Ascent to Agony

After weeks of looking, I finally find a decent looking mountain bike on craigslist for $60. I get into contact with the seller and we plan to meet up. I’ve done my share of shopping on here and this is the first time i wasn’t comfortable about the buy.
The dude gave texted me the address:
Humboldt Hill 5750
Humboldt Hill, Road Space 22
Alright… hopefully this is right.
I got in my car and drive to the place. I pull up to the street address. It is a mobile home community. There are kids playing in the streets. They’re all chasing one kid who’s riding a bike. I really hope this is not the bike that they’re selling me. I yield to the children and turn down the radio. I drive slowly and cautiously down the street looking for road space 22. This tall slim and scrappy looking guy is staring at me. He asks me “You here for the bike?” I tell him yeah and he directs me to his road space 22. I park my car into his tiny road space. As I’m trying to reverse and fix it, he tells me it’s fine. So I leave my car as is. As in the windows rolled down and my bag and phone sitting in the passenger seat.
I get out of the car and offer to shake hands,
“Hey how’s it going,” I said.
“Oh sorry my hands are dirty,” he says and raises up his hands.
It looked as though he had some permanent stains on his hands that scrubbing them with an entire bar of soap wouldn’t do him much good.
He tells me that he’s not the guy who’s selling the bike. It’s his friend who’s down the street and he’s tuning it up right now. It’ll just take a couple minutes.
His friend is in viewing distance and I look. The entire front wheel is off. It looks like this might take more than a couple of minutes.
We start making small talk. I can’t help, but stare at his intensely looking facial features. His eyes are white and huge, the same way a person might look in the first few seconds of a staring contest. He has a long pointed nose, one that continuously engaged with the air. It is so large that it might even be a human muscle. One that might even have its own workout routine. His cheek bones are incredibly high. The hairs of his thin mustache are like bristles of an old toothbrush. His shirt might be confused with an oil rag. This bike better be in better shape than this dude.
We talk and continue to glimpse over at the man working on the bike. It looks like it’ll be a little longer so he offers to show me his other bikes in his mobile home. I have nothing better to do so we decide to go inside. We walk up the front porch and he shows me this silver mountain bike. He starts telling me how much it’s worth and how the pedals alone can run up to $75.
I don’t believe him, but I act amazed.
Before we go inside the mobile home, I stop and take one more look at my car. The windows are still down with my belongings inside. There are many people around and it’s possible they can reach in to take my stuff, even the kids running around.
We then are about to walk in. I can already imagine the scene…
As soon as we open the door, there’ll be a single orange-armed chair directly ahead with stains and next to it will be a flannel-designed sofa. A rocking chair will be next to the sofa with a few missing back spokes. A 26’ tv that is left on the cartoon channel will be in front of the furniture. There’ll be soda, cheap beer cans, and a pizza box with one slice of pizza sitting on a wooden coffee table. There’ll be an old grandpa in his wife beater passed out on the couch. He’ll be wearing Wrangler short jeans and white socks up to his calves. He’ll be slouched on the couch and one of his legs will be sprawled out on the coffee table. His steel toe boots covered in mud will be on the floor next to him. We’ll walk towards the hall all casual like he’s telling me not to even worry about him. We’ll get to his room where he keeps his bike. He’ll immediately see that there’s something wrong with it.
“Horse shit,” he’ll say and quickly files out of the room. He’ll start yelling, “Martha!! Marthaa!!!
Martha is in the room nearby feeding two cats.
“What Hank?!? What??”
“Did you touch my f%ck!n bike?”
“Now why the f@ck would I want to touch your bike?”
“The derailer is coming loose! I know you been messin with my bike”
“Bloody hell Hank!! I don’t give a rabbit’s ass if your bike is f#cked up.”
“You touch my bike one more time Martha and I’ll cook up those cats for supper. Medium well.”
And the entire intervention will go something like that.
So I walk into the place. I was wrong. The place is comfy. It’s well kept and tidy. No beat up furniture. No old man sitting on the couch and no Martha. We get to his room and he shows me his bike. He tells me he use to race and been up to speeds of 90mph on his bike. He reminisces over his glory days. I listen to his story and act like I believe it. I give him compliments; make him feel good about himself. And during this whole time I keep an eye on my car to make sure no one tries to take anything from it.
Luckily, we go back outside and the guy fixing the bike rides it over. The two talk amongst themselves for a little so I go to my car and roll up the windows and lock the doors. I close the door and press the lock button my remote about 3 more times than necessary. I come back out and the guy who fixed the bike walks away and back down the street.
I test out the bike.
The brakes are rubbing against the wheels.
I tell slim and he fixes it.
I ride it again and then the gears won’t shift fluidly.
He adjusts the shifters a bit.
I ride again, but the same thing happened.
The shifter won’t stay in certain gears.
He adjusts it again, but it’s still not working right.
This goes on for about 20 minutes.
I start telling him that I don’t know if I want the bike. Then suddenly, the white of his eyes grow even bigger. It’s 20 seconds into a staring contest now. His nose starts flaring. He smells denial.
He tells me that it’s completely normal and that the cables are brand new so they’ll have to break in a bit.
The tone in his voice is like he’s trying to comfort a child and I don’t know what to think. I just hope I don’t have to ride 90mph to break it in.
We take turns riding the bike. We continue for quite some time trying to get the bike to work properly. Without looking at him in the eyes, I tell him I don’t know if I want the bike. He again tells me that this bike is a steal even if you can get it fixed. We go back and forth. Finally I let in. I figure I can get this problem fixed at the bike shop for less than $30. Once the bike is fixed, it’ll be worth the money. I give him the $60 and he helps me load the bike in the car. I shake his dirty hand. I get in the car and drive off. I wish I carried hand sanitizer.
I did eventually take it the bike shop. The shop said the bike was missing some parts and that’s why it wasn’t able to function properly. It ended up costing me an extra $35 to bring it to proper form. So I’m glad I made this purchase.

