Monday, August 25, 2014

Rockhopper’s Top Ten Homemade Mountain Biking Terms Destined for World Fame

Amazingly, my brain still works well enough to create my
great homemade jargon. Or, maybe I can't realize it stinks!
Not much is as fun and exciting to me as hurtling through the woods on a heavy-duty bike, putting myself in harm’s way and trusting skill, attitude, and luck will get me through. The majority of occasions fortunately end with me successfully on the other side of the tricky areas. My reality is that I’m not a great mountain biker. But I’ve gotten a lot better, and love terrain that’s more about technical and mental challenges than sheer power. However, that enjoyment has been earned with the reality that not all rides go well, as proven by my broken bones, broken helmet, and countless road rashes.

One side benefit of this is that it can be fun to be a gearhead, replacing broken items with state-of-the-art gear. And every sport has its own lingo to be woven into the stories. Popular sports extoll pick-sixes, walk-offs, one-timers, dingers, and so on. Mountain biking’s no exception: churn-and-burn is the never-ending uphill climb (been there, not a fan). An end-o is going over the handlebars (been there, too, and seriously not a fan). And a rock garden is a long, rocky stretch of trail (which often causes said end-os). But since I tend to ride alone or just with one other person, I’ve wound up with my own lexicon, which I use often if discussing riding fails or if talking to myself after an adrenaline-fueled section of trail. I think these deserve to become part of the sport’s jargon and am therefore starting my campaign to make my top ten terms well-known in the sport:

Toe Tap - unless no one saw it, in which case I nailed it!
Toe tap: mild stuff; you’re on rocky singletrack, get bounced around, and can keep going but you need to put one foot down to either quickly regain balance or push off of something. No biggie.

Forced dismount: this is worse than a toe tap but nothing awful. The starting point is that you got tossed from your bike. But you land on the ground with only feet and possibly hands touching. If any other body part, such as a rear end, shoulder, back, or head hit the ground then it’s a wipeout. But feet? That means you were just forced to get off the bike. It’s like a TV time-out in basketball: no one’s worse off, just a mandatory break in the action. One easy litmus test: if there’s a cracked helmet, head wound, and a stick stuck inside your shorts and in the crack of your arse that needs to be pulled out and leaves a scar then it’s not classified as a forced dismount!

I didn't want to quit and risked
a Superman or, even worse, a Field Goal.
Superman: this is a particular kind of forced dismount. Sure, you get ejected from the bike and land on your feet. But with this one, you get launched, Superman-style, with arms out, like you’re flying. Well, actually, you are briefly flying, but you luckily land safely. The appropriate response is to stand proudly, chest puffed out, declaring to the forest, “gimme your tallest building. I can jump that, too!”

Field Goal: again, this is a subset of something else. Unfortunately, this is the end-o in its purist form. Sure, you go over the handlebars, ass over teakettle. But if a kicker for your favorite football team nails it, with an announcer proclaiming, “the ball is up, it’s straight, plenty of leg, and it perfectly splits the uprights!” then it would perfectly describe my body going between the imaginary uprights from the handlebars. Just to recap, Forced Dismounts and Superman = good. End-os and Field Goals = bad.

Sparrow Trail, where I learned to emote. Not
a fun moment to be in touch with my feelings!
Emoting: mountain biking is a male-dominated sport, probably because women have evolved a greater desire to not be idiotic. Nevertheless, as males, we’re often emotionally stunted, we don’t use our words enough, and feeling words make us particularly uncomfortable. Evolution has compelled me to suffer these same traits along with my X-Y chromosome brethren. Emoting is when a wipeout forces you to express yourself. Fittingly, this term came to exist the day after a woman pointed out my tendency to not share feelings. The next day, I was asserting my dominance over the woods, descending through a nasty rock garden. Suddenly I went airborne, parallel to the ground, and crashed onto those same rocks still wrapped around my bike. And in that moment of impact, when I grunted and yelled and futilely tried to get back up like Rocky, who may get knocked down but won’t stay down, a thought worked past all of that pain: if that same woman were here, she’d say “Aww, you’re sharing your feelings! Well done!” And so a term was born, as was a big bruise.

You finish a stunt, you gotta celebrate.
Nothin' to see here ya lookey-loos!
Nothin’ to see here ya lookey-loos: not every term has to revolve around a crash. It’s an easy source. But sometimes you have those moments where you’re out of control and have to fight to regain balance. Or you’re intensely focused in a dangerous spot, committed to it but still ready to poopie in the pantalones. Or, hypothetically, you master an area that you’ve never been able to do, and get off the bike to do the JayJay’s Awesome dance, only to realize the single other person in the whole stupid park happens to be a few yards away, silently watching. Whatever the source, having that embarrassing moment is when this term fits like a glove.

Role Reversal, also known as Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy: here’s the way nature intended things to work: I get on the bike, ride the trails, get off the bike, put it in my truck, and go home. Sometimes life plays out differently: I get on the bike, ride the trails, get thrown off the bike, it stays upright, then it rides over me before it falls. Yes, it’s true. I’ve had tire marks on my back. Not my proudest moments.

Biggest rock that ever pinballed me.
Pinballing: Sometimes you’re the pinball wizard. Sometimes you’re just the pinball. However, the good news is that I’ve learned a helpful tip on surviving bouncing off of a series of boulders. If you have a Camelbak or some sort of fairly full water bladder on your back then it provides a cushion to help absorb blows to that side of your torso. Alas, wearing another one on the front may help but you look like a moron. Body armor might help. But no matter the details, pinballs still take a beating.

