Bucket list items do not need to be exotic, expensive, unattainable, unrepeatable, nor do you have to wait until you are dying to do it. Many things that could be bucket list items are just something that you want to try, at least once.
Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park is a place I wanted to visit at least once. I did that today. Most likely, I will go back again and make it a yearly trip.
Especially when I have gung ho let’s-do-it friends like my friend Jon. If it’s bike related, he wants to do it. Mention it and he’s on it. Earlier this winter, I suggested to friends that we needed to make the short trek to Milwaukee to ride at Ray’s. Jon said “name a day”. So today was the day. We played hooky from work, took advantage of visiting the place during a week day, which gave us the run of the place without a crowd.
The place is crazy — 120,000 square feet of pure fun and all indoors. There are two tiers of riding “trails” in the park with banked wood curves, jump tracks for both beginners and expert level, pump tracks, skills areas with skinny obstacles and teeter totters, a skate park style area, and a cross country trail that traces that outside of the upper and lower levels of the park. Ray’s day pass for first time visitors is relatively inexpensive, a pass that includes bike rental, with three choices of bike styles. The most popular bike is a bike that looks like a mountain bike and BMX bike got together to have a child, with a lowered seat and smooth fat tires. The bikes have platform pedals, better for the style of riding in the park, and the placement of the seat means that the bike is pedaled while standing up. The bike is single speed without gears and equipped with disc brakes. It takes some getting used to, but after a short time of riding Ray’s, it makes sense.
I had to learn to lean into the steep bank turns. If you go into a banked turn with the bike straight up, bike and rider simply slide down to the bottom of the turn. After learning to lean the bike, something that doesn’t feel natural at first, I could not get enough of the banked turns.
Also a tremendous amount of fun were the jumps. They are numerous, found all over the park. I usually catch air pretty easily when riding dirt trails outside on my dual suspension XC mountain bike, but I had to learn how to properly pop the front wheel and then the back wheel up in order to catch air on the strange bike that I rented.
Catching air got me in trouble. John and I rode a little over four hours this afternoon and we were beat, especially since we had been riding standing up that whole four hours. It takes a strong core, something I need to work on. We decided to take one last trip around the park before heading back to Chicagoland. That last trip around the park culminated at the last section of four jumps. We flew around the park, exhausted but giving everything we had left for energy, and hit that last section of jumps absolutely flying — literally. Unfortunately, I hit the second jump very fast and off balance, flying sideways in the air and too close to the next jump. I landed with the front wheel sideways and was thrown over the handlebars, hit the ground hard with my chest taking the majority of the blow.
I picked myself off of the ground immediately, the breath knocked out of me. I sat down to assess the damage and saw a knot the size of two golf balls forming high on the shin of my left leg. My right elbow had a nasty looking scrape and my rib cage was already starting to ache.
But I still had a smile on my face. I had a blast. I dusted myself off, turned the handlebar around since the impact had twisted it around and pedaled back to the rental counter. John greeted me there, a huge satisfied grin on his face.
We have to do this again.
The drive back home took two and a half hours, traffic getting out of Milwaukee a bit troublesome, then slow once we hit the Chicago area. Our wounds of the day caught up with us, both of us groaning like two old men as we each got out of John’s van to unload my stuff. War wounds. Badges of honor. Reminders of perhaps my favorite day so far this year. It can only get better.