I have long sworn that I would never date a cyclist. They are too intense, too selfish, too elitist and wear way too much spandex for my liking. Well, I take it back.
You see, my new manfriend is a mountain biker. And he really really loves his bike. (All four of them.) He is constantly covered in poison oak and his body is quickly becoming one large road map of scars. I see a steady bottle of calamine lotion in my future. But his enthusiasm for mountain biking is infectious as well.
As a runner, I typically encounter about a handful of mountain bikers on the trails of county parks. We exchange pleasantries as I pass them going up the hills and as they zip past me on the downhills. That is typically the extent of my conversations with mountain bikers. Until yesterday.
At 11 am I found myself attending my first underground mountain bike race in Golden Gate Park called SF Flow. (One could say my manfriend had something to do with it.) And when I say “attend” I mean I handed out numbers to more than 150 riders who participated in the largest underground mountain bike race ever held in the city. (I think this is a fair claim since no one can remember there being a larger one. Then again, these races are not sanctioned so finding documentation to prove otherwise is a little tricky.)
The race was organized by Soil Saloon – a group of local riders who love their bikes, trails and whiskey and often combine the three. They have hosted several underground races over the years and yesterday’s event upped the ante. While it was promoted as a 30 mile mountain bike adventure ride connecting seven area parks, competition was abound. Riders came from across the Bay Area to compete for a custom bike frame (so what if it was a child’s Huffy?) and get acquainted with some the city’s “finest dirt.”
The route included stops at Glen Park Canyon, McLaren Park, Mt. Sutro, Mt. Davidson and wound down through San Bruno and back up to Bernal Heights. At each checkpoint racers were tested for skills besides the ability to navigate difficult terrain. Important skills like how to wield a slingshot, speed eat Mexican pastries and display a thorough knowledge of Wild West frontier trivia. I was more than impressed with their ability to compete on a number of fronts.
I realize that mountain bikers are a different breed of athlete. As a distance runner, I would never finish a race that involved 4,000 feet of climbing and immediately ask: Where is the beer? (Or would I?) And the thought of lighting up a cigarette afterwards would never cross my mind. However, as I took in the scene of 80 plus riders chatting and grilling at the finish, it was easy for me to see that long distance runners and mountain bikers have a lot more in common than perhaps any other sport.
Let’s be honest, both groups are comprised of rather an odd collective of characters. Picture skinny nerds that can drink. Only one camp tends to have more piercings and tattoos than the other. Both share an affinity for trails and getting dirty. Both groups view hills as something meant to be conquered, not bypassed. And both camps have a tendency to flaunt a lot of spandex.
Perhaps that is what attracted me to my new manfriend in the first place. Perhaps it is the childlike way he loves playing in the dirt. Regardless, I will likely attend more Soil Saloon races down the road. Maybe some point soon I will dust off my bike and see if I still know how to ride it. Maybe one day I will fall in love with the sport too. Or maybe I will continue to just hand out Mexican pastries from the sidelines. Either way I am purchasing some extra calamine lotion just in case.
Visit www.soilsaloon.com to see a video of yesterday’s race.