My first college semester ended last week, after much of what was expected from a freshman experience. All the kids were a bit younger than me; some stuck in their high school ways. A lot of them, I knew, would drop out after a single semester. Those students were the worst. They’d call out in class and backtalk the professors, many of whom were too patient. I was mostly quiet in class. After making a few good friends, I figured it was fair to limit my interactions with my peers. I did well and learned a lot, like how many times 18-year-olds can play “Turn Down for What” in class without being reprimanded.
On my first day of liberation, I decided that I wanted to spend time outside. My boyfriend had wanted to teach me how to mountain bike since we first met and that day seemed as good as any to finally do it. We went to The HUB in Catonsville, outside of Baltimore, where I was sized for a Rocky Mountain bike. Evidently it’s a good bike with high-end parts, but I mostly liked its pretty neon colors. I bought a helmet and rode around the parking lot a few times, feeling confident.
We set out for Patapsco Valley State Park, a few miles from the shop. When we reached the trailhead we stopped. “This may be a little difficult for you, starting out,” he said, “but I think you’ll be fine.” I told him the honesty was appreciated, and despite the worried tone in his voice I felt ready to hit the trail. As soon as my bike went over the first few protruding rocks and roots, I had the hang of it. I weaved between trees and pedaled up hills and went through a stream. Some parts were too advanced, but I knew when I was unable to ride something. The silence of the woods is relaxing, especially after living in the city. I heard just the sounds of our bikes going over the dry earth, occasionally talking to other bikers who were friendly.
We rode over 14 miles, almost all of them on the trail, making them more rigorous than road biking. During the last miles I “bonked,” a term I’ve recently learned that refers to a sudden loss of glycogen stores in the liver that causes one to feel severely and suddenly fatigued. Luckily we had Pro Bars and water, the combination of which made me feel human again. We timed the ride perfectly and enjoyed the sunset as we pedaled back to the shop.
I spent that night looking online for used mountain bikes, despite my severely aching butt from the hard seat I was on for hours. The next morning it hurt more, still a small price to pay for the fun I had on my first mountain bike ride.
—Follow Sarah McCarthy on Twitter: @birdy_grace