North by Northeast

How to Scare Your New Wife
2 June, 2006, 9:10 pm
Filed under: bike, Local

What follows is the real-life story of a man and his beloved wife of five days…

First day back from our honeymoon, we decided we should go on Amanda's third trail ride, this time at our local haunt, the Middlesex Fells Reservation, only miles from our house. We knew a nice place to park near Winchester Hospital that was right on the Designated Mountain Bike Loop. When Amanda arrived home from work, I saddled up the car with the rack and bikes, loaded in our gear, and off we went.

However, we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into

It was 90° 90% humidity. Chance of T-Storms.
My rear disc brake was nearly seized.

…and this was before we got on the bikes
So I went about fixing a disc brake: a) I've never, ever worked on a disc brake before and b) had no instructions. I did, however, have the proper tools.

Luckily, after about 5 mins I figured out how it functioned, and after about 7 I had the wheel spinning freely. then we set off on the designated mtb loop trail. We planned on just following this one loop (about 5 mi) so we didn't bring a map. Nice and simple.

As soon as we got on the trail, we found it was really, really technical: well beyond Amanda's limits as a newbie, and pushing mine as a recently un-retired rider. Lots of sharp rocks, exposed roots, loose rocks and sand… tight switchbacks surrounded by trees and boulders… It was about two minutes in that I heard "this is really tough, I don't like this."

"Don't worry dear, it'll get easier." Well, I had hoped it would, I was surprised to see this much…

Welp, it didn't get any easier. But at least we were able to stay on the trail. The other day we had to stop every two minutes to check the map to make sure we were still on track. This time we were stopping every two minutes to walk our bike through something. I was able to ride a good deal of it, but felt guilty, since I knew A would be dragging through it. She was getting upset with me, and was not enjoying herself. No amount of "Butt back, pedals flat" would get her down those tricky hills. She was rightly frightened of the terrain. Had this been her first ride, that would have been it. Luckily she'd had two prior positive experiences…

The story is just beginning.

Amanda's complaining she wants to go home, it's hot (but better under the canopy) , and we're dragging our bikes over damn-tough terrain. It felt like she was personally angry at me for having dragged her out there. It was my fault, but I didn't do it on purpose to punish her! She wasn't being too conversant. Highly experienced cyclists rode by a couple times – which was embarrassing to Amanda – I try to tell her that no one thinks less of her (or me) for walking – they appreciate that this stuff is hard. One guy passed by on a single speed! We hike on, for about a half an hour of on again, off again hike-a-bike. I'm becoming convinced that bike-hating hikers made this trail specifically to scare away new mountain bikers from the Fells. It was certainly working with Amanda (note: I will be called a sissy for saying this loop was tough, and I don't think those 1% of crazy, angry hikers represent the other 99% (the latter, of which I'm a part of)… just as the 1% of the irresponsible riders don't represent me and the other 99% of caring mountain bikers) Did I miss the 5-inch front and rear suspension requirement for the trail, perhaps?

We come to a few sections that are well within her abilities, but sooner than later we're walking again. Now it's getting to the point where I'm certain she's angry at me for bring her here… I had no idea it was going to be this tough.

We hit a section that's ridable, and we're off downhill… I have to slow down in a tough spot, but can't clear it – shit! – can't bail out of the clipless pedal fast enough! – and fall over…

I try to assess what's wrong – have I sprained my wrists? Cut my hands and legs? Why is my torso all cramped? My hip is not happy…

Ouch! I did a doozy on myself. I look up at Amanda who has no look on her face. No concern it seems. Just staring while I'm writhing in pain…

I'm in pain, get up and try to shake it off… everything seems to work… and the bike is OK, too. But I can't believe she didn't even ask, are you OK? Is she that mad at me that she couldn't even lay down her bike to check on me?

So I flip out, and swear at her… "How about a little empathy?"

Not a good move. She had apparently asked if I was OK, and was afraid that when she didn't get an answer, that if she asked again I'd yell something like "no, I'm not OK, can't you see?" Instead I yelled at her for not asking… I'm hurt physically, now she's hurt emotionally… that was an uncomfortable few minutes, how fast can we get out of here? Was one week of marriage is all we could take?

After a few minutes, tensions relaxed and we apologized. It looked like the car was right over the next ridge, and we could get out of there. Next time, if I hadn't totally beaten her new enthusiasm for biking out of her, we would plan better! I would prepare to go on simpler trails….

