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It's a bit disheartening when my body reminds my mind of my actual age. The most recent, humbling reminder was a couple of weeks ago at a place called Santos Bike Shop. The shop is located out in the middle of nowhere. Directly behind the shop is a hilly, lush forest threaded with bike trails. For the record, I had never been mountain biking before. It wasn't invented yet when I was growing up, though I'm not sure it would have appealed to me much as a teen. Mountains and bicycles are two things that don't really fit together, kind of like nipples and cheese-graters. The whole nightmare began with a colleague from work who offered two other faculty members and me a weekend getaway at his mom's fishing cabin, located on a small body of water in Ocala, Florida. By all means, it sounded like a relaxing weekend in the country and I was all for it. We might have gotten away with a nice, peaceful weekend in paradise, too, if it weren't for Jasper, a colleague who is also the Charles Manson of fitness. Jasper is the kind of guy whose idea of fun is to go for a 25 mile run. He also has no time or interest in frivolous pleasures. Many of his weekends are spent participating in various tortuous races that would make the Marquis de Sade proud. If there is a race promising pain, danger, weeping and gnashing of teeth and hours of misery, he'll be sure to join it. He even pays money to enter races with names like "Tough Mudder", "Iron Crusader" and "Auschwitz 200" While my somewhat normal friends (Big Tay and Mac) and I talked about the carnal pleasures of the great outdoors, like grilling steaks over the campfire, sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon and trading tall tales until late in the evening, Jasper only spoke of one thing, mountain biking. We should have had an idea of just what we were in for while we rode in the van to Ocala. A snippet of conversation went something like this: Me: Are we hitting Satchel's Pizza Shop when we get there, boys? Mac: Oh yeah, and maybe if Big Tay drinks enough, he'll try to hit on the banjo player from tonight's bluegrass band. Big Tay: I'm just going to wink at him, in the middle of a song, then lift my shirt and smear a slice of pizza all over my chest. Me: It's good to have goals, Big Tay. Big Tay: Cheers! (Consumes beverage.) Jasper: I can't wait to ride John Brown! (We all stare at him; awkward silence fills the van.) Another clue that we were in for trouble was that Jasper brought his own mountain bike. The three of us were clueless about mountain bikes, but Jasper assured us we could rent them from the bike shop. To the three of us, mountain biking sounded like a fun little, hour long diversion and we merely agreed to give it a try as an after-thought, if only to appease our fanatical friend. We figured it would add something different to the weekend camping fun and festivities. Little did we know this innocent activity was going to be the spike driven through the heart of any fun to be had camping. In retrospect, we might have been wise to go to sleep earlier on Friday night. The camp fire's magic glow and the freedom of the great outdoors made wanting to go to sleep kind of difficult, except for Jasper. He disappeared from the camp fire and was sound asleep by 8:30 p.m. So, we did what all good friends would do under similar circumstances, spent the next four hours analyzing and critiquing the eccentricities of our sleeping friend. It must have been after midnight when the three of us called it a night. At 4:30 a.m. I was awakened by the sound of a large squirrel, foraging through the kitchen area of the cabin. In fact, all of us were. The thing was large, unafraid and noisy. No matter how many couch cushions I buried my head in, the cacophony continued. "What is that?" whispered Big Tay, from an air-mattress across the room. "I don't know, but it's flippin' annoying," I replied, while adjusting my eyes towards the kitchen, where a beam of light was floating between the stove and the refrigerator. Cupboards were clanging, silverware was being rattled and the squeaky water handles were being turned. "It's Jasper with his gay miner's light band on his head. I think he's trying to brew coffee," whispered Big Tay, then louder, "Jasper, think you could keep it down?" The beam of light turned, blinding us, as he replied, "I know, I can't wait to ride John Brown!" Jasper managed to get the coffee brewed and things quieted down a bit, but it was impossible to sleep when he began pacing around the small kitchen. He was like a kid on Christmas morning, excited and waiting for his parents to wake up and speeding up the process by making noise. The three of us continued the struggle to get more sleep, but our valiant efforts were in vain, particularly when the mountain biking maniac began repairing his bike in the middle of the dark kitchen, using the miner light and looking like an illuminated Cyclops with a wrench. We finally just woke up and stumbled towards the coffee pot. With three of us having a full three hours of sleep under our belts, we piled into the van, destination, Santo's Bike Shop. "Let's get this stupid crap over with," mumbled Big Tay. According to Jasper, the bike shop was only fifteen minutes away from camp, but according to reality, we rolled into the parking lot in just under two hours. "This is it, boys!" he exclaimed, while trying to pull his bike out of the van before we were even parked. None of us, except Jasper, had ever been in a mountain bike shop, but nothing could have prepared us