I still get stuffed here about half the time.
Stuffed: no, not stuffed as in me being the Thanksgiving stuffing and boulders being the turkey. Rather, stuffed as in football runningbacks. Modifying the John Madden color commentary, “wow, Pat, let’s diagnose that play! Jay Bell goes for the power drive. You got big ol’ rocks here, fallen trees there, and he says, ‘hey, I don’t care. I got a big head of steam.’ So he just drops the shoulders, pedals hard, and hopes for the best. (Of course Madden is going nuts with the telestrator at this point.) Poor fella was almost off to the races. Then, Granite Boy and Tree Trunk said ‘hold up, speed freak.’ They pinch his tire, stop him dead in his tracks, and BAM! Nature stuffed him!” Pat Summerall then adds melodramatically, ”he’ll be feeling that in the morning, particularly since the handlebar stem hit him where the padding ends!”

Spin Class: last but not least is one with no pain involved. In fact, if it happens, the best response is to wear an enormous smile and scream gleefully. Usually, this comes up after bouncing through a section and being a little surprised you’re still safe and sound. Maybe you then cruise a little bit or then have a hill to climb. Whenever it is, it’s what you do once you find you’re still on the bike but the chain has slipped off and you’ve got no pedal power. When you discover this, you see how far you can last, and you spin the pedals as fast as possible – preferably screaming, “whee! Whopee!” Maybe then you change to a Mexican accent, a la Blazing Saddles: “Bike chains? We don’t need no stinkin’ bike chains!” Or add in the militant Spin Instructor: “Come on! No tomorrows! Give it all you got!”
If it weren't hard, it wouldn't be worth doing!

Bottom line is, enjoy the ride while it lasts. It won’t always be fun, but the bad times make the good times better. If you can come out of it with a smile and a story then you can choose to call it a success.

See you on the trails,
Jay Bell, AKA RockHopper

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Fork in the Trail

Looks like I'm headed for a change in scenery.

I’ve been grumpy lately. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I can still be idiotic and playful with my kids, allegedly hold up my end of interesting conversations with people, and make folks laugh. But I’ve still secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) been irritable recently in a way that’s out of character for me.
I re-injured my Achilles in April and it hasn’t been the same since. I tried powering through it and only made it worse. I tried going easy on it and learned walking on the sand aggravates it, even if I’m headed towards a beach chair and a sedentary afternoon.  I have exactly one hike under my belt this year and no 4,000-footers to cross off the list, stalled out in my quest to climb all 67 4,000-foot summits in New England. Last year’s momentum evaporated along with my sunny disposition.
But I realized something in the last few days. Amidst shopping for flip-flops with quality heel support and upper body exercise equipment and being jealous of the hikers posting great pictures and blogs on Twitter, I found myself forgetting about an early premise to this whole hiking thing.
A couple of people asked me early on if I were writing a book about these adventures. I plan to at some point, but not yet. Right now, I just want to capture my experiences and how they might fit into the lives of me and those around me at those points in time. I don’t want to start the adventure claiming to know the storyline, but rather let it unfold and reveal itself organically.
Shorter summits, but the views are still great!
The hiking I’ve already done led me to think a lot about clarifying and focusing how I wanted to live. If not for that, I wouldn’t have been willing to pull the trigger on getting a house on Cape Cod – I’d still be hemming and hawing and hand-wringing with analysis paralysis. If not for talking that through with Sara in places such as a quiet trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or at a pub having après-hike grub, unfettered by the normal daily grind, there are great memories that wouldn't exist.
Stud-boy taking a break while earning
Man Points from power tools and flooring.
I wouldn’t have spent time this summer playing beach bocce with my girls. I wouldn’t have witnessed the "supermoon" rising over the open Atlantic. I wouldn’t have been cheering Sara on as she completed an emotional Dennis Road Race 17 years after she last ran it, leaving her feeling very connected to the community that’s now hers but is the same one she summered in throughout her childhood. I wouldn’t have had some group fun and maybe a little mischief with some great people who live locally, deepening some friendships and starting others. Nor would we have connected as much with Sara’s aunt and uncle, who own a place down the street and plan to retire here. Very importantly, Sara would have missed the chance to see my mad beach umbrella-planting skills or to award me Man Points as I played deftly with power tools (aside of electrocuting myself every time I do a rewiring project). Clearly this has worked out beyond either of our wildest dreams!
So, the mountains led to the beach. And the adventures led to thoughts, goals, and dreams that are playing out. It doesn’t really matter where the experiences take place, and the mountains will still be there whenever my heel and the ants in my pants get me back up there. In the meantime, I can follow the path where it leads and be open to how life unfolds.
Finish lines are only for races, but it's been a good run so far!
(Props to Sara in the orange shirt for finishing strong!)
This week Sara and I changed our route. We’re holding off on the five-day backpack deep in the White Mountains – Search-and-Rescue is not supposed to be a part of my hiking! We’ll spend the week on Cape Cod and try some new things. Maybe we’ll bike the length of the Cape Cod Rail Trail and sample Cape Cod Beer’s offerings afterwards. Maybe we’ll try stand-up paddleboarding or go kayaking and visit with friends or family afterwards as Sara laughs at me for flipping my kayak. I heard about a mountain biking spot I haven’t tried yet and one of the better places to ride in southern New England isn’t far from here – following that up with après-ride appetizers and drinks at a waterfront pub as we relive the highlights or falls into Cape Cod’s omnipresent briars seems like an awesome day. As does a hike in the dunes of the National Seashore followed by a visit to the local vineyard. The bottom line for me is that there are plenty of ways to engage with the world and see what I learn from it, and to enjoy how those experiences bring me closer to those I’m with. Whatever the deal, I’m gonna go throw myself into it and see where it leads us.
See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper