The weekend of Labor Day was full of surprises. On Thursday I got my wisdom teeth out. Friday I watched Blazing Saddles with my mom. Saturday, I ran a 5K and bought a mountain bike, Sunday, I went on a trail run with my dad and wife. Monday, well Monday I mountain biked for the first time
Labor Day: I woke up early in the morning (8:30), ate breakfast, drank some coffee, jumped in my car and headed toward the Ocoee River on U.S. Highway 64. As I cruised through the winding mountain road with the river on my right, I started to have visions of what the day might bring. I began to smell the pine, feel the wind in my hair, hear the sound of rubber hitting rock, and then, just about the time I lost all focus on the road before me, it was time to turn off onto a little dirt road that lead to the trail head.
I pulled up to what seemed to be my normal spot at this particular trail head. I got out. Put my front tire on. Put my helmet on (safety first). Then I walked my bike to the start of the trail. I recall having hiked the particular trail that I picked for my first ride some time ago. It is called Clemmer Trail and takes you from the valley of Chilhowee Mountain Overlook to Benten falls; about 8.8 miles round trip.
My thought process before I started riding went like this…
Today’s going to be awesome!
I am going to mountain bike, and see beautiful mountains and rivers.
And you know what? It's gonna be easy. You’re going to love it, boy! Yeah!
Clemmer is a good trail. Great for a first ride, yeah, yeah it's what? About 8 miles or so and easy. Yeah, yeah that’s it. Easy. And pretty flat.
Time to get all this easy flatland riding underway. This is going to be great!
Oh, how my memory failed me… Oh my aching ignorance.
I jumped on the bike and immediately started to ride straight uphill. It only took maybe what seemed like five minutes. That’s not a whole lot of time suffering from the sounds of it but in reality the muscles in my legs caught fire within the first two minutes of the ascent. Just imagine three more minutes!
It was all uphill for probably the first mile, maybe two, but I don’t really know because to me it felt more like ten. The uphill was relentless! I imagined it had to be what riding up Niagara Falls would be like. If Niagara Falls were made of dirt. I was off the bike walking it up the hill more than I would like to admit.
“Oh, how my memory betrays me. Oh how I wish I could find my breath and just go home. I hate mountain biking,” I told myself. "I just wasted my money, my time, and energy, why the hell did I do this to myself? This isn’t fun, this is torture."
The whole way up I chanted expletives after expletives to myself to make myself feel better. It didn't work.
This all changed once I hit the top and turned the corner.
From the top of the incline it was smooth sailing, er riding. The rest of the trail up to the falls were rolling hills, flats, and creek crossings. It was a dream. Not so easy that I was bored and not as hard as the beginning that had me wanting to quit. My demeanor changed instantly once the climb was behind me. For the next three miles I was free, I was in love, I was alive.
Until I snapped back into reality when I realized I made a wrong turn at a trail crossing and had to backtrack. Then going back the other way getting back on to what I thought was the right way, only to again realize I was going the right way the first time (I should have taken a picture of the map). Once I started back down the original path, I was a mile away from the Falls.
I made it to the Falls (not Niagara, by the way), which was just beautiful. But I couldn’t stay for long. I've seen Benton falls ten times before and I had bigger fish to fry. Before heading back, I ended up talking to two riders who I had passed on my way up (their way down).
They looked done, tired, hungry, maybe even a little angry. They just did the climb and it appeared they didn't like it either. We talked for a second as they ate protein bars. They assured me that the down is worth the pain of the up. I drank some water, ate a little something, and was back on my bike.
The way back was liberating. It was all straights, creek crossings, and rolling hills. Right up until you get back to the top of that dreaded, stupid slope. But this time... this time I got to go down.
I stood up on my pedals and just rode it out, crossing little obstacles as they came, having to dab the brakes to slow down each time I was getting a little out of control. Before I knew it, I was at my car. The down went by so fast I had not time to look anywhere but ten feet in front of me! The wind whipped through the vents in my helmet and I felt free. But just like that, it was over. I wanted more.
A couple of days later my wife was talking to one of her professors who just so happens to mountain bike. She asked him about trails her elated husband should check out. He told her about some easy beginner trails that I already knew about. Then at the end he told her, “Once he feels good about riding, he should do Clemmer Trail. But this one’s not for the faint of heart.”
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