The Hill to Hell
With my new bike, I sign up for the intro to mountain biking trip that will go on Saturday. This is a beginner program which will provide an instructor as he’ll be giving us some basic mountain biking knowledge and showing us the mountain biking trails around the campus. I figured this would be something new and exciting. Sooner or later I’ll be familiar with these trails and will be able to ride them on my free time.
It’s the day of the mountain biking trip. It’s 8am and I feel tired. The night before, my roommate and I took a 20 min walk to a party we were invited to. We met a lot of people and had fun. We took shots of Jameson with the most of the people we met. When we left the party it took us an hour to get back home. We didn’t get lost or too intoxicated from the party. We were both just really hungry. We walked all around town looking for places that were open. We didn’t realize it was 1am. In the end, we came home on an empty stomach and knocked out.
The morning of the ride, I get ready and meet up with the people for the mountain biking trip. There are only two of them there. They both have intense looking riding gear. They have their tight spandex shirts on with company logos on them as if to say, this isn’t my first time riding. They have their biker gloves and shoes that clip to the pedals. Their bikes have dirt all over their tires and some mud that splashed up onto the lower frame. I just have on basketball shorts and a jacket. My bike might have some dust on it. I even have my helmet on too early as theirs were hanging on their bikes.
We introduce ourselves and they tell me that we’re only waiting on one more guy then we’re set to go. I thought that’d be good. Maybe the next guy who comes won’t be as experienced and geared out like these guys.
One of the two guys is the instructor for the program and he tells me my seat is too low. I thought it was just right as I’m able to reach the floor at this seat height. He adjusts it for me and lifts up my seat at least 5 inches higher. He tells me that this will be more efficient and require less energy when you ride. I get on my bike. It is too high. My feet can no longer touch the floor. My toes can barely kiss the ground. They tell me I’ll get use to it. Hopefully I do.
Not long after, the next guy shows up. The first thing I notice about him are his lamb chop sideburns. Straight out of the American Civil War. Gnarly lookin fella. He might as well be carrying a Springfield rifle over his shoulder.
I also notice that he’s not geared up. He looks like he is just beginning too. The instructor offers to fix his seat but he kindly denies saying it’s already adjusted.
So we introduce ourselves again and they all have years of experience mountain biking. The two that are geared up have been mountain biking for all their lives and lamb chops has been riding trails for over 2 years now. So he isn’t a private. Might be a specialist. Maybe I can hold up to his level. I tell them this is my first time and that I want to get familiar with the trails. The instructor tells us we’ll take it easy and maybe we’ll ride a little harder once we’re all comfortable. I know he was just referring to me.
I have no experience mountain biking, but I’m sure it can’t be that hard. I would say I’m pretty fit and I do my time of running and I can ride my road bike without getting exhausted. This can’t be too difficult.
We start riding and get to the trail. We take it slow and then take it to a moderate speed. About five minutes into the ride, the trail starts going uphill. It’s now just a continuous incline. I can feel the burn now, but I welcome the challenge.
About 10 minutes later I was already out of breath. I look at lamb chops to see how he’s holding up. He looks completely fine. Not a drip of sweat filling in those sideburns. He is ready for war. I think to myself, I cannot lose to this guy so I keep on truckin, but about 3 minutes later I am winded. I tell them I need a break for just a minute. I drink some water and catch my breath. Everyone else seems fine. I don’t want to seem like I’m holding up the group, so I quickly get back on and start riding again. I feel a little more energized, but grew tired quickly two minutes later. I was getting out of breath.

The trail continued to go uphill for the next 45 minutes.

Note: I took all these pictures on different days. I didn’t bother to take pictures during the day of the ride.