for the ocular molestation we were about to undergo. Jasper went in first, and when his eyes locked with the guy behind the counter, wearing the tight spandex bicycle shorts and top, time seemed to stand still. We all swore that there was a swirling display of heart-shaped lights, like those from a disco ball that filled the space between the two. They both smiled and nodded at one another, kindred spirits. They didn't waste time with small talk, either, and just got straight to the heart of what mattered the most to both men, mountain biking. The three of us waited, nervously, in the background. When the guy walked out from behind the counter, we were speechless and in shock. None of us wanted to stare, but it was like seeing a person with an injury, you can't help but to look. We stood, transfixed and hypnotized by the bulging mooseknuckle in the guy's spandex bicycle shorts. The three of us also took a synchronized step backwards, so flawless in execution as to rival a Motown band on stage. I had hoped to just toss thirty dollars on the counter and ride off on a bike, but it wasn't so easy. There forms to fill out, deposits to be made and extra fees like a helmet rental fee, which I saw as frivolous. "I don't need any pansy helmet. Just give me a bike." I insisted. Mooseknuckles wouldn't budge, "Sir, the helmet is non-negotiable for all riders. No helmet, no riding." "Listen, Mooseknuckles, I used to ride wheelies up and down Center Street, used to jump ramps like sliding boards on bicycles stolen from the projects, all with no helmet." "That's good to know, sir. Your credit card, please," he said, handing me a helmet across the counter. My bike was waiting outside the door. I gave her a test run around the parking lot, suddenly remembering the glorious daredevil days of my youth. I recalled riding wheelies for two city blocks. And even though it was many moons ago and what I was riding felt more like a Sherman tank, I wanted to impress the boys by riding a wheelie across the parking lot. I decided to utter the famous last words, "Guys, check this out." I yanked upwards on the handlebars. The front tire did not lift a centimeter from the ground. "Okay," I thought to myself, "These guys are watching; come hell or high water, I'm riding a wheelie...." I yanked twice as hard, arching my back and leaning backward far enough to feel a few spasms in my back muscles. "We have lift-off!" The problem was, my wheelie was only a few feet in the air. I had to get pedaling faster to make it lift higher; unfortunately the bike had other ideas, such as going sideways. I found myself on this heavy contraption, on one tire, going at a high rate of speed and leaning at a sideways angle where I had a bird's eye view of the hard pavement rushing by and, out of the other eye, I noticed a car pulling into the parking lot. The back tire shot out from under me as I released the handlebars and flipped backwards, squarely on my head. The momentum sent me spinning on the asphalt in a fetal position, while the bike crashed into the new arrival's car. I opened my eyes to hear my friends all laughing, and there may have been a high-five or two involved. Luckily, there was no damage to the car and my bike seemed okay. Jasper pointed out that the helmet probably saved my life. Sure enough, after taking the helmet off and seeing the deep scratches and fresh scuff marks, I became an instant convert to the wisdom of wearing bicycle helmets. I stretched out by doing a knuckle-buster (interlocking the fingers and turning palms outwards) then strapped the helmet back on and we were off. The trail entering the woods behind the bike shop was fairly smooth. Of course Jasper was in the lead and already going faster than the three of us would have preferred. Unbeknownst to us, the trails are color coded. The trails marked by blue signs are mostly smooth riding, with very few obstacles and no steep climbs or descents. For thirty minutes or so, we followed Jasper on a blue trail. It was a bit tiring, but mostly fun, coasting into turns, changing gears to go a bit faster on a straight smooth decline. We had no idea that he was merely lulling us into a false sense of security. We eventually reached an area where there was an intersection of paths and numerous signs with arrows. Jasper was waiting for us, who knows how long. "You guys good?" "Yeah; that was great fun. Are we going now?" asked Mac. Big Tay and I shared his optimism. "Going?" asked Jasper, slightly incredulous. "We just got here. Let's hit John Brown," he said, riding off down a trail with a red arrow, which I know because, against better judgment, I was right behind him. We followed after him because he was the only one who knew how to get back to Santos Bike Shop. The red trail immediately turned into a steep cliff. I was right behind Jasper when, lo and behold, Jasper did a little quick turn maneuver around a boulder. Knowing Big Tay was right behind me, I did the right thing and warned him, "Watch the rock or you'll lose your nuts." I quickly found myself right up on the boulder. I was going faster than I could apparently keep track of. I squeezed my handbrakes, but apparently, only the front brakes worked.. I found myself airborne, in a reverse kind of wheelie. Perched at an odd angle, the whole bike balanced on the front tire, my face was traveling on a trajectory for full-on collision with many sharp, jagged rocks. I instinctively adjust my balance. Time came to a slowdown, almost a frozen picture of disaster. A number of things happened at this point in time which I will do my best