Carve It Into Your Soul!

In an all-girl delinquent biker gang, Ryan and I ride or die (while obeying all traffic laws).

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Is it blog suicide to embed inside jokes into your title and your tagline? I’ll have to learn that lesson the hard way. Lucky for me, my mountain bike skills development isn’t coming with near as heavy a price. It’s been one of the warmest Novembers in recent memory, and the hits just keep on coming, with temperatures over 50º and sunny today. Ryan and I hit up The Notch, and discovered a few new routes that I can tack on to my daily loops.

Ryan and I are both Sustainability Science grad students, and we both teach at UMass, and we’ve both got a thing for physical exercise. While Ryan’s biking repertoire isn’t nearly as exhaustive as mine, his cardiovascular system leaves me exhausted and he overtakes me handily when it comes down to pure physicality. Ryan’s a runner, and one of the fastest in the area if the local races are any indication.

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He took his new bike to new heights today, pushing it to the absolute limit. That’s something Ryan is used to doing; over the past year, I watched him slowly and comprehensively destroy an old Trek 7000, his first bike. After two crashes, endless commutes, and breakneck rides that regularly reach my group road ride pace (despite his mountain bike tires), Ryan left his bike with shredded cabling, a bent crankset, bent brake levers, two disintegrated derailleurs, a damaged wheel, and a chain that evokes images of shipwrecks, slowly dissolving at the bottom of the ocean.

Rather than shell out $200 to resurrect the titanic, I talked Ryan into picking up a $275 Specialized Rockhopper from Laughing Dog, and it looks to me like the investment is already paying itself down.

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We started our ride on a downhill section from the Amherst College Bunker, an old nuclear bomb shelter in the post-Cold War utopia of the Pioneer Valley. Today, the bunker houses a film archive. The 1-mile stretch of trail that spills down from there has some of Earl’s Trails’ larger jumps, but neither Ryan and I were too keen on the big stuff. We caught a bit of air off the smaller lips and molehills, trying our best to keep our heads out of the clouds.

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Another group of riders on really nice bikes (Salsas and Niners) shot past us while we caught our breath, and we latched onto their tails and held on for dear life. Their leader knew the trails well, and dug out some truly sketchy, super-technical singletrack with a long off-camber stretch, littered with some loose chunks of rock.

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After crossing back over Route 116, “loose chunks of rock” became “incredibly vast basalt quarry.” The Notch Quarry, which we knew better than to ride through, has a ring of trails on the periphery that are absolutely coated in rock. I’d call it gravel, but most of the chunks are the size of a grapefruit. It was fun keeping up with our new-found caravan, but we broke off from the other riders to take a few pictures and soak in the sight of the impressive hole in the earth.

The quarry sits on the now-obliterated site of Round Mountain on the Metacomet Ridge, and has been mined continuously since 1897. I was pretty conflicted, simultaneously mourning the destructive nature of strip-mining while elatedly shredding up rock-strewn trails, which boasted a completely unique technical challenge for my big tires.

Big tires? Big tires? What big tires?

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I’m still holding out before I spill the beans on my upcoming bikepacking rig. The Karate Monkey is rocking new wheels and new rubber, and it has never been more radical in terms of capability. But, I’ve got a new frame en-route from Fed-Ex, so I’m not going for any big reveals until the bike is totally revamped. You’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving before I talk turkey.

Like last Wednesday, last weekend, and two days the previous week, I cannot sing the praises of my town’s mountain biking loud enough. I’m lucky to be in one of the best areas on the entire East Coast for this type of riding. I might not be getting Whistler big, but when both wheels leave the ground and grip right back up with these leaf-strewn rocket trajectories, I feel like an Atherton.

Keep Riding! Carve it into your soul!

 

 

 

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