I clip in on my red Kona, and fly down our steep driveway, pedaling toward the fading sunlight blanketing Mount Jumbo across the creek. The days are getting shorter. I can’t leave for a mountain bike ride at 7pm anymore, unless it’s a short loop or I don’t mind riding in the cold, dark air. But I do mind in the fall—it’s too easy to T-bone a black bear or big buck. The fall in Montana is ripe with wild animals that mill around in lower elevation areas, foraging for food to store up winter fat.
I opt for a short loop on Jumbo, and climb up the steep road to the trailhead at its saddle. Even though I’ve ridden this road hundreds of times, I’m still awed by the view of the valley floor surrounded on all sides by blue-green mountains. The trail snakes north up the 4,700-foot “hill” to the forested ridgeline where it meets the Rattlesnake Mountains.
I see a huge hawk sitting on a small pine. I see my long shadow rolling through the dry golden grass. I look south to see if I can spot my husband’s white wing flying off Jumbo’s southern summit. I feel at home. I feel free.
What I love best about mountain biking is the climb. I like feeling the breath rushing in and out, and feeling the burn in my thighs. I like pushing past that breath and burn to see how high I can get.
I’m not as big a fan of the downhill. Especially the steep shots. I’ve never been a speed-demon, and this time of year the rutted-out dusty gravel feels precarious, making my belly drop as the rear tire skids out. But I do love the feeling of leaning, turning, carving my bike around single track on the downhill, and those moments when you forget your body isn’t actually half wheels.
Those are the moments that keep me coming back for more, even on trails I’ve ridden a hundred times.