The funny thing about mountain bikers is that they seem to thrive in the worst of situations. Riders hardly talk about trips where nothing went wrong, effortlessly hitting every jump, sailing through rock sections and maintaining a seamlessly running bike all the while.
No, their favorite rides are the memorable ones, the ones where it seems everything that can go wrong, does. Whether it’s because everyone can relate to them, or they are the ones that get the most laughs, those stories are the tales told around the fire or the kitchen table. And every rider has one. So, here’s mine.
The ride was supposed to be easy. After spending the summer in Ohio, it was my first ride of the season, and I was desperately out of riding shape. My riding partner and friend, Nathan Hugentobler, had suggested a shuttle ride for the day, giving us the best kind of ride: all downhill, and hardly any up.
This meant parking his car at the bottom of the trail along the river flats and hauling my old ’04 Yukon XL back up to the top of the trail to begin the ride. However, it was a beautiful morning, and I couldn’t complain about a little extra driving if it meant enjoying some of the best rides around and avoiding hours of arduous uphill climbing to the top.
Fifteen minutes later, we were saddled up and racing down the mountainside. It was stunning. The changing seasons were finally starting to tempt the trees in our little corner of Idaho, and fall seemed to be in full effect as we rode through puddles and whipped fallen leaves from under our whirring tires.
We had been riding in total bliss for about 30 minutes when I heard the sound that all riders fear.
That could mean only one thing, I punctured my tire.
I gritted my teeth and hung my head as I squeezed the brake and called for Nate to slow down. I crawled off my bike, filthy from the mud puddles I splashed through minutes earlier, and crouched in the dirt and leaves, resigned to the terrible job of finding the hole.
After some time and some verbally expressed anger, I found the tire’s hole. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the least of my worries, as my investigation also revealed an inch-and-a-half-long crack running along my rim. I couldn’t believe my bad luck.
After a bit more tinkering, I finally got the wheel into partial riding shape and managed to limp my bike to the bottom of the mountain. It was a relief to see Nate’s car down at the bottom, and I finally let out the breath I felt I had been holding for the last twenty minutes of the ride. I was excited to get home, strip off my muddy clothes and pretend I didn’t need to replace my rim.
We hitched our bikes to Nate’s rack and waited for him to unlock the car. While I waited, I looked over the river, thinking about how the ride was not so bad after all. Then, with my back turned, I heard Nate let loose a guttural, “No, I’ve lost my keys!”
I couldn’t believe it. But then again, that’s how all the best riding stories go. Everything that can go wrong, does.
We shot around a few ideas of what to do, less believing that they would actually work and more putting off the inevitable: the long, ominous uphill climb to my car at the top. Only an hour earlier, I expressed my gratitude to Nate that I wouldn’t have to climb the hill. Eventually, resigned to our fates, we looked at each other, gritted our teeth, possibly held back some tears, and started to climb.
We made it to the top eventually. We found Nate’s keys in my car, where he’d left them in his jacket. Four hours after we started our “quick and easy ride,” we finally headed home. I could say that it was terrible, but that would just be a lie. When I look back on this ride or the countless others I’ve been on, I realize how grateful I am for those experiences.
It’s rare that life can be going completely downhill, and yet, you can look back on that time and smile. It’s my opinion that we should cherish those memories and stories because you never know when you’ll need them to feel better later on.
A month later, Nate and I still talk about the ride and laugh. Chances are, we’ll still talk about it even a year from now. After all, it was the kind of ride that makes an incredible story.