loaded Koop’s bike, and northward we sped, arriving at the trailhead 45 minutes later. What a morning we were gonna have.
Two things became obvious right away though. First, the lot was empty. Even for a Wednesday morning, this didn’t seem right. Second, as I disembarked and began the process of putting on my riding gear, I discovered the shoes I’d tossed in the backseat were not the shoes that went with the bike I brought. I’d packed flat shoes, and my bike had clipless pedals. Ouch. That was gonna cost me. When I told Koop, he had a hearty chuckle.
Then I noticed a sign plonked down at the trailhead, blocking the entry. That couldn’t be good, but we were too far to read what it said, and I was still raging at myself, between my ears, for the shoe mistake.
I cyclocross mounted my bike and pedaled the spindles over to check the sign, which, if you’ve looked at the image at the top of this post, you already know said we wouldn’t be riding THIS set of trails today. Sometimes, as an adult, you question a simple plastic sign. “Is this sign smarter than I am?” you might think, or “Is this sign the boss of me?” I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t stand there in the parking lot deliberating an act of (self interest) civil disobedience, but in the end, we came to the right conclusion. It had rained hard enough over the previous weekend to destroy many small towns just one state over. Respecting the integrity of the trails, despite riding 45 minutes to get there, seemed like the least we could do.
We resolved to drive back south, to a set of hillside trails we figured would have fully dried out. It’s one of our favorite spots, but it’s a lot more technical than the trails we were leaving. This thought bloomed in the back of my mind as we made our way there. I was already going to struggle riding flat shoes on clipless pedals, but throw in myriad rock gardens, large boulders with sketchy entries, and an array of skinny logs, and my morning was getting a lot more challenging.
With more than an hour of driving behind us, we pulled up to the spot and got ourselves together. At this point, I told myself that whatever ride I was able to manage was going to be a good ride. This is what’s called an attitude adjustment. Speaking candidly though, my attitude is slippery. It often requires several adjustments before it stays in place.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden with flats on clipless pedals, but if you haven’t you can imagine that it’s really the worst of both worlds. OK. You’re not clipped in, but you also have zero platform to work with. I tried to sort of drape my shoes over the spindles, but there was really no grip at all. Pressure seemed to be my only friend, and it was a relationship that proved hard to maintain anytime the terrain got vertical or dicey in any way.
I began to emit a range of likely disturbing noises, whoops, hollers, intermittent profanity, exhortations to myself to do better, laughs, etc. Koop was amused as he led me hither and yon. Every time I thought I was learning how to do this thing I hoped never to do again, gravity would correct that impression. Often the pedal would just spin away underfoot, leaving me with one foot and on and the other scraping in the air for something solid to stand on. We went on this way for about 90 minutes, until Koop said, “Why don’t we climb the hill one more time and do that twisty descent back to the parking lot?”
This was merciful. I had resolved not to be the one to suggest leaving, but I was massively relieved when the jig was finally up. I was sweating like that abandoned ice water on your mom’s good coffee table, and there were enough gnats and mosquitos in the air to be a choking hazard. Also, my feet hurt.
You know what though? I’d had fun. Sure, I was frustrated with myself, with a wasted long drive, and by the near impossibility of doing any good riding with the wrong shoes on, but there were laughs. The riding wasn’t completely terrible either. I made a few obstacles I had no business clearing, and the woods are nice, even when they’re steamy hot and full of bugs. Sometimes, too, it’s enough just to tire yourself out. With a mind like mine, reaching that point of fatigue provides a calm that allows me to be more focused the rest of the day.
We’d been handed a bushel of lemons this particular morning, but we put them to good use.