Hi My Name Is…

Beginner Lessons September 2017
By Spencer Smith

Hey guys and gals, I am Spencer T. Smith and it’s nice to virtually meet you.

For the past four years I have lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (in the Appalachian Mountain chain) in a town somewhere between the Hiwassee and the Ocoee rivers; about 20-miles north of Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain. Because I live so close to endless trails and wilderness, I have picked up some new hobbies and activities that I now cannot live without. I run, hike, trail run, camp, backpack and even bike around town… to the point where I barely ever use my car. But the one thing I have not picked up yet, the one thing I have always wanted to do is mountain bike.

Every year around this time (August/September) I’ve told myself, “This is the year. This is the year I start mountain biking”. And every year my dream falls flat. The problem is that I get stuck in a rut of hiking, backpacking, and camping and that is ultimately satisfying. I am not complaining but… I have yet to start mountain biking and darn it, it's about time! I even started trail running. I mean come on, how close can a person get without actually participating?

This nonsense stops today. Today I mountain bike. Or at least that's what I wanted to happen. My dream once again fell through, but not because I gave up or lost interest but for the best reason I can think of at this point in my life: I simply don’t have the means. Don’t worry, I did learn something in my pursuit to finally get into the saddle of a mountain bike and head out to the trails. Here’s what I learned…

Today I went to two different bike shops in my small town to see if there were any way I could get on a bike today. You know those used car sales pitches: “Mister Smith, what do we gotta do to put you behind the wheel of this fine automobile today?” Yeah it didn’t go anything like that.

All I learned from my experience is that I do not have enough money to buy a decent bike. Or rent one! Aside from the blatant lack of funds to even get out on the trails, the other important thing that I need to process before I do anything is to gain knowledge on the subject at hand. See it turns out such a high degree of knowledge was never needed up front for all my other outdoor adventures. For hiking, running, camping, and others I sort of learned as I went. I guess there was simply time with these other activities to learn as you partook rather than it be necessary to go in well-equipped mentally from the start. Because of this, I’ve assembled a handy guide to help you get underway with just about every other mountain activity besides biking because, after all, you’re here reading this so you probably have some idea of how that goes.

Here’s how to get started…

Hiking: You just have to go to a trail and walk (making sure the trail is not 12-miles, a step that I failed to do the first time I went for a serious hike.) Then once you gain a little bit of trail knowledge you progress to learning about boots, backpacks, and everything else you need.

Camping: Get in a car with some college friends and drive to the woods. Get out and put up some hammocks (sleeping on the ground sucks) and build a fire (being cold also sucks). Once your friends move away and you can’t just go, drive and camp, you’ll find yourself researching tents, stoves, bear cans, and a bunch of other things crucial to outdoor survival.

Then, once you hike and camp enough, you think to yourself it just may be possible to do both of these activities at once. Then you realize that’s called backpacking. You research backpacks, get yourself one and then you start doing that.

Running: To start you just run. Gain street knowledge, buy expensive shoes, water bottles and start eating goo from a pouch- which leads you to wanting more and more.

Then you get tired of the same streets and decide to up your game by take your running to the trails. A few twisted ankles on roots and slippery rocks later and you are officially a trail runner.

But Mounting Biking…

Oh, sweet mountain biking. Well, first you have to find a mountain bike. Or you could rent one for $45. Now this can be an obstacle unto itself. Especially if you are newly married and work at a coffee shop for example.

Instead of going and getting on a trail like I wanted to do, I spend a better part of my day reading reviews and shopping on Craigslist. It’s similar to riding but also kinda different. And in the end I still lack the means to go and do what I set out to do.

This is very typical of me, to want to do something but not actually being able to do it right away. Probably because I tend not to look too far ahead when it comes to decisions like this. Or I just think the whole will be far easier than I thought. My search was not in vain; I told you that I did learn something that will ultimately help me in the long run. A few somethings actually.

  1. I learned of how to get involved in the local mountain biking community. Each of the two shops in my town has a weekly ride, one on Tuesdays at 6pm and the other on Thursdays at the same time.
  2. I should have done online research before I went into either store, to help me not look like such a newb.
  3. Be willing to spend money. And more than you think.

I did not get out on a bike today (unless you count the parking lot of a bike shop) but all of this is merely a minor setback. Don't worry, next time you hear from me, I will have been on a bike, on a trail. Until then its saving time. And if you need a good cup of coffee in the mean time, I'm your man.

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