I've always loved being in the woods - it truly recharges me to spend time in nature. There is something about the silence in the woods, but when you really stop and listen you can hear the life around you - wind in the trees, birds calling, animals in the leaves. Whether hiking or paddling or riding, a day spent in the woods is rarely wasted time. But it goes further than that.
Part of it is the challenge of doing your best to take your bike over difficult terrain. I remember when I was kayaking a lot I occasionally would take a bike with me to help with the shuttle. One time particularly stands out - a trip on Millstone Creek, that empties into the Clarion River in the Allegheny National Forest. The shuttle consisted of a four mile trip along a rough gravel road with several small hills. I started out at the foot of a hill - and only rode about 200 feet before I had to start pushing the bike. I think I only rode about 1/2 mile out of the four, the rest I pushed the bike. The terrain was just too tough for me - gravel and rocks - and hills. But after riding mountain bikes for a couple of years I find that I seek out the trails that have the toughest, most technical terrain - and though I don't conquer the rocks, I do pretty darn good at not letting them conquer me.
Another part is the physical challenge. Separate from the technical, skills facet lies the physical, strength part. It takes a lot of stamina to be able to deliver the level of energy that it takes to ride a bike across country. Just look at the calories burned for a two hour mountain bike ride and you'll begin to see how much it takes. And I'm just a middle aged guy with bad lungs who fools around at riding - imagine what it takes for the truly skilled riders who do 100 mile races with thousands of feet of elevation gains. It's a stunning feat to be able to accomplish, truly a testament to the strength of the human body. But for me, knowing that I can go out on a nice day and push myself hard for a couple of hours, making it home tired but happy - that is worth a lot.
And let's not forget the fun aspect! Zipping down a hill between the trees, bouncing over the roots and climbing up the rocks, splashing through the creeks and mud - this is really a lot of fun. With so many responsibilities and duties, it's not easy to feel like a kid again - and mountain biking does that for me. Even though I've promised my wife I won't do the jumping-through-the-air stuff any more, the staying on the ground stuff is still a heck of a good time.
And I can do it without worrying about competing with anyone (I'm about as competitive as a rock) - I can ride with a group or on my own. It helps clear my mind by requiring 100% of my attention so that I have no time to worry about anything else. It keeps me fit - I think I'm probably in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. My breathing, while still problematic, is better than it's been for years. And though I'm still clumsy as a bear in a bag, my balance and reactions seem to have improved as well. All in all, it gives me something that I enjoy so much that I'm always looking forward to the next time I can do it.
I got out on Moraine again last Sunday as I had hoped. Then I got some singletrack on Friday, then again today on Saturday when I headed back out to Moraine again. This time I took a bunch of extra time to shoot some video, and I put together another short video for the days ride. I know these little videos aren't spectacular - there are no bikes flying through the air, no spectacular desert scenery - but I enjoy making them. I try to catch the feeling of the day, and the feeling of the sport for someone of my age and abilities. This video starts off with the trip over to the trails - and I have to say that I enjoy this particular route quite a bit. I parked back at the Alexander Road lot and rode a short loop down by the marina, then back up the switchback trail.
I've done pretty good with my exercise this last week, though I have to admit that I didn't eat very good last night. Pizza and beer are good sometimes, even if they aren't exactly health food. And it's not a sure thing, but I think I might be able to get out and ride again tomorrow - which would be a really cool way to end the weekend.