Mountain Biking in Canyonlands

 Posted by on 22 May 2006 at 5:45 am  Uncategorized
May 222006

Having just returned from a fantastic 4-day guided mountain biking trip on the White Rim Trail near Moab, UT (run by the Escape Adventures company), I’d like to share a few thoughts about our experience with the loyal NoodleFood readership. Although Diana and I have both done a fair amount of road biking, this was our first time mountain biking.

1) This is an incredibly fun activity, full of both constant mental and physical challenges. The physical requirements are fairly easy to understand — Diana and I needed to be aerobically fit and able to ride a bicycle for several hours a day, something we both could handle.

On the mental side, mountain biking is quite different from road biking. During our initial orientation, our instructors told us that the key was to keep our eyes focused on the trail approximately 15-20 feet ahead of our front tire (as opposed to on the ground immediately in front of the bike). We were told that as we pedaled, our brains would integrate the data and we would learn to respond now to the terrain information we had just gathered a split second earlier. Because the terrain was constantly changing, the process of riding required a continual attention to one’s surroundings, looking for bumps, dips, rocks and other obstacles, and patches of sand or slickrock. Based on the information gathered by our senses, we had to make countless continuous judgments on how best to respond to the terrain, for instance whether to speed up/slow down, whether to shift gears, steer one way or the other, lean our body weight forward or backward, etc.

All of these decisions also had to be made in the broader context of our knowledge of our physical abilities and limitations, as well as the capabilities and limitations of our bicycles (in our case we had rented a pair of nice full-suspension bikes).

Given the nature of the sport, reality had a way of immediately rewarding or punishing us for our judgments, in the form of either making smooth progress through the trail vs. stalling or falling off the bike. I quickly learned that if I let my attention drift for more than a second or so, I would run into trouble. But which a little practice, it was easy to get into a pleasant mental “flow state” of relaxed but intense concentration, and the time flew by very quickly. Neither Diana nor I suffered any serious wipeouts. Our reward was some magnificent scenery, as well as great exercise in the clean desert air. The views of the rugged canyonlands were fantastic, but I expect Diana will be posting some selected pictures.

2) The food on the trip was superb. We would start each day with a nice hot camp breakfast (e.g., French toast or eggs or pancakes) along with fruit, juice, and coffee. Then we would break camp, ride for a few hours, take a short lunch break, ride a few more hours, then stop for dinner and set up our new camp for the night (sleeping under the stars). Some of the dinner entrees included grilled salmon, chicken and pasta, and a fantastic Mexican enchilada pie. After burning up the calories, the dinners were a major highlight of each day. Plus, all the cooking and dishwashing was done by the tour guides!

(The trip included a support vehicle driven by one of the two guides who followed behind us carrying the group’s food, camp supplies, changes of clothing, etc. The other guide rode his/her bike with the rest of us, and could therefore point out interesting bits of geology and biology. So during our rides, we only needed to carry water and a few snacks in a lightweight waistpack or backpack.)

3) I now have a much greater appreciation for the difference between a beginning mountain biker (such as myself) and an expert (such as our guides). Part of it is sheer physical conditioning — both of the guides were in excellent physical shape, and could consistently ride faster then myself or Diana without breathing hard. Part of it was their knowledge of specific techniques, for instance how to most efficiently traverse slippery sand with the least effort, or how to handle steep climbs or descents. And part of it was good judgment, basically knowing how and when to use which techniques for any given part of the trail. And of course, this sort of judgment comes with lots of practice and an active mind.

(As the old medical proverb goes, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”)

4) I can see how this could become a very addicting hobby. It appeals to a certain type of reality-oriented, goal-directed person. Both our guides were of that type, comfortable in their abilities to rely on their minds and bodies, taking a healthy, rightfully-earned pleasure in their abilities to act efficaciously in the world based on their skills and judgments. Of course this is not unique to mountain biking — these traits are shared by many avid rock climbers, skiers, hikers, spelunkers, etc.

As an aside, one of the reasons I like Colorado is that it tends to attract these sorts of active, outdoors-oriented people. Many of these people have a generally good sense of life (even if I may have sharp philosophical differences with them on specific issues), and I generally find them pleasant to be around. Plus as a radiologist specializing in trauma and orthopedic imaging, it’s a perfect fit for my professional interests.

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