First, I’ll tell you that I love the outdoors so much that even when I am not comfortable, because I’m hot, cold, wet, or whatever, I still have a good time. I love to experience life and life is not always perfect. Most of the time when something does not go my way, I can laugh about it or turn it into a joke.
When I had to finish the last two miles of a 35-mile backpacking trip in Washington State wearing my Toms shoes, with my boots thrown over my shoulder, because my feet were hurting so badly, I knew I’d have a good story and lesson to tell. Oh and it was raining, and Toms are not waterproof.
When Crystal and I got stuck on the interstate outside Nashville for four hours, it caused us to arrive at mid-night to a locked gate at Mount Mitchell State Park in North Carolina. We had to sleep in the car that night with a bear outside. It was not comfortable, but it was a funny story.
However the first time I took my bike out on a real mountain biking trail. I had such a terrible time, I didn’t even want to talk about it when I got home. There was no joke to be made, sometimes life leaves you bruised – literally.
It was cold on Sunday. Too cold for Zach to want to go biking with me. He was also in the zone on his garden and didn’t want to break away. But I had already loaded my bike and dressed for cold, so with temperatures hovering around the mid-30s, I set off for the Little Blakely Trail System on the north shore of Lake Ouachita, located in southwest Arkansas.
Little Blakely trail system
The Little Blakely Trail System is a series of intertwining loops and is maintained by the Ouachita National Forest. It is one of my favorite trails around Hot Springs because it is beautiful, offers a variety of sights, and is fairly remote so I’m usually alone. I chose the trail on Sunday because I wanted to take Caddie and have her run along beside me. I figured no one else would be bothered because I was going to probably be the only one there.
Each intersection of the Little Blakely Trail System is marked with a letter, going from A to K, both on the map and on a wooden post at the intersection. However some posts are not labeled well, so you’ll need to keep an idea where you are. Other posts are label extremely well by including a map with them. This is very helpful because you can tell where you are on the map when you get to an intersection.
I have hiked the Little Blakely Trail several times, backpacked and even kayaked around it, but I had never mountain biked it.
Biking the Little Blakely Trail
I knew I would have to walk my bike for a little ways because the trail starts out fairly steep and I do not have the leg muscles built up yet to make the climb. I chose to do the Morgan Hollow Loop because I wasn’t sure if I had done that loop before.
I also thought the trail would be good to mountain bike because parts of it follow old roadbeds, which are wide and generally do not have many boulders or roots in the way. Well I was wrong about the boulders. But after I got the hang of things on my bike, I was able to maneuver around them.
The logs and trees across the trail, however put me in a bad mood fairly quickly. As soon as I would get momentum, I would have to stop and dismount to pick up my bike to get across the logs. These weren’t small logs that could be crossed on the bike, they were large downed trees.
This is when the cursing started. I got so frustrated with the trees across the trail and the rocks on the trail because I couldn’t stay on the bike for a good period of time.
When I got to the intersection of G, I left the old roadbed and started on a narrower trail. It was going well for a little while, but I soon came to a tree across the path. This was not like the other trees because it was not the trunk of the tree but the crown, so I had to haul my bike through briers and understory around the tree. Also after the trail became narrow, the downed trees and underbrush reached out to grab at me and I got really frustrated with constantly being hit by limbs and such.
Of course as soon as I got my momentum going again, I failed to negotiate a rock and landed on my hand and head. This is where I was assured the importance of a helmet, because my head slammed on, guess what, a downed tree. My hand and nose hurt, but once I determined nothing was broken I got up and walked my bike instead of riding it.
Because the bike was next to me, the dang peddles kept hitting me in the back of my calves. I used a nicer word to describe them to you than I did that day. This is when the frustration I felt was at its limit. I was so glad only Caddie was around to hear me, because I am not proud of how I sounded. But I was committed by this point, it was just as far to turn around than to continue the loop. I just hoped it got better.
At this point, I began to seriously doubt if I will enjoy mountain biking. For some reason that thought made me sad, as if I had let the frustrations get the better of me.
After I rounded the furthest point on the Morgan Hollow Loop, the trail was less rocky and rooty, so I got back on and rode for quite a ways. The trail is beautiful, and I loved it in the winter.
I descended and crossed a beautiful creek and quickly began to climb again with a deep cove of the lake to my left. I dismounted to climb the steep part. The trail rounded a corner and opened to a nice flat and wide trail. I was excited because I was slightly beginning to have fun.
I mounted my bike and started going. I shifted gears, and that is when my derailleur broke. And I mean broke, like in half. There was no fixing it on the trail, and I was about a mile and a half to the trailhead.
It wouldn’t have been bad walking it out, but those dang peddles kept hitting my legs. I was so frustrated and it hurt badly.
Life is what you make of it
I truly believe life is what you make of it. You can choose to let it get you down, or you can get back up and look at the silver lining. For me the silver lining was the beauty of the trail and forest. It was also through all the sadness and frustration, the fact that I was alone and didn’t make anyone else’s trip a negative experience. I also was glad that no one saw me at my worst. Well Caddie did, but she loves me anyway.
Will I mountain bike again? You bettcha! I have to get my bike back from the shop first, but I will definitely try it again.