Work for the "Funemployed"

Today was one of those days to really appreciate the free-lance life: weather predicted to be outstanding plus no pressing deadlines meant that I could accept an invitation for some late-morning MTB action and forget life's troubles for a while.

10:30 a.m. and the boys from Boston come rolling up to the parking lot at Russell Mill Town Forest in Chelmsford. NEMBA has been working with the Town of Chelmsford to improve the trails for mountain biking. This would be the first NEMBA maintained trail set that I've ever ridden.

Damn, that thing is CLEAN!
Dave, Joel (both Minuteman Road Club) and Abel (Hup) pile out of Dave's car and start gearing up for the ride. It was already at least 70ºF out, no wind and just a couple of clouds in the sky. Perfect for playing hookie...

A quick survey of the gear they were unloading confirmed what I already suspected: not only was I the oldest person there (by nearly 20 years), my '95 Stumpjumper was clearly the antique jalopy vintage ride of the bunch.

Hmm, they are carrying only one water bottle each and I have over a half gallon on my back...
Dave had us underway quickly and we started with a swoopy descent along the pond that had me realizing that I hadn't been on my MTB in a while. Seat height all wrong, shoes felt funny and all that water sloshing around on my back sure felt funny after a week's worth of road riding.

I stuck to Dave's wheel as close as I dared... which was still too close: he bunny hopped a small gap between two flat (and sharp) rocks that were on either side of a small stream. I did not get my rear wheel up in time as I crossed and sure enough, just minutes into the ride, the guys were standing around watching me swap out a flatted tube.

TWO broken tire levers and one CO2 cartridge later, we were back under way. Having skipped sunscreen, I now had a  protective layer of flat-fix grime all over my arms and legs. It went nicely with the  grey/black theme of my kit.

Worst part of fixing a flat in a group is when their polite time-killing supportive conversation stops and you realize they are ready to go NOW but you are still futzing with the bits and pieces of your bike. That didn't last long, I stuffed it all in my pack and we were on our way again.

The boys are back there wondering why I'm wearing my helmet like this.
Dave took us up to highest part of the trail system straightaway, which had me wheezing and gasping as I usually do at the beginning of a ride. Think of the motor that powered the "African Queen" and you'll have a good analog of the noise that I was making.

Once at the top, we took a little breather, which I was grateful for. I made a plan to go back down later and pick up the lung I had deposited along the way.

Dave: "Um, Russ... which is older: you or your bike?"
All the agony I suffered on the way up was a small price to pay for the thrill of the trip back down. Swooping, sweeping switchbacks, many with nice berms you could rail... here and there a surprise log or cluster of rocks or rock wall to navigate. Almost no roots at all. AWESOME!

For the expert, there were some logs sawn in half to ride across, 2-3ft off the ground and bail out paths around for :: cough :: the old folks or noobs.

Joel: "I smell... VICTORY! What, is this not a race? Then what IS that I smell?"
At the bottom, we started right back up again without missing a beat, taking a different path. Along the way, we passed a pair of NEMBA members working on a section of trail. Even though they waved us on, we dismounted and walked our bikes past where they were working, thanking them for their efforts as we did.

Abel: "I'm fresh out of forearms!"
My motor was now finally running on all cylinders and I was feeling fully powered up as we bounded up the hill for our second run. This different path had some challenging features at some of the turns,  including an off-camber boulder you had to ride the side of and one "tiger trap" that ate my front wheel and caused me to tease the deer ticks with a quick roll in the leaves.

Dave, skying.
This time we went down a route that was REALLY turny. LOVED it. Right-left-right-right-bump-left-rockwall and so on. Coupla flatter spots here and there where you would crank the pedals a bit for additional speed then down through more E-ticket fun.

At one point, I was just behind Dave again and was thinking, "Aw man, if I had a helmet cam, I'd be getting some terrific footage of him schooling me on this trail." Just as I was formulating that thought, I found myself in a cluster of keg size rocks, half buried in the ground. My front tire found a cozy place up against one of them, sending me up and over the bars.

I pressed the EJECT button, somehow came out of my clips and tried my best to land in a handstand.

Going back up for more.
Of course that really means I got my hands out in front of me just before I did a tuck and roll onto my back. OOF!

I managed to miss the already separated left shoulder and got away with only a sore left wrist (didn't start hurting until later). Clunker bike remained unperturbed by the event so I got back on and rolled away. I think we went back up two more times after that. So much fun.

Just before we left, we spent a little time goofing around in the small pump track a short distance from the parking lot. Good place to practice catching some air, if you're not used to doing so. Abel and Dave put on a good show and I got some decent captures considering I was using an iPhone.

You'd never know we barely clocked an hour's worth of moving time and 5.5 miles. Seemed like so much more. So glad they invited me up there, can't wait to go again.

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