There seems to be a widening gap between the mountain biker I want to be and the one I am.
I recently got that cruel dose of reality on a pair of rides.
The first was on a trail north of Ketchum. It was a beautiful day. A stream babbled along the trail, which wound through pine forests and lush meadows and into the mountains.
The air was warm but also crisply cool, like when you’re sitting by a sunny window with the air conditioner blowing.
We rode like boys coming home after the last day of school, hopping rocks and carving tight, twisty turns.
Then the trail pitched uphill into mountain goat territory.
I’ve ridden mountain bikes for more than 20 years. I ride year-round, although somewhat sporadically, and that first ride in the mountains tests me in ways in which I’m never quite prepared. The Foothills are a great place to ride, but no substitute for a true mountain trail.
I cranked on the pedals and tried to mentally prepare for the grueling climb ahead, but in the first technical section, I had to get off the bike and push.
I tried to contain my frustration about failing to make the first short pitch, but I kept it in check.
Climbing a technical trail requires a mix of power, agility and balance. If you don’t have it, it won’t magically appear.
I didn’t have it.
To clear multiple pitches, you need rhythm and momentum. You pedal to gain speed, pick your line, push hard over the rough stuff, then recover.
When you’re pushing the bike instead of riding, there’s no momentum and certainly no rolling, and restarting on a rough, steep trail is challenging and exhausting.
I swallowed my pride and kept pushing. I knew there were many more technical sections ahead, and I didn’t want to burn myself out.
But before long, my lungs were heaving like bellows, and my heart pumped like an overworked piston trying to push thin-air oxygen molecules through my circulatory system.
So I couldn’t ride the steep section of trail, and I couldn’t push up it without doubling over?
Yikes. And I call myself a mountain biker?
The inner drill instructor started barking. “You will get up this mountain! You will ignore the pain!”
And my inner hippie said, “Relax and enjoy the wildflowers and scenery. There’s no need to beat yourself up.”
And I thought, “Shut up, hippie. My friends aren’t sniffing daisies. They’re riding up it.”
So I pushed. And when capable, I rode. And it hurt, and I learned I wasn’t nearly as tough as I wished.
Eventually, we topped out, and it was downhill back to the trailhead.
I tried to redeem myself. Gravity is my friend. Ride aggressively, bounce through those nasty technical sections and carve through the corners.
It went great, until I crashed.
The drill instructor returned: “Are you just going to lie there? Get up, get going!”
This time, I heard him loud and clear. I popped up and continued charging downhill, but I paid a little more attention to the traction in the corners.
We returned to the trailhead, and I felt alive, even if I was exhausted, scraped and sore.
I returned to the Foothills a week later feeling a little cocky. I certainly hadn’t “conquered” the mountains, but I survived them, and the Foothills trails would seem tame in comparison.
I hit the new Avimor trails north of Boise, which you can read about in the July 5 issue of Idaho Outdoors.
They’re fun trails. A little more technical than typical Foothills trails, but much more mellow than the trail I rode in Ketchum.
But I didn’t exactly blaze through the Avimor trails. My old nemesis — summer heat — hit me the same way the thin mountain air did.
I wheezed. My legs burned. I struggled. I crashed.
Frankly, it was embarrassing. Last month, I was doing 20-mile rides in the Foothills, but 8 miles on the Avimor trails in the heat about knocked me out.
Altitude and heat: Am I making convenient excuses? Maybe a little. I tend to skip riding for a few weeks while others are cranking away on the pedals, and then I expect to pick up right where I left off.
It doesn’t happen.
But I will keep riding, and suffering, and trying in vain to live up to the steely, tireless rider I wish I was.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors
Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Sunday. Look for Zimo next week.