Getting Back on the Bike


Brent Uberty

(Brent Uberty) Staff Writer Ryan Miller tried mountain biking after a brief hiatus.

(Brent Uberty) Staff Writer Ryan Miller tried mountain biking after a brief hiatus.
(Brent Uberty) Staff writer Ryan Miller tried mountain biking after a brief hiatus.

“Anyone that makes it up this is a bad ass,” says my friend and guide Brad Riding.
It’s nearly sunset, and we are pedaling bikes up some trail at the top of Mill Creek Canyon. The “this” he’s referring to is a sudden gradient change on a mountain bike trail that’s fast approaching.
It was my first ride in over a year, and really my first true uphill climb on a mountain bike in probably close to a decade. My breathing was heavy, and my legs were screaming.
I look up and see him begin the noteworthy, but short climb, and I follow suit, determined to be a “bad ass” by his definition. Call it stupid, but that thing could have been an eight mile-long stretch of a more tortuous grade and my reaction would have been the same. I was making it up that hill no matter what. I put my head down, locked my eyes on the back of my comrade’s tires and forced myself up the mountain.
“You make it up?” my friend yells back to me.
I can hardly speak, but through my gasps for air I utter a barely audible, “Yeah.”
I achieved “bad ass” status, and it was worth it.
There are many theories and legends as to how mountain biking became popular. Some claim it began with the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of enlisted men who rode bikes from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone in the late 1800s to test bikes for future military use on mountainous terrain.
There was also a French club called Velo Cross Club Parisien, whose members modified their bikes to develop a riding style that resembles what’s common today.
Others give credit to John Finley Scott, an American who developed the “Woodsie,” or, as some know it, the world’s first true mountain bike. Scott developed the bike in northern California, the region where the sport evolved into what we know it as today. It’s also where my first bike journey occurred.
In the summer of 2013, I took a trip to Lake Tahoe with a group of friends and was told to bring a bike. I didn’t own one, but I knew my brother had a super old bike sitting in his garage, so I borrowed that in case I would need it. And, oh, did I need it.
Two days of downhill trail riding left me with bruises, scrapes, and one of the best times I can remember. Unfortunately, despite the numerous trails surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, the rides didn’t continue when I returned to Utah, and soon enough a year had gone by.
Here’s the thing about the Tahoe trip: None of it was spent climbing a mountain or hill or anything resembling it. We found a trail which both started and finished just off a major road. We parked a car at the bottom, drove to the top, and rode down and repeated the ride several times. It was glorious.
I quickly learned that not all trails are like that.
When I told Brad I wanted to go mountain biking, he suggested going up Mill Creek Canyon. He told me it wasn’t a super hard climb and it was a fast, easy descent. The trail is an out-and-back trail that is all ascending, which means the further you go up, the more fun you’ll have on the way down.
The sun is about an hour from setting when we arrive at the trailhead. Brad has three friends who are already out on the trail. Our plan is to ride until we see them coming down and join in on their descent.
We begin our ride, and immediately the trail lets us know what we are in for. There’s no easing into the ride, as it begins with an uphill push into a corner. Irrational confidence fills me as I easily make it to the corner, around it, and up along the climb. This is nothing – just a ride in the woods.
I let Brad lead and use his pedal strokes to set my pace. My guide is a fairly experienced rider, going multiple times a week during the warmer months. As he rides it’s clear he has strong legs, and he makes the climb with relative ease.
“Whenever you need a rest, just holler,” Brad says.
Pride is an interesting thing. It can push you to moments of greatness or bring out the stupidity in you, with sometimes little-to-no gray area. Like hell I’m going to ask for a breather.
The woods are enchanting. I come around a bend and see the sun shining through the trees, showcasing its last bit of light before it hides itself behind the mountains. As the light pierces through the tops of the pines to the earth, I temporarily forget about the pain that’s been growing in my thighs. I spot two birds flying through the sunny trees and land on a lower branch, basking in the light. It really is a wooden sanctuary.
At this point we have gone maybe a half mile, but I feel like we have ridden 80. The whole not-biking-for-a-year-thing is really backfiring now.
As the climb through the cathedral of trees continues, fellow bikers start to cruise down past us. We approach a sharp switchback turn, and a group of four cyclists swing around it. The trail is barely big enough for two bikes, so I pull off, thankful for the opportunity to rest. The descenders slide to a stop and motion for me to ride past.
“We have the right of way,” Brad says. “The one going uphill always has the right of way.”
One thought enters my mind: “Damn it.”
With the steepness of the grade I know I won’t be able to start without wasting what’s left in my legs, so I swallow my pride and walk the bike up the hill, trying not to make eye contact with the stopped riders. I am ashamed.
Eventually the trail begins to blur together, and soon I am characterizing things into two categories — steep and very steep, both of which wouldn’t be what I consider fun.
More and more riders fly past us on their way down, and I start to search, no, I start to pray for Brad’s friends to appear.
(Brent Uberty) Staff Writer Ryan Miller tried mountain biking after a brief hiatus.
(Brent Uberty) Staff Writer Ryan Miller tried mountain biking after a brief hiatus.

As the days is fading, one of them finally comes flying down the hill, skidding to a stop right by us. The other two aren’t far behind.
Greetings are exchanged, and I attempt to put on a front that says, “No, I’m not tired at all.” It’s not convincing.
I elect to go last in the group, knowing my pace will be slower. I turn my bike around and push off and something amazing happens — gravity is once again on my side.
After a few hard pedal strokes to get up to speed, I let physics do the rest. The trail isn’t technical. There aren’t jumps, drop offs, or any big rock gardens. It’s a smooth, fast trail that begs to be ridden hard.
The four in front of me do just that, sending out a cloud of dust from behind as they speed down the trail. My novice riding status is on full display as I never allow myself to ride at too high of speeds.
Even with the conservative tempo, the feeling of true exhilaration comes. The forest flies by me, and I’m reminded why I fell in love with this one summer ago. It’s fast, it’s decently dangerous, and it’s breathtaking — my definition of “bad ass.”
[email protected]