to share here. First, I heard the voice of Big Tay from somewhere behind me, "You don't need to worry about your nuts." While perched on the front wheel, I also saw the highlight reel of my life flashing by, the best parts occurring in Asia, snippets and highlights. My frantic gaze went beyond. I wanted a painless landing, but jagged rocks filled the ground. One thing was clear; this landing was going to hurt. While frozen in air, I looked ahead, to see Jasper waiting in the distance, laughing as he sprouted horns from his head and his skin turned red. I let go of the handlebars and continued forward, flying. After much deliberation, I decided on a spread eagle approach. My face was saved, but it was hell on my elbows and knees. My bike hit the boulder as I did the eagle and somehow, the bike was now flying above me. I hit the jagged rocks and made a quick inventory to make sure nothing was broken or bleeding too bad. I knew there was blood; I knew there would be bruises. Nothing was broken. The bike did not fare as well. I stumbled back to my feet, straightening the sideways helmet. I went to the bike. I knew the fastest relief from embarrassment would be to get back on and ride. I pulled my Harley from a patch of grass, jumped on, and went nowhere. "Uhm," began Big Tay, pointing, "You might want to get that branch out of your back wheel." Despite having little concern for my well-being after such a tumultuous wipe-out, I simply reached down and pulled the branch out of my spokes, hopped and rode. Things quickly took a turn towards the psychedelic. I secretly wondered if, in addition to my myriad of other injuries, maybe I had a concussion. "You're wheel is wobbling," said Big Tay, again, pointing. I then realized my trip was the result of a bent rim. My riding days were done. I forged my own path out of John Brown, cutting through woods, branches cracking underfoot and slugging through vines. I pushed my bike, figuring I knew the way out because Tay and Mac were right behind me pushing their bikes. I finally led us out of John Brown. Jasper was continuing to ride the trail, maybe the second or third time. I saw a green bench and released my bike to flop to the ground and lay down on the inviting bench. Big Tay let his bike fly (blocking a trail) and collapsed to the ground. Mac had the stamina to prop his against a tree before collapsing on the ground. A husband, wife and two kids on smaller bikes were approaching the bench. "Are you guys okay?" he asked. "Yes," I replied from the bench, "And I'll be even better when I pry this bicycle seat out of my ass." He silently motioned for his kids to hurry. Eventually, Jasper finished John Brown, arriving excited to try more trails. The three of us were done. We asked him how to get back to Santos Bike Shop. He pointed, and we pushed our bikes in that direction. A few wrong turns and a close encounter with what looked like a porcupine, later, we emerged from the woods. We were never so happy to see a bike shop. I put my bike on its side, behind the shop, and gave the rim a few stomps, just to make sure I got that deposit. The awkward aftermath of going mountain biking, in addition to the cuts, scrapes and bruises, was that afterwards, all three of our asses were bruised. It is an injury that one is not so quick in sharing. After we made breakfast in the morning, Big Tay sat at the table, slowly, cautiously, lowering his rear to the chair. He exhaled loudly when making contact to his seat. Mac and I silently ate our breakfast standing. Mac finally broke the silence, "Do your guys' asses feel like you've been ass-raped by Sasquatch, like all night?" Tay and I both nodded affirmative in silence. Our silent commiserating was evidence that Sasquatch had a gangbang. Perhaps, in time, I will forget the bruises and pain. Until then, I am in no great hurry to go mountain biking. Those red trails are aptly named. There is no way through them without donating blood. And while the bruised ass has slowly become less sore, the trauma of being violated in such an intimate region is only something that will linger and haunt me. When we return to our annual fish camp pilgrimage next year, I'm fairly certain Jasper and Sasquatch will be mountain biking by themselves.
I hail from sunny Florida. I'm a huge fan of painting, photography and drawing, though I have no talent for creating any of the three. I'm here to appreciate those who do have the talent. I'm also here to showcase some of my writing. I enjoy telling stories.
Favorite visual artistVan Gogh, DaVinci, Monet, Dali, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Carvaggio, Cezanne, Chagall, DurerFavorite moviesOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Shawshank Redemption, Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Backdoor Patrol IVFavorite TV showsMy Name is Earl, Sons of AnarchyFavorite bands / musical artistsThe Rolling Stones, Dylan, Keith Richards, Byrds, Johnny Cash, Kinks, Lou Reed, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers Band, Black Sabbath, The Doors, Eliott Smith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Jones, Blitzen Trapper, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Dr. JohnFavorite booksThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, On the Road, The Stand, The Shining, The Republic by PlatoFavorite writersWilliam Blake, William Shakespeare, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, C.S. Lewis, John Keats, Patrick F. Macmanus, David Barry, Oscar Wilde, Favorite gamesChessOther InterestsWriting, playing guitar, cooking, traveling