For Christmas 2006, Max bestowed upon me bike. A beautiful, red mountain bike so that I would be able to accompany him on his mountain biking excursions. We were living in Mexico City at the time, and while the city itself certainly did not lend itself to safe biking, wondrous green spaces abounded just on the outskirts of the city. Some of our favorite places for a good bike ride (or hike) were Desierto de Leones, Ajusco, and Toluca. Because Mexico City is a valley amongst the mountains, it is no metaphor that we were actually mountain biking. My previous biking encounters consisted of riding my 10-speed to and from swim practice in Jr. High, so needless to say I wasn’t too prepared to ride a mountain bike literally up the side of a mountain on a scrawny path strewn with leaves, holes, branches and boulders. Max, in “training” me for our first trip to Desierto de Leones took me to a small park near our apartment in Polcano, threw some branches and rocks on the grass and told me to ride over them. It was terrifying, I’m not gonna lie. After a few failed attempts, and a complete failure to ride up over a curb, Max declared me “ready to go.” (on what grounds I’m not sure, but it was similar to his training on driving a stick and on scuba diving!).
We rode back to the apartment and commenced the lengthy process of dismantling the bikes, loading them into Max’s jeep, packing a backpack, stopping for water (tap water is undrinkable in Mexico), and driving the 40 minutes (in no traffic) to Desierto. We arrived to a beautiful, winding road which led to a path leading up the side of the mountain. We reassembled the bikes, strapped on our helmets, and were off! Well, Max was off – I was swearing and getting pissed off while struggling to even stay on the bike while at the same time stay on the path and maneuver over and around boulders, mudholes and giant tree roots. After about 10 feet I dismounted (or maybe fell off…) and told Max I couldn’t do it, that he was a mean cruel person for taking me somewhere so difficult on my first trip biking, and that his training had been far from sufficient. “Get on the bike, let’s go. You can do it.” — And he was off. I had 2 options – get back on and try to follow him, or wait, seething and annoyed, at the bottom of the mountain – watching teenagers fly by on their street bikes. I got on — I have, after all, always enjoyed a challenge, and I wasn’t going to let this mountain have the best of me. After about 10 minutes I got the hang of it, got the feeling for my bike, and started enjoying both the ride and a sense of accomplishment. It took us over an hour to ascend (it pretty tough!), and in true Mexican fashion, a sweet old lady was awaiting tired bikers and hikers at the top with a little stand of tacos and coke. We rested briefly, and I relished the feeling of having overcome the hard part, and could now enjoy the smooth sailing back down the trail. WRONG! Little did I know, but descending is actually more difficult than ascending, especially for a beginner. Picture a beginner skier, on a hill too difficult, headed straight down without being sure how to turn or slow down, and you’ll have a good idea how I felt (and I’m sure how I looked) on that first descend. Hit the brakes too hard, and you’re over the handle bars, turn the wheel to sharply and your on the ground with your bike on top of you. Hit a root too slow, and again your on the ground, but fly down too fast and you’re not able to steer. My hands ached with the deathgrip I had on the handlebars, and my neck and my back screamed in contracted concentration. Max patiently (and infuriatingly) rode circles around me – he probably made it down and back up 3 times before I finally coasted to the trailhead (over an hour later). I was pissed off and overjoyed at the same time. Pissed that something seemingly as simple as a bike ride had been so demanding, and overjoyed for the same reason. I was now a mountain biker! I even took off my own tire to load my bike into the car. The 2+ hour excursion had been a success!
We frequented Desierto de Leones many times (and saw some pretty funny stuff, as guaranteed to happen anywhere in Mexico), as well as multiple other mountain trails in the stateS of Mexico and Toluca. Unfortunately our bikes couldn’t make the journey with us to South Africa, which would have been the ultimate place for mountain biking, but GA offers some decent riding as well, and I’m proud to say that I can now fly down a trail with the best of them — look mom! No hands! Thanks Max!