For the last few years now Wednesday evenings have been my mid week easy ride day. In years past I would focus on getting together a group of beginner to intermediate level riders and tailoring my ride to the riders that showed up. It was a always fun and a good time, however some part of me felt I was neglecting my own riding psyche. I would often finish a ride feeling like I still needed more. More twists, more turns, more climbs and more descents. That feeling led to last years somewhat successful rotating wednesday night rides. This year I've taken that idea and added a bit more randomness to it. Sure the calendar technically has rides that I host on nearly every wednesday but this year I'm sticking to only two regular rides a month. This has freed me up to ride places like Saratoga Gap, and Santa Teresa more often than I was able to last year. Combined with the insane growth we've seen in the last couple of years it has become a season of epic proportions.
Coming off of an injury filled year, I started off pretty slow and unsure of myself. It didn't seem to really matter where I rode I felt slower than ever. As my fitness improved in the beginning of the season I began trying to push a little harder but it would still be a few months before I saw any glimmer of hope for the season. It was some weeks back at one of first Wilder Ranch rides of the season. The ride had originally been planned as a relatively easy going ride with a pretty big group. Pretty typical for me at a place like Wilder. There are plenty of fun downhill trails and lots of fun not too challenging climbs. As our first loop drew to a close I could tell that people were pretty tired already, and may not want to stick with me through the second loop. However, despite many of the riders peeling off when we passed through the lot I had two die-hards that were up for the torturous climb I had in store. After a little cool down along the shore we headed up hill on a the totally busted out baldwin trail. The climb was long and steep but I had decided that my three compatriots were up for the faster pace. We hit the top in no time flat and were glad to have the majority of the climbing done. Our second trip down Enchanted was pretty quick. We all knew that we could just hang it out and meet back at the top. The ride was finally starting to become more than just time on my bike. It was transforming into a one of those times you think back to for years to come. The final nail in the coffin of our simple group ride was the trip down Zane. I let dean take the lead, still not feeling 100%, but as we entered the rocks for the second time of the day something came over me. I hit the gas, and didn't let up. Dean and I rocketed forward, leaving poor Fred, who was beginning to feel the 20 miles we'd already covered. I hung on his wheel the whole way. Pushing him faster and faster through the corners. Bikes leaning and carving though the tight twisty single track made me feel more and more alive with every pedal stroke and every rotation of the wheels. When we finally hit the end of the trail Dean and I both knew we had just experienced that riding nirvana that we all seek. It was the start of something awesome.
Fast forward several weeks and several rides... I found myself sinking back into the same familiar rut. Sure the rides were fun and I was still having a blast with some great new friends. Still, something wasn't quite the same. The rides all failed to capture the magic of that Wilder ride, chasing Dean down Zane. Then Wednesday's after work happened. We had a group of riders that were all well experienced and strong, despite some of them being new to Santa Teresa. I was a bit nervous as I had just installed a set of platform pedals onto my bike and was unsure of how well I'd be able to climb, let a lone descend. I hadn't tried flats in a couple years and had pretty much sworn them off. The one thing I had going for me was that I knew the trails. I've been riding STP since I first started riding, Stiles was literally the first technical descent I ever rode or cleaned. As we headed out it was clear that our pace was going to be fast. Chaz took off like a rocket... "out of shape" yeah whatever. We all gave chase though and I was confident that I'd be able to keep his wheel up the rocks. As we got into our climb up Stiles it was clear that the new comers to the park were intrigued by the amount of rocks. As we regrouped before hitting the back side of Stiles we explained that we were just getting started with rocks. The ascent up Rocky Ridge was fun, none of us really worried about dabbing a foot and we really just kept leap frogging each other. As one of us would stall the others would pass. It kept going right through the rock garden when the pace picked up again. Jim, Brad and I started spinning and really pushing fast up the last half of the trail. When we had all arrived at the top we decided on a firing order, letting Joe, take the lead as he had home court advantage. Jim followed and we all tried to keep up, but it was no use. Joe was gone. Jim and I stayed pretty close despite our vast difference in equipment. We ripped along the ridge and before I was a quarter of the way through I realized I had forgotten about my shoes and pedals. I was one with the bike, I knew the trail and was ready for everything it threw my way. By the time the rocks garden came up I didn't hesitate even for a second. I just charged. Slowing only enough to feel in control. At the mid point Joe, Jim and I stopped to let the others catch up. We were all smiling from ear to ear. The ride had transformed into that soul purifying experience that stays with you. Now I don't know your feelings on God or Mother Nature, but personally I believe that the trails I ride truly are my church. Riding my bike makes me feel alive, and closer to God than any old building ever could. Sorry if this offends, but if you're not a rider you're probably not reading this and if you are you likely understand where I'm coming from. Enough of that tangent though. This ride has ascended from the routine to the surreal. Every corner lifted my spirit and the best was yet to come. We finished Rocky Ridge and were all so pumped we some us didn't even notice the blood and swelling from the relentless rocks. Moving out we headed back to Stiles for our exit back to the trail head. It was then that Joe, a Junior in high school, confessed that he couldn't remember ever climbing so much on a ride. He was definitely more suited for ripping down hill. His being worn down however set the scene for a descent down Stiles that would be epic. A run that I'll likely never forget, for in those brief moments I was cured. My fear subsided and the tunnel vision of speed blurred all but the necessary trail features. On any other day I would simply let gravity do the work. That wasn't going to cut it today. This wasn't just Joe's home turf but mine as well. Maybe Jim had led out down the hill, but with my new found energy I was going to make sure he didn't loose me. He never did. I kept his wheel into every turn and even had to brake a couple times I probably wouldn't have if it was all clear in front of me. Now if you don't know Jim then you'll just have to take my word for it, he's fast. He's been riding for years and is now riding a legitimate super bike, built for destroying downhills. It wasn't easy to keep up with him, but it sure was fun. Pedaling down that trail and pushing hard into the switchbacks was an entirely new experience. It was incredible! So incredible that even two days later I'm still thinking about it. I pushed new limits that day. Riding with a whole new clarity, and level of confidence I have never had. I knew that at any moment I could wipe out and ruin my day, but whether it was the grip of the tires or the armor I had worn the whole ride, I wasn't thinking about that. All I knew was I had found my soul ride. The kind of ride that makes your muscles ache in new ways from using every piece of your self to power your rocket ship to pure happiness.
Well I guess I'm back. I'm so stoked on riding right now it's crazy. If you've never experienced your soul ride then maybe this whole thing will just sound like a bunch of gibberish. If that's the case then what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get right with your soul.