Bombs Away! - Page 3

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The topsy-turvy, wonderful world of Snowshoe's Bike Park  (courtesy, Snowshoe Mountain Resort)
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We spent the first half of the morning yo-yoing up and down the eastern side of the mountain, riding the Ballhooter lift and then zipping down the letter-marked runs, home to Snowshoe’s Bike Park. Here, a slew of inspired man-made obstacles are dispersed within the maze of trails: shoulder-width risers, steep ramps, seesaws, all types of drops and jumps, and a dizzying section of banked wooden turns that look like some fat-tire version of a roller coaster. My fellow cyclists—some nationally ranked, some with motorcross-racing experience, all of them far better than me—took to each trail and trick with an infectious, adolescent glee. Luckily, they were also kind enough to wait until I bumped and ground my way to the access road before cycling back to the lift alongside the scenic Shavers Lake.

Sufficiently warmed up, we then made the short trek from the mountain summit down South Westridge Road to the Western Territories. During the winter months, this portion of the mountain boasts the two longest runs in the Mid-Atlantic, each with 1,500 feet of vertical. During downhill season, it hosts 17 downhill cycling trails, including a sport course and both the beginner and expert race courses for the NORBA Downhill National Races.

If I thought the eastern side of the mountain was exhausting, muscle fatigue took on new meaning after bombing through two runs on the Western Territories—the first one a landmine of rocks and roots that my bike conquered, much to my amazement, without hesitation, the second a smooth dirt track that S-curved its way down the mountain with beautiful, dipping jumps and banked turns that had me hooting like a banshee.

After a well-earned lunch, we boarded the shuttle bus that takes cyclists to the top of the mountain and, once back on the summit, our crew of eight dissolved. PhilipÂ’s summer PR gig meant heÂ’d spend the afternoon snapping photos of the wine-tasting tent, while others yearned for different tastes of the mountain trails.

I decided to stick with Bret Buzby, one of the cyclists from Columbus, who had made the drive to Snowshoe so often it’d become his weekend commute. He’d long been a cross-country cyclist, pumping through elevation shifts—uphill grinds followed by dizzying descents—with sweat-inducing fury. But after his first downhill ride it was all over.

"Once I went down, I never went back up," he told me as we pedaled over to the top of the Western Territories.

He’d been downhilling for five years and was racing in NORBA the following week, a massive race of 800 cyclists, each participant tearing into the track in 30-second intervals. He wanted to get the course down, so I agreed to follow him—except that I swerved around the rock and tree drops he flew over without hesitation. We hit the Western Territories once more, then looped back over to the other side of the mountain for a few more dips through the bike park before my energy was depleted. At that point, as I knew from experience, if I didn’t call it a day, I’d impale myself on my handlebars mid-endo. Okay…that actually did happen. And that’s when my first full day of downhill came to an end.

The next day I was a patchwork of scrapes, sore muscles, and bruises (including a perfect circle on my abdomen from the end of that stabbing handlebar). But I was back on the bike by ten oÂ’clock, pedaling away the aches. I dropped off the lowest of three risers in the drop park near the Village Center and returned to the bike park, determined to conquer the seesaw and roll through the banked S-curves, to learn to let go of the brakes, and take on whatever came across my path.

By noon that day, I was utterly wiped. And I was loving it.

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