By Claire Jones
What is it about brown paper packages all taped up and waiting on your front porch? Perhaps it's the rough natural feel that disguises the treasures inside. Or maybe it's the wonder and excitement of getting something new. Whatever it is, I've never been more anxious to get a package then when I waited for that long rectangular box that said Trek on the side.
I was getting a new bike, a shiny new expensive bike. It was the high-end model of the Women Specific Design mountain bikes that Trek had just released. These bikes are designed for a woman's body. Some of the things Trek changed from the men's bikes are the angles on the frame, shorter top tube, shorter cranks, and they brought the brake levers closer to the handlebars. These new bikes are meant to give women more handling control and more efficient use of our muscles.
I always felt stretched out on my old bike, like I could barely reach the handlebars. When I test rode the WSD bike, I actually felt like I was in control. It was also a lot more comfortable.
On the day that my new bike came, we bought sandwiches and French fries, and stayed up till midnight putting it together. My fiancé, Sam, showed me how to do everything. He kept a watchful eye to make sure I didn't strip any threads, or cut any cables in the wrong places.
I am not what you would call a good mountain biker. I try to keep up with my racer boyfriend, but he just keeps getting farther and farther away. So I like it when he turns the corner and I can pretend I'm by myself, and that I'm fast.
I try not to shake when I come to a hill that goes strait down. But when there are large boulders waiting for me to ride by so they can throw me off the cliff, I get a little scared. I sternly say, "I'm not going down this." Then I casually get off my bike and as I pass the big rocks I stick my tongue out at them.
So, I felt kind of guilty getting such a sweet bike. But I hoped that the better design would help me. In fact, I was certain it would help, so I decided that from now on I would ignore my guts and just go. If that meant crashing, that meant crashing. Next time I felt intimidated by a steep gravelly hill that made a sharp turn at the bottom, I would just have to deal with it.
Our planned trip to Moab for spring break seemed like a great way to test out my new strategy. We packed up Sam's Volkswagen camper van. We brought a green plastic bin full of our biking stuff, our dog Tanner, and playing cards.
We drove into sunny Moab on a Friday morning, and Tanner moaned and growled. Finding a campsite was first on our agenda. After driving through the Moab strip, we went out past some cows that Tanner barked at, and down Kane Creek road.
We found the perfect camping spot that we had used the previous January, before I had my new bike. We paid our little fee, and tacked up our "occupied" sign. We planned to ride the Slickrock Bike Trail the next day, so we walked around a little bit. We let Tanner climb on the red rock and frolic on the shores of the Colorado.
It may be sunny in Moab in mid-March but it is definitely not hot. When the sun goes down you better be running for those blankets, and you better stay there until it comes up again. And when you do subject yourself to the defrosting landscape, the best thing to do is go out for breakfast, even if you have pancake batter and hot chocolate in the cooler.
We went to the Jailhouse Café and ate spinach and feta omelets, and banana-walnut pancakes. We saved some home fries for Tanner, which he gulped down without chewing. We were warm. We were fed. It was time!
I yanked on my tight black shorts and my girls love dirt socks, a breathable shirt and my light wind-proof vest. Next, I put on my red Trek arm warmers, and my full-finger gloves. I pulled on my small, handy camelback, and ratcheted down my shoes. Last, I slipped on my white helmet, and the image was complete. I was a good biker.
We started peddling through the parking lot, noticing the many people who were checking out our gear. I had ridden the practice loop many times but I hadn't ever done the whole shebang. I swallowed hard and kept riding.
I hopped over the gate and felt excitement creep through my handlebars and up through my helmet. I road down two steep dips that used to make my teeth chatter, no problem. My new bike was already paying off. Then I passed a few walking bike pushers on the way back up. We stopped at the top and reviewed the landscape. "Beautiful," I said. Sam nodded in agreement.
Riding the Slickrock Trail feels a little bit like a roller coaster, except you are the source of energy. Up and down, and up and down, if you have a week stomach you might get seasick. Flat sections are almost non-existent and the hills are dramatic.
There were a lot of people out there jamming up the trail, but most of them seemed to stay near the trailhead. Soon it was pretty much just us and the task at hand.
We came to a set of shallow bowl-type things that formed a staircase to the next level. It looked like some sort of creek bed. They (the bike gods) expected me to just hop up into one bowl, peddle twice, hop up to the next, then repeat. Oh, this is no problem for Sam. "Hum-de-dum, I'm just riding over this like it were a sidewalk." I tried, I really did, but no bike would have given me the needed ability. I told myself I was tuff and had a new bike, but I was doomed to failure. At least this time my failure was due to technical ability and not lack of guts.
After a time of spinning over fairly even ground we came to a steep climb. This hill was the steepest we would see all day. Sam went for it. His peddles were rotating in fast circles, and his forearms were flexing. He did really well until the very last four feet, where the 60-degree angle turned into an 89 degree angle. His bike slid out from under him and his knee was in close contact with the rough slickrock.
Luckily, he managed to not slide down the whole hill. He stood up with a bloody knee and a smile and proceeded to try the hill three more times. He made it the last time and we cheered and clapped.
Then it was my turn and I went for it, spinning fast. I made it three quarters of the way up, but then I had a vision of my bike doing perfect backward summersaults. I could picture my damaged helmet and broken skin. I clipped out and realized walking was even harder. But I made it to the top and Sam commended my efforts. I had made it farther up than I expected.
After a while of sweating and fearing for my life, I started to feel more comfortable. Soon I came to a drop-off into a sandpit. The rocks were blackened from many past bike tires. It was time to forget about my fears and just go. I opened my eyes wider and road strait down the rocks and through the sand. I didn't fall. I smiled and silently thanked my new bike. I had done what I set out to do. I ignored my fears, and it felt great!
The terrain was fun and fairly easy for a while after that. I sat off the back of my bike and glided down bumpy switchbacks. Just when I thought I was really hauling butt some guys flew past me, careless and slightly out of control. Their bikes were clanking and rattling, and their long ponytails were flopping in the wind.
Fore the rest of the ride I kept pushing myself over edges where I wouldn't normally go. I pictured the worst, but it was always easier than I expected. Sam would say, "Wow, nice line. You look really in control." But my heart was always in my throat, even if I knew I wouldn't fall.
Near the end of the trail there was a long gradual climb. I passed three panting middle-aged men and said hello with a wide grin.
After a couple hours of red rocks, sweat, and smiles, Sam and I found ourselves back at the trailhead. We patted each other on the back and started the process of pealing off our sweaty clothes. My bike was christened with red dust. I was pleased the bike, and with my performance on the Slickrock Trail.