Two-Wheeled Time Machine

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It’s hard to believe that a late-90s GT LTS full-suspension mountain bike (in team colors) was the vehicle that transported me to all the other outdoor activities I pursue today, but it’s true. Well before I ever laced up hiking boots or climbing shoes, or stepped into ski boots, I was busy exploring the outdoors on two wheels, unknowing of the trail I was being led down.

In hindsight, it’s amazing I ever stuck with mountain biking, considering that the GT bike I look back so fondly on wouldn’t hold a candle to today’s budget bikes. I now believe the full-suspension frame that I loved so much was more of a hindrance than a help, as it created just as much bouncing as it eliminated. Of course, that was probably for the best, as the jostling kept speeds at a minimum, which was incredibly beneficial considering the bike’s state-of-the-art hydraulic rim brakes rarely worked.

Perhaps more glaring than any technological defect was my inability (or stubborn refusal) to fix the bike when it was broken. As I think back to the GT, I can’t remember ever lubing the chain or pumping up the tires, much less checking the suspension or maintaining the drivetrain. What I do remember is completing entire rides using only one gear because I found the one that didn’t skip, and making split-second decisions about how steep is too steep to ride without a front brake.

It’s easy to look back on that GT and criticize its limitations, but the truth is the limitations of that bike paled in comparison to my own shortcomings. I was young and in college, and as much as I loved being in the woods mountain biking, I also loved late nights at bars, drinking, and social cigarette smoking that, upon reflection, was more than merely social. Unwilling to compromise (some things never change) and refusing to alter my lifestyle or give up biking, I would frequently find myself at the trailhead after a late night with too much to drink; those days were hard.

In spite of the suffering, there was something about mountain biking that stuck, even as all the other bullshit faded away. More importantly, mountain biking, and my GT LTS, took me on a path to other outdoor interests, and eventually a career. (Strangely, that path led away from biking for a while, but brought me back to it last year.)

This past weekend, I returned to Vietnam in Milford, Massachusetts to mountain bike with some friends and revisit a few of the trails where this journey began roughly 20 years ago (gasp!). A lot has changed in that time. The trails have gotten better, and so have the bikes, but some of the riding is still intimidating. Although I’m no longer 20, and am certainly not in peak athletic condition, at least I wasn’t hungover, and it’s been years since my last smoke.

As I reflect on last weekend’s ride, and the past twenty years, I can’t help but be amazed by all the places that the trail my first mountain bike put me on has led. Although I only kept that bike for a season or two, there’s no denying that my old GT is partly responsible for where I am today.

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