“Um, excuse me sir, would it be OK if I passed you?”
When someone asks like that, how can I say no?
The occasion was one of the weekly mountain bike races at Tsalteshi Trails this past summer. The course for that week took us down some of the new singletrack — a twisting turning descent that’s tons of fun and an opportunity for some people to go a whole lost faster than me. I take what some might call a more conservative approach to downhills; others might suggest it’s even a little wimpy.
In any case, the rider making the request is one of the younger competitors in the field. And as polite as his request was, he might as well have said, “Get out of the way, old man.”
I’m kidding, of course — that last thing I want to do is criticize a young person for being polite. “Kids today” get enough criticism — much of it, in my opinion, undeserved — and in my interactions with him, this particular young man comes across as a pretty good kid.
But while there’s a certain amount of etiquette required during a mountain bike race, such a polite request to pass is a bit out of the ordinary. Most of the time, rather than please and thank you, it’s more of a statement: “I’m passing you now, move out of my way so neither of us gets hurt.”
By contrast, during a different race, some of the competitors who are a bit closer in age got stuck behind me on the same section of single-track. There isn’t really anywhere to let people pass without stopping, and being a race and all, I wasn’t about to stop. So, I led a train of riders down the hill, with most of them letting me know that they had never gone that slow on that section of trail before. You’ve got to appreciate the sarcasm.
I’ll point out that I did pass that polite young man going back up the hill, though he has beaten me plenty of times in various races since. What’s more, he’s one of a passel on kids who have been participating in the mountain bike races this summer, and they’re all really good. Plus, they’re all getting better, while I think it’s fair to say that as I get a bit deeper into my 40s — I turn 43 next month — I’m not getting any faster. I’m getting to the point where I just want to maintain the fitness level I’ve got, and maybe be able to trim a few seconds here and there if I can learn some better technique.
That point was driven home after a mountain bike crash that ended with my handle bar being driven into my ribs. When I went to the doctor’s office a few days later to make sure nothing was broken (on me; I checked to make sure my bike was OK right away), one of the health care practitioners asked if I wasn’t a little too old to be crashing on my bicycle like that. I’m pretty sure she was kidding, but she might have a point. I feel the bumps and bruises more than I used to. Heck, I still feel soreness in my ribs if I twist the wrong way, and it’s been two months since that crash.
Now, I’m not saying everything’s going downhill — far from it. I still try to challenge myself with new things, and — mountain bike descents aside — try to get better at the things I already do. This summer, I rode trails I had never done before, and loved just about every minute of it, flat tires, bloodied shins and all.
It’s just that I’m coming to terms with the fact that, as they say, I ain’t as good as I once was.
But you know what? Being OK with knowing there’s things I’m never going to be able to do kind of makes me appreciate the stuff I can do even more.
So no, I’m not ever going to go downhill fast — but I’m enjoying the ride.
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.