There’s not a lot of sitting in this outdoor sport, but even the beginners’ rides are invigorating, challenging and a lot of fun.
ON THE DRIVE to Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Issaquah, I realized how little thought I had put into mountain biking before signing up for an introductory class. Mountain biking, like many outdoor sports, can inject a giant rush of adrenaline, and I am the opposite of an adrenaline junkie.
But soaring down a trail for my second time ever, I realized mountain biking also is my favorite kind of fun — physical, challenging and outside.
I signed up for a women’s Introduction to Mountain Biking class with REI, which takes groups out for a day to teach the basics, and provides equipment.
We started off with teachers Jill and Craig on flat ground to work on basic skills, like keeping our pedals even with each other while coasting. We learned the neutral and ready positions, bending our legs, core engaged, and butt back over the seat. We also worked on moving the bike side to side beneath us, and on stopping with finesse to avoid being tossed over the handlebars.
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Mountain bikers rarely sit; it is a dynamic sport that requires you to be up and ready. Craig reminded us, “You are in charge,” which I found myself repeating many times.
After practicing our skills, we were ready for our first ride, on a green run called Bootcamp.
Once we took off, it all whizzed by much faster than I would have chosen. The curves and turns felt like an endless roller coaster, and I clutched my handlebars through slightly panicked turns and rolls over bumps. I repeated to myself, “Don’t look at the trees!” and, “Don’t look at that ditch!” to help keep my eyes on the trail, key to avoiding collisions, and occasionally told myself, “Breathe!”
I was drained and relieved at the end. “Who wants to go again?” our instructors asked. They promised the second time would be better.
It was. I trained my eyes on the trail ahead for the turns. I could anticipate the trail, and even noticed my front leg was stiff and softened my knee. I practiced shifting my weight back on the downhills and bringing my hips forward to get up over the hills.
This was fun.
After more practice over bumps, then lunch, we headed back for the full Bootcamp loop, going uphill before coming back down the section we already knew. Jill told us to keep our momentum up for the roots in the first half, made more difficult by the slope. I had a couple of close calls, including pushing off from a tree with my foot to keep from falling over. Have I mentioned how much I was sweating? Part of it was a heat wave, but most of it was due to the intensity of riding and the effort of learning a new sport.
The third run down Bootcamp was over in a flash.
We were ready for our final ride, on the blue run Deuces Wild. Craig told us to stay in control and not to let ourselves get air, a different set of skills. Deuces Wild was exhilarating, with much bigger ups and downs and wild turns. I had a few moments of panic, but mostly loved it. I also knew I had hit my limit. While some folks rode again, I was exhausted and elected to stay put rather than risk a wipeout on another run.
Mountain biking is invigorating, and challenging in all the best ways. It requires an investment at the beginning, but once you have the gear, you can ride as much as you want. I can see why so many folks are hooked.