Adventures in Ice Biking

Bolting Down in Survival Mode
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I fly off the trail and into the woods. Around me there is much snapping and shattering. I jolt to a stop. Everything gets eerily quiet. I lay there cradled in the woods and take a full-body inventory. How many bones have I broken? One limb at a time, I wiggle everything. Everything wiggles. Amazing.

I grab hold of a low-lying branch and haul myself up. I see that I've put a healthy gash in both legs of my ski pants. I put my hand in the back of my shirt and press it against my right shoulder. The fingertips of my gloves come away sticky with blood. Not terrible. I crawl hands and knees to retrieve my bike. Nothing broken there, either. I squeeze the breaks and, using my bike as a giant crampon, I walk gingerly up the hill.

Dave is sitting on his bike at the crest, holding onto a tree trunk. "I forgot to tell you," he says. "You're not supposed to put your foot down."

He laughs. I don't.

Within five minutes we're at the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain. Vermont looks cold. I follow the rime line up and down the egg-shaped mountains. Tendrils of chalk-white smoke curl up from brick smokestacks far below. Everything seems brittle. We don't stay long. I gnaw on a piece of rock-solid PowerBar and suck on an icicle. Our sweat chills us and we both start shivering. So we swing our bikes around and point them back down, me first, Dave following in case he needs to pick up the pieces.

I hang my butt out over my rear tire and pinch the seat between my thighs. I pull on my break levers as hard as my frozen fingers will allow. It isn't hard enough. The iced rims slip easily between the pads. My bike bolts down the mountain. The ice pops and cracks beneath my wheels. I battle my way around each switchback, working the fall line, trusting my bike's gyroscopic stability. I do not want to tumble again. My concentration sharpens and adrenaline kicks in and the speed and the absurdity and the danger and the thrill all swirl together in my head and I slip into this hyper-aware state—survival mode, some people call it—my reactions keen and my senses acute and all notion of time and distance markedly dimmed. It's just the here and now that counts, and I ride in this present-tense state and there is not a single fiber of me that is not focused on bicycling.

I have no clue how long it takes to return to Dave's car. All I know is that I'm alive and I haven't fallen. The air tastes like pine and I drink it down. My hands, I notice, have cramped into bike-breaking position. I don't care. Dave pulls up right behind me.

"Well," he says. He looks euphoric. This is his favorite sport and Rattlesnake is one of his cherished rides. He wants me to love it, too.

"Well, what?" The sudden stability of the ground, oddly, makes me feel disoriented. I sit down.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Dammit," I say. I'm panting so hard my body is enveloped in vapor.

"Dammit, what?"

"Dammit, that was stupid."

"Anything else?" he asks. Half his face has become a grin.

"Yeah," I say. His grin is contagious. "Dammit, that was fun."

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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