It was a fair question. I had a camera and a notebook. I also had a mountain bike — borrowed, but nobody had to know that.
“How about as a reporter who’s pretending like she knows how to mountain bike?” I replied.
I’d never been mountain biking in my life save a brief foray on the Gary Fisher I’d been given secondhand a few years ago. I didn’t much like it that time — mountain biking always seemed to me an unduly terrifying way to enjoy the outdoors. I’ll stick to my hiking boots and cross-country skis, thank you.
But when news came out that the Southern Mountain Bike Summit would be rolling into Bryson City March 18-19 — the twice-a-year conference had never been held this far west in North Carolina — I began to consider the possibilities. The forecast for Friday afternoon was sunny and 70. And while I had no technical skills, I was in good shape and had plenty of experience with other forms of cycling. I could cover the ride, spend a beautiful afternoon out on a trail and call it work. Sold.
So, there I was Friday afternoon, snapping photos and asking reporter-ish questions at the trailhead while also fitting in a query or two as to which of these trails might be the least likely to result in death or maiming.
Thankfully for beginners like me, there was an organized ride that required only that I lineup at the trailhead and follow the leader. Easy enough. I started pedaling, and my mood shifted from apprehension to blissful excitement. This wasn’t hard or scary at all — this was freedom. The wooded trail whooshed along beneath me, the tread smooth and wide and blessedly absent of giant rocks and drops.
That freeloading downhilling soon ended.
Rocks appeared with increasing frequency, as did root-laden dips and a grueling series of uphills. I was sure it all looked tame to these avid mountain bikers sharing the trail with me, and that was fine for them. I, however, could choose to walk my bike over those more hair-raising sections. And I did.
Before long, I found myself at the back of the pack. But that was OK. A pair of experienced riders rotated as sweep, making sure everyone reached the trailhead safely and dispensing tips a newbie like me needed to hear. Downshift before the uphill begins. Raise the seat to give more power to each pedal. And, by all means, come back later and ride again.
I did have to pull off a few times to pant like a dog while my heart slowed down its race. Certainly there were moments when I wondered if I were about to lose control, if that bike was seconds away from toppling with me on it. But what I found myself thinking more than anything is that I now understand why people do this.
Because surrounding the trail and the sweat and that familiar feeling of unity between me and the bike and the air through which we shot was everything else that I love — trees and sun and rhododendron thickets that made even this pre-spring adventure a green one. It was a good feeling.
Maybe it’s time to give that Gary Fisher the TLC it deserves — and another chance to hit the trail.
— By Holly Kays, staff writer