It wasn’t a picture perfect day, at least not weather wise, but the temperature was close to perfect if you like it cool and comfortable for cycling. Before I ventured outside, I checked my phone to determine if it was I was going to be riding in shorts or tights — 45 degrees. Tights. Light layers. The weather here was rainy and cool/cold all week, so my usual Sunday trail choice was reported to still be water logged. I loaded up the bike on my Yakima hitch rack, headed to one of my other favorite trail systems that was showing a trail status updated to yellow — I and my Salsa would be getting a little muddy. After driving a few miles, I looked at the dashboard thermometer. It wasn’t 45 degrees. It was nearly 60.
Oops. I might have been a tad overdressed. Thankfully, it was still cool enough for tights and my old fleece pullover could be removed. That meant I would be wearing the long sleeve road jersey that was my middle layer, but I would be more comfortable. If I didn’t see any of my friends, who would mock me mercilessly for wearing road clothes on my mountain bike, I would be OK.
Palos has trails that are very easy, a lot of intermediate with serious challenges to them, and some that are very difficult. I chose the intermediate for my ride. My Salsa is a 29 plus, which means that the wheels are 29″ diameter wheels with extra wide rims, allowing for a wider tread. The 2.6″ tire tread width, carbon frame, dual suspension make most trail features a no brainer. I remember the days of riding my 26″ hardtail, the beating my body took on the same trails and the fatigue. The Salsa takes it easy on my 58 year old body. Add some years of experience to the better bike, and the ride gets not only more interesting, but longer. The bike also levels the playing field for this semi old guy when riding with people decades younger.
I intentionally avoided the trails I know hold moisture and turn into mud bogs. Thankfully, the people who build and maintain the trails at Palos have made a lot of improvements to the trails to correct the trouble sections of trails, so I really only needed to avoid one connector. There is armoring, reroutes, drains, gravel. When I rode Sunday, there were a few puddles but nothing deep (thankfully… it’s no fun to get sucked into a deep puddle). The trails were pleasantly tacky, water crossings shallow with armoring making them fast and fun. Since there was no Bears game and the St. Louis Cardinals had a travel day (looks like no World Series this year.. they are rolling over for the Nats), I arrived early and had plenty of time to ride. That meant I could ride everything I wanted to ride, take some extra loops.
I felt good, had no need to be in a hurry. I warmed up by taking trails that required a little more climbing, with the intention of taking them back later on. They are relatively short trails with moderate incline, twisty with several banked berms. I chose a connector that is a screaming downhill that culminates with three decent jumps at the bottom. It connects to a newer trail called Stone House, a local favorite that features a lot of severe drops and peaceful jaunts through the woods along the sides/tops of ravines. There is an old stone shelter in the middle where most riders and hikers stop to rest (and some use it for other things — the stories abound). I rolled past the stone house, eager to get to Out and Back, another favorite of mine, with lots of seriously fun challenges. Along the way, I met my friend Melissa leading a group of riders coming the other way. She’s a great and very fast rider. Any other day, I might have turned around and tried to keep up. However, I just wanted to enjoy the ride, not beat myself up.
I finished Out and Back, paused for a minute at the trail head sign to catch my breath, then turned around to ride the same trail the opposite direction. There is a connector from Out and Back, but it’s usually a mess, so it’s better just to ride back the opposite direction. Besides, I wanted to ride Three Ravines, Zip Tie, and Campground.
A few hundred yards in, I heard a rider behind me. Since he was going faster than I was, I pulled over and let him pass. The rider was young, without a helmet. He hesitated as he passed, so I wondered if maybe he hadn’t chased a rabbit, didn’t really have the ummpphhh to stay ahead of me. That was the case. Shortly, I had to pass him, especially when the trail got tough. I don’t know if it was the lack of helmet, which I found out he had accidentally left at home, or if it was just a lack of experience that slowed him down on the tough stuff. He lagged a few hundred yards behind me most of the time, only catching up when the trail smoothed out.
Fregley latched on to me. The guy seriously looked like Fregley (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Usually I don’t mind sharing the trail with someone I don’t know, but Sunday I kind of just wanted to ride on my own, set my own pace, ride fast when I wanted to, slow when fast wasn’t required. Everywhere I went, Fregley was there. When I stopped at the stone house on the return trip, Fregley stopped ahead of me, started again when I started, stayed on my tail. When I stopped again, he stopped with me, talking this time with a bit of nervousness. He followed me again, rode Three Ravines, told me he could never make it completely through two of the ravines. It was true. I zipped through the ravines, thought about looking back to see if he was OK, then rolled into Zip Tie. No more Fregley.
Until he was there. He came through the trail the opposite way, saw me, and turned around to follow me. I swear I heard TWO DOLLARS (another movie reference) from behind me.
Do I sound like an old grumpy jerk?
Fregley was a nice kid, complimentary at the end. He said he learned a few things watching me (probably the wrong things). I told him it was more about the bike, plus experience. The key is to not let your mind slow you down, tell you that you can’t do something. I guess it was nice after all. Usually, when I ride with others, those riders are more skilled than I am. It was nice to see that maybe I do know a few things.