Note: Like many in the off-road world, I enjoy a variety of in-the-dirt activities. Mountain biking is one of them. Every now and then, I meet up with John Currie and some of his friends for a ride. It's a fast group, and I'm usually mid-pack whether we're climbing or descending. Last week's ride included a mishap that I thought was worth writing about.
I was in a bad spot. The trail was plunging further into a canyon around a blind curve, and I was sure I needed to backtrack. The group I was riding with was nowhere to be seen, and my sweat-filled logic told me they’d bailed off of the loop trail onto another route somewhere before this.
Trail traffic was heavy. If you’re looking for solitude aboard your mountain bike, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is not the place to find it…at least not on a Tuesday evening. I inched myself to the sideline, dismounted and waved one rider past. Then another. Then another. This continued for several minutes until a break in traffic seemed to present the chance to start toward higher ground.
Swinging my leg over the seat, I clipped my shoe into the far-side pedal and began to crank uphill. I’d gone through about three pedal strokes when it was suddenly dismount time again, with a side order of frantic. The Big Man was arriving.
I’d never met The Big Man before, but this guy was about to leave a gnarly impression on me if I didn’t take evasive action. He was probably about six feet tall, tipping the scales somewhere around 240. By contrast, I’m five-foot-six and weigh in around a buck-and-a-half. Yup, a side order of frantic.
I quickly unclipped from my pedals and got behind the bike, hoping The Big Man would choose to hug the inside of the trail where I’d just yanked the bike from and made room to pass. No such luck. He was a deer in the headlights, brain locked squarely on the outside of the turn.
In an exercise of what not to do, The Big Man squeezed his front brake with gusto as he veered toward me. His stately grey titanium steed reared up and spit its rider off. Good news: he managed to miss me. Bad news: our bikes were a tangled mess of blue powdercoated aluminum and brushed grey titanium. An angry hiss signaled a flat tire.
At least he was a friendly chap. “Sorry,” he said. “That was all me.”
I untangled our bikes while he worked to stand up in the underbrush he’d flung himself into. His handlebar had lodged itself in my front wheel, and my front tire now hung limply from the rim. After uttering a few non-printable words, I came to my senses and realized the bikes were secondary. “You OK?” I asked.
He continued getting to his feet. The Big Man’s faculties hadn’t left him, and he appeared to have only injured his pride. I offered a hand and he pulled himself up onto the trail. He apologized again, and I’d cooled off enough to reply with “It’s alright.” I handed him his bike, and he continued his singletrack descent.
Traffic now clear, I pushed the bike and its limp front tire up to a wide spot, pulled off my pack, and started digging for my spare inner tube. My cell phone rang. John Currie was on the other end. He and the rest of the group were looking for me. Dumb luck being what it is, if I’d just descended a little further in the first place instead of turning around, I would’ve met up with them anyway.
John and the crew pedaled up and met me. They brought a replacement inner tube, courtesy of The Big Man, who’d met them and handed off the tube. I installed my spare tube, stashed my dead tube and the new spare in my pack, and we finished the ride.
It turned out that the head-on encounter had not only ripped the valve stem in half, it had also put a big side-to-side wave in the front rim. Bringing the front wheel back into an acceptable version of round involved pulling the tire, tube, and rim tape off of the wheel, and then loosening every spoke. Once the spokes’ hold on the rim was relaxed, I set the side of the rim on a wooden sawhorse and wailed on the unwanted curve using a shot-filled mallet. I straightened the rim enough to be acceptable, and then tensioned and trued the wheel back into a semblance of its former self. I’ll get a few more rides in before a new rim is mandatory.
Even though The Big Man was generous enough to claim “that was all me,” I’d stopped in a bad spot. It was on a blind curve in a singletrack trail. No, trail traffic wasn’t officially one-way, but the overwhelming flow was going downhill. Fortunately, a tube, a rim, and The Big Man’s pride were the only casualties that day.
We didn’t have any reason to exchange information, so I have no idea who The Big Man actually is. I’d happily say hello again if the opportunity presented itself. He was a genuinely nice person, even if we did meet by accident.