I panted and panted as I biked up these hills. I was completely exhausted. At every turn I hoped for a flat section of the trail, but everything was uphill. It was as if we were biking to heaven. And every turn seemed like the incline was increasing.
I was riding in the back of the group. The distance between them and I was increasing by the second. Even lamb chops kept up with the other two. I was breathing heavily now and asked for another break.
We stopped and drank some water. It took me several minutes to catch my breath. We continued on and not too long after, I felt miserable. I began to just put my head down as we paced ourselves uphill. I continued pedaling, put my head down and closed my eyes. I could feel my face looking ugly. My entire face clenched as if I was constipated. Closing my eyes was the only way to stay sane. Once I opened my eyes I would feel delirious. I would see the trail up ahead and see more hills. I was in complete misery.
We took another break about 20 minutes later. I was trying to catch my breath. I was dying. I didn’t want to look weak, but I probably did. The instructor told us to watch our heart rate and that we should be able to hold a conversation while riding or else you’re pushing yourself too hard. Why didn’t he tell me that earlier? My heart has been pumping enough blood to fill a gorge. I couldn’t hold a conversation while biking, yet I couldn’t even hold my mind together. I was losing it. I would stop and give out now, but I don’t’ want to ruin the trip for lamb chops and the other geared up guy. They also told me that they took the trail pretty fast and that I’m doing all right. That made me feel a little better, but before I had the chance to soak that in, we’re off up the hills again.
We continued. I watched my heart rate. I steadied myself, but they were getting far ahead. Later into the ride, I could no longer see them. I didn’t care. I was watching my heart rate. I held a conversation with myself. “You can do it Jed. Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t slow down…….. shit I’m tired.” And then I start slowing. I feel even more like a failure after that. I stop and then I start cramping. I jump off my bike and start stretching. I didn’t want to continue anymore. I was done, calling it quits, throwing in the flag, exiting your web browser when it’s too slow, giving up trying to parallel park your car. I was done.

The instructor came back for me and told me that I can walk it off if I want. We’re almost to the top. I thought about it. I stretched long and hard, but now I wanted to finish. I wanted to feel how Rocky felt after he defeated Ivan Drago. That feeling of wearing brand new socks. That feeling you get when you open a jar when everyone else was struggling with it. That feeling of letting go of your gas pump at the right moment. The final seconds of untangling a really big knot. The feeling of winning a best out of 7 rock-paper-scissor battle royal. The feeling of knowing your milk and cereal ratio is just right. Making it to your destination with your gas light on. High fiving babies. The feeling you get when the youtube video you’re about to watch loads in seconds. Find out that your birthday next year falls on a Saturday. I want that feel good feeling. There’s no point in quitting now. So I stretched out my calf and we rode again. This time the instructor rode behind me so I was able to choose the speed.  And about 5 minutes later we finally made it to the top. I was relieved. At that point, I just wanted to plop myself to the floor and knock out. I wanted to rest for the next 8 hours. I didn’t feel like moving.

After a small break, it was now time to go back down. This might be interesting now. No required pedaling. Just cruising downhill with a slap of forest breeze in your face.
We began our descent. I trailed in the back so the others could rip through the trails. While we were coming up here, I didn’t notice all the bike jumps that were formulated on the trails. There were small stumps of trees that were made into bike jumps.

The other three were tearing through the course, making jumps and riding the outskirt walls. My fingers flirted with my brakes the entire time. I’d continually tap the brakes, afraid that my tires would slip out at the bottom of the turns. On the straightaways I would let off the brakes for seconds at a time.
The three were far ahead. Lamb Chops was even doing some work. I picked up speed now and was having a blast. I even had the balls to go off a jump. Around the turn I see a little bunny ramp. I gave what little energy I had left to pedal as fast as I could towards the ramp. My tire and the ramp connected. I glided up the ramp. My front tire got up. I was mid-air! And then, my tire came straight back down. I got absolutely no air. It was as if you’re walking and then almost stumbling as you go down a step because you weren’t aware of it. That’s what my tire did. My front tire thudded back on the ground and my back tire soon followed. I then pedaled off to catch up to my friends.
We met up again. I didn’t need a break this time. I didn’t need a sip from my water. We then took off.
I was able to follow closer this time as we went down the trail. We were going a lot faster. As we were riding downhill there was an uphill part coming soon. We all pedaled harder to gain momentum. The momentum brought us forward and up. We came storming up the hill and when we got to the top, the instructor got some air. Then the the geared up guy did the same. Lamb chops followed behind and got more air. This was a ramp! I didn’t even notice it. My momentum was still going strong and it brought me towards the top. I slowed down as I reached the top and came to a slow at the peak of the ramp, but then I couldn’t reach the floor. My adjusted seat was too high. I couldn’t do anything and so my momentum brought me forward and flipped my bike in complete slow motion. Luckily, I jumped off to avoid any injuries. I stood up to catch my breathe for a second knowing that I barely escaped possible injury. I took my time getting back together knowing that my team would notice I’m gone and would come back for me soon.
A couple minutes pass and there’s no sign of them. I brush the dirt dust off my shorts and pick up my bike. The instructor eventually shows up and asks if I’m okay. I tell him yeah and just laugh it off. We then continue on and not too long after, we are back where we started. We sit and chat for a bit and then we go our separate ways.
This intro to mountain biking course was pretty intense. I was expecting just a bike stroll in the forest, but I ended up using muscles I didn’t even knew existed. Hopefully I will see my friends again along these trails, but til then I’ll be practicing on my own.

2 thoughts on “Ascent to Agony

  1. I like you post! How long ago did you purchase the bike and then go for your ride? I’ve been riding for a few years now and know all about starting off rough. Glad you kept at it…It will certainly pay off if you continue to persevere.

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