But our day was in reality, just beginning

So, off we travelled seemingly at the end of our journey, some nice simple trails and were newly made-up. Then we come to an 3-way intersection that was unmarked… which way should we go? We go down a little on one side and don't see any markers… then, we see a couple of riders… and ask them "hey, which way is the mtb loop?" "it runs this way…" and he motions… was he even on the loop? He seemingly came out of the woods… but indeed there was a trail there, and judging by his hand motions, that was the loop. We were terribly confused. No signs. We needed properly marked trails… there are a hundred unmarked trails through the Fells, and most of the "actual" trails are unmarked, or poorly marked at intersections. Nevertheless, we went up the trail he'd just come off of.

Trail was too kind of a word. Despite the fact I had seen him and his buddy come off this same trail, I'm now doubting I actually saw that happen. It was a rock and root infested hell. I wouldn't even care to hike this. We drag our bikes though un-ridable terrain… if he and his buddy rode this, they are not of this world… and his buddy was on a classic, unsuspended early 90s Ritchey.
we find a little terrain we can ride through, and I wind up going over a very narrow wooden bridge across a narrow ravine that was about 3ft deep. I got through OK, but there was a drop of about a foot when you got to the end, I pictured Amanda breaking herself…. and just after we'd made-up…

She gets up on the bridge… and teeters between trying to ride and trying to walk – indecision is the most dangerous thing in these situations – she needed to commit one way or the other…
miraculously she rolls off the bridge, and I'm fairly certain that without her front shocks and a huge dose of just plain luck, she would have endo'd right into the tree that laid directly two feet after the dismount. Phew!

After the bridge, more hike-a-bike awaited… and the trail was the worst of the day. It's getting late, we're not sure we're on the right trail and the trail is barely one.

We could see a park fire road paralleling the trail about ten yards through the bush… and we're certain its the one we just had pulled off of (it was lined with "no trespassing – water supply" signs)

We decide to cut over to it, and ride it in to the same direction… hope that in a just a few minutes, would be back at the car. We drag our bikes through the brush and push on a similar vector.

We continue to circle the reservoirs we no trail markers in sight. A half hour or so of this, and it's time to start worrying about remaining daylight. We meet a couple of other bikers… they don't seem to really know where they are, seemingly just riding the fire roads "Just keep following the roads, they all have to go somewhere, right?"

Follow we did. We knew the car was near Winchester Hospital, and near the extreme northwestern corner of North Reservoir. It had a brick pump house right near where we parked. These were our only land marks.

Finally, we see a pump house in the distance…

We pick up the pace and pass the house, near a water works facility, which we race up to the gate…

…dead end…

the gates are locked, and there is no one around. Only the ubiquitous "no trespassing signs" all around no side trails around, no vistas to at least see that we were on the right reservoir. This is what the Fells look like… see all the water? We were parked at the west most northern tip of the "North Reservoir" See all the trail intersections?

now we backtrack… doomed to simply try another road, try another, using the setting sun as a westerly guide, trying to keep the water on one side of us…

after about 15 minutes (of actually really pleasant riding) later… we hit a trail marker!
Willow Spring Path! But it's not just a marker… it's a marker to a trail I know… one whose terminus is our car… luckily I knew this trail, since it was the one we followed went we came here for our engagement photos, only a few weeks prior. Snakey but rideable singletrack… now with a purpose!

after about ten minutes, we run into a couple high school aged kids, and we ask if we're near the Hospital, and they confirm that I had indeed recognized the right trail name… we passed them and their trail of pot smoke and two minutes later we're sitting on the curb next to the Saab, sweaty, dirty, injured and bug-bitten. But alive, happy, and not rained on…

{Epilog} I read in my MTBing Near Boston book that the MTB Loop is "Intermittent to Difficult." Whoops. Next time, I promised A, I'll plot out an all-fireroad ride.

Luckily, we didn't flat on any of the many, many sharp rocks. I didn't have a patch kit, nor spare tubes– then it really would have been an ordeal. We'll have that next time, too. At least we had plenty of water in our Camelbaks.

Tune in next time when Brian attempts to scare off another prospective mountain biking wife with an ill conceived, poorly planned ride…


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Saw your link on MTBR. My first experiences at Boston area mtb’ing (at the Fells, HP, Lynn, etc) were very similar to yours, except that my wife was not there to suffer with me. Two years later I am easily clearing the same trails I once thought were impossible to ride (even when I saw others riding them). Keep riding and soon you’ll realize that the Fells is actually a pretty tame park. Until then I recommend Great Brook Farm in Carlise as a good beginner spot to ride (it’s my wife’s favorite spot). Let me know if you ever need someone to show you around.

Comment by Antonio

NO map? NO spare tubes? NO patch kit? ho boy…

Comment by Jrod

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