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The many stages of mountain biking

I love mountain bike culture. I love our tribe, I love all the different characters I get to meet. On a recent trip to Left Hand I met up with some fun riders, each at different stages in their cycling career. The first rider I met that day was my friend Matt.

I knew he was out there because his car was in the usual spot. All summer, me, him and this dude with a Jeep Wrangler had been vying for the first tracks of the day. There is something special about being the first one to enter the trail system. Matt has known this feeling many times, including that morning. 

This summer I learned to stop hating Strava and enjoy it as a way to see that my friends are out riding. So, I started to notice that Matt had been riding Left Hand consistently for many weeks. Matt has been on a streak. Starting At the end of August he rode, 26,28, Sept 2,9,11,13,16,18,20,22,23,25,27,29, Oct 1,2,4,5,7,9,11,13,14.

 I love that he is doing this. I think it will forever affect the way he rides. When I was in his position, with toddler age kids, I did the same thing, but I did it at Valmont. The key is find a ride that is super fun and challenging even for an hour or so. If you duck out of the house for just a few hours, then you can return home in time to help with diapers and dishes, ect.

So I’m really excited for him. Riding that hard, that often, is an awesome challenge. I want to see his streak keep going. This stage in a mtber’s life , I’ll call it, The Man on a Mission stage. In my experience, the MoaM stage works in early parenthood, because it’s easier to keep promises about the time you will be returning.  At Valmont, you could break your bike at any section of the park and be less than a twenty minute walk from the car. At LH the walk out time is a little longer, but you’ll always be walking down the hill.  By riding the same spot over and over you build a routine that can stay pretty consistent. It’s much different from a trip where you are meeting other riders and going to some new spot. A trip like that is full of variables and less likely to get you home by noon. The Man on a Mission will complete his mission and be home on time.

    I rode a lap with Matt, then he left and I turned back up the hill for another climb. At the top I met up with another wonderful part of mtb culture, The Crew.

    Being part of a crew is so much fun. I’ve been in a Crew in Crested Butte, and then again in Bend. In CB each of us would rush home from work, quickly scarf down some food and then grab bikes. In Bend we would start to gather at Hutch’s bike shop right before closing. The employees would close out cash registers and lock up while the rest of us brought in the display bikes from outside.

    A fun crew comes together like ingredients in a spicy dish. Everyone brings a slightly different style or skill. In our  Bend Freeride crew, someone was always best at manuals, someone else would send the biggest hucks, while someone else had whips that couldn’t be touched. And the crown was often temporary.

    This trio from Denver was very fun to follow down the hill. If the leader jibbed off a roller the other two followed. I could sense they pushed each other every ride. They were all riding at a similar high level. I wouldn’t doubt if they leap frogged each other in pushing the envelope. The members of a Crew can very from ride to ride, but you know who’s in the Crew. A Crew builds strength as you start to share experiences. Maybe everyone watched Bob do that big rock drop, but only you were behind him that time he slipped a pedal and almost died in front of you. Shared experiences build bonds. I was with my original Front Range Crew in the 90’s when we reached the bottom of White Ranch and realized that we left the keys to the bottom car up in the top car. Five of us stood in the public pit toilet as cold rain poured down and the one guy hitchhiked to the top. Now that’s bonding.

    I follow this Denver Crew on Strava and I see that every weekend at least the core group of three meets up. I think that’s so great, I hope they enjoy the time with a solid crew. It’s not something you always have.

    I’m totally judgy when I meet riders at LH. I’m quickly sizing you up and trying to decide if you’ll be fun to ride with. Some people are ruled out before they even speak. The first thing I look for is knee pads. I like solid looking pads with a few scuff marks and some wear. If I see someone at Five Points without armor I can assume, A. They are new and they don’t understand Left Hand. or B. They think they are so good they can ride there and never crash. I don’t want to ride with either rider. I try to offer the newbie some guidance down the “easiest” trail and bid them good luck.

So I was happy to meet Cody and Aki one morning in LH. Both of them were geared up and ready to ride. These guys were at another phase in the mountain bike life. I’m not sure what to call it, maybe Hungry for Progression. This is the point where every ride can offer a chance to break through a personal barrier, and they were eager to do it. I assessed what they were ready for and ran through my mental roladex of available features. Since I was stepping into the roll of a guide, I needed to make the right choices on where to take them. 

I chose some jumps with limited consequences and it really paid off. I got to watch Aki hit a jump, wipeout into a soft pine needle landing and come up grinning like a fool. Honestly, teaching someone how crash is better than teaching them how to land it. Landing it will come on it’s own. The stage these guys are at is really one of the most precious times in mountain biking. Nothing stokes the fire like pushing through to new levels and facing new challenges. The trouble with facing new challenges is that they get harder and harder the more you do. You only get one time to land your first five foot drop. But, then you get to land a six foot drop. 

Each time I meet up with Aki, he just wants me to point him at some new feature. At this step in his journey he's open to try anything, and he has plenty of firsts he can work his way though. I'm a little jealous of this stage. On my path, I've picked all the low hanging fruit. I can no longer hit my first 30 foot double. That doesn't mean I don't have fun, heck hitting a jump of any size is still fun. My breakthroughs just come further apart.

To every one who mountain bikes, whatever stage you are at, savor it. 



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