Saturday, October 01, 2011

Thanks, Mr. UPS guy

It was going to be my first mountain bike ride since Aug. 10. As it turned out, I didn't have time for the ride I originally planned, so I would have to settle on my usual, the Steven's Creek loop. It's the route I always fall back on and subsequently crashed on seven weeks ago. I'd been looking forward to getting back at it, but I'd be lying if I said I felt excited for this particular ride. More like dread.

I felt the tell-tale lead weight in my legs as I churned up the paved Monte Bello Road. It was a humid day and far from clear; a brown haze hovered over the Silicon Valley. Sweat beaded on my arms as I sucked the thick air, which felt to me like 110 degrees but was probably closer to 80. A brown truck rumbled past, heading toward the wineries that dot this narrow, dead-end road. The grade steepened and light-headedness set in; it felt to me like 11,000 feet elevation but in reality was still under 2,000. The brown truck emerged from a driveway and passed again. I thought about the trail runs I did this week and the current condition of the trails — loose gravel with nothing left to hold it together because all of the dirt had been churned up and dehydrated to a fine moon dust. The result was a little like a teflon-coated baking sheet spread with granola and topped in several inches of powdered sugar. A slippery, skidding mess on descents and churning, slipping grind on the climbs, and if I fell there were only sharp things to land on. My riding confidence is already shattered and these chunder trails don't seem like the best place to pick up the pieces. But they're what I have to work with, for now.

Today, however, I just wasn't feeling it. I was already hot and tired and the mountain biking hadn't even begun. My GPS was running and the numbers weren't good. This just wasn't my day. I resolved to finish the paved climb and then turn around. I would ride trails another day. Maybe on Sunday. Or next week.

The brown truck passed again, and this time the driver stopped the vehicle beside me. I put my foot down and looked up at the UPS guy, expecting him to shout at me for obstructing the narrow road with my bicycle. Instead, he was smiling. "You're toasting this climb," he said enthusiastically. "I don't often see mountain bikes up here that are really ripping it up."

For a second or two, I just looked at him. Who me? I glanced back to make sure he was definitely talking to me. Had he even been up Monte Bello before? Had he actually seen other cyclists riding up this road? I personally had ridden this thing at least 25 percent faster in the past, but today I was just a plodding, tired slowpoke. I didn't really know what to say. "Wow, um, thanks."

"You gonna ride down the trails?" he asked.

"Um, yes," I said. "Heading down Steven's Creek Canyon."

"Awesome," the UPS guy said. "Rip it!"

And with that, he continued up the road. I plodded after him and watched him turn into another driveway. I had at that point only about a half mile to the end of the pavement. But I could hardly turn around then. The UPS driver would see me retreating down the road. And anyway, he had such a big smile on his face. He told me to rip it. Secretly, I hoped he wasn't talking about my skin. But his enthusiasm was infectious.

I rode the loop. It wasn't that bad. I didn't exactly rip it. I was overcautious and poky. But I had fun. And I got my Steven's Creek crash demon out of the way. I'm one ride closer to rebuilding my confidence. I'm glad I went. Thanks, Mr. UPS guy.