Here I am, on my back, in the weeds, looking up toward the treetops … blinking a little ... wondering what just happened. It’s a place I’ve been before … not this location, but this physical situation.
Crashing is something that happens from time to time if you ride a mountain bike. It’s a piece of the risk that one accepts. I take a good tumble about twice a year and have countless smaller mishaps that I manage to arrest before they become full-blown, ass-over-teakettle events.
It’s wrong to say that one gets good at crashing, but through repetition, one develops a familiarity with the situation and learns to not introduce unnecessary drama.
There’s a recovery routine: in those first seconds after impact, don’t move. Take a ten-count to re-collect your awareness, then go through a quick self-assessment starting with the head: does it hurt? Vision OK? Still got teeth? Didn’t bite through your tongue again, did you? Do your limbs and digits all move when you ask them to? Ribs OK?
Better get up. Don’t rush if you’re dizzy, but the weeds you landed in are probably poisonous, so don’t hang around on the ground if you can help it. Once standing, squirt the bloody spots with your water bottle, check out the bike and fix what you have to, and get outta there. Leave the scene. Move on while you still can, before the injuries stiffen up. You’ll feel a lot worse an hour from now, so get going.
As I said, crashing is part of mountain biking. You make mistakes. You misread the integrity of the surface. You blow the timing over an obstacle. You run into stuff. Or, I do, anyway. And sometimes there is no explanation. I'm just riding along and ,,,,
In today’s version, it was a spot on a trail that I have ridden multiple times every week for about twenty-five years. It’s an understatement to say that I know the trail well. Hell, I know the guy who made this trail.
Every single time I ride through this spot I think to myself, “It would be bad if I screw this up”, but I NEVER screw it up - I hardly even slow down. Somehow, I always negotiate the little off-camber turn with the handlebar-width trees on both sides and the slippery root at the apex. Actually, I’m good at it: a little weight shift to the back, cock the hips to the outside, keep the shoulders tight, but juke the handlebars just when it looks like my knuckles are going into the tree trunk. It’s a series of quick moves that always makes me smile. I imagine this is what dancing is like for people who can do it. It feels good to do it right, and I ALWAYS do it right.
So, I don’t know what happened today … something with the tree on the outside of the turn. Maybe the tree was having a bad day. Maybe circumstances in its life were causing stress to accumulate, and it felt a need to act out. Maybe it’s depressed because its leaves are turning yellow and falling off. I can empathize - I’m gray and bald, too.
I don’t know why the tree took me down today, but it’s disappointing. I’ve been close-shaving that tree for about half of my lifetime, and I thought we respected each other. I thought we had built up an understanding that we wouldn’t harm each other. I trusted that tree. I thought we had a relationship.
But something changed in the relationship today. I know that time heals all wounds and the bleeding will stop and the scrapes will mend and the bruises will fade, but I feel betrayed. That broken trust will be hard to rebuild. For months going forward, I’ll slow down when I come through here. It’ll be awkward. I’ll be uncomfortable in the tree’s presence. I’ll look closer at that tree and wonder if it was something I said - something I did - that fractured our relationship, and I’ll wish that we could just erase this whole ugly incident and go back to the way we used to be - dancing together in the woods.
It’s fun playing with words and waxing anthropomorphic toward the trees, but what’s the deeper lesson, or the bigger question? Where does bad stuff come from? One minute you’re just riding along and the next you’re on the ground. No matter how familiar the trail is, you don’t really know what’s gonna happen around the next corner. Be grateful for the ride while it lasts, but don’t get cocky. Wear your helmet.