Vancouver, BC and Camano Island, WA - I wrote half last night and was too tired to finish it
It's a little difficult to type on the computer right now, because my left shoulder doesn't seem to want to be comfortable no matter what position I put it in. It's sore from when I wiped out on the third turn of the day when I went mountain biking at Whistler yesterday.
How'd I end up mountain biking in Whistler?
Well, I headed up to Vancouver after my time in Seattle was done, and booked a bed in a hostel for two nights. I was sitting around Tuesday night thinking about what I was going to do with my time in Vancouver, when I remembered hearing from someone that I should make a trip up to Whistler if I stopped in Vancouver (sorry, I don't remember who it was - if it was you, let me know!).
I started browsing around the internet for stuff to do in Whistler. It's obviously really popular for winter sports - most of the mountain events from the Winter Olympics were held there a little over a year ago. I found a few sites that had ideas of what to do, and one of them, in recommending slow trail biking, mentioned Whistler as a "Mecca of gravity-fueled mountain biking." Well, you sold me.
I've been mountain biking pretty much once before. A few years ago when I had a week off and toured around the Southeast following a band, I spent my days finding random outdoor activities to participate in. One of them was mountain biking in North Carolina - I rented a bike from Bio Wheels and headed to a nearby park with a bunch of trails and biked around. "It can't be much different from that, right?"
Of course I was wrong, but we'll get to that in a minute. I was looking at the different packages they have available, and one of the things they do is a half day group lesson. I debated whether or not I'd need that or not - I'd biked before, right? In the end, I decided to do it, just because I figured at least it'd help me get the hang of it since it's been two years since... well, since I'd been on a bicycle at all, really.
Thank goodness I did that. The "group lesson" ended up being a one-on-one, because the other three guys in the group were together, and just went with the other instructor, and I got an instructor to myself. So basically he rode, and I tried to keep up with him.
Well, let's take a step back. First off, the reason they call this "gravity-fueled" mountain biking is because you only go downhill. Seriously. You don't ever go uphill. I think I pedaled for a combined total of about 10 minutes throughout the 4 hours I was riding, and that was all on flat or slightly downhill ground. So how do you go only downhill? You take a chair lift up obviously.
They have the ski lifts set up with every other seat being normal, and the rest of them are bike racks that can hold three bikes (and you can hang a fourth on the side). So you get in line with your bike, and when the rack goes by, you quickly get your bike up into the rack and then wait for the seat. And in a job that must be exhausting AND boring, when you get to the top there are two people who spend the whole day removing bikes from the racks and then holding them until you get off the chair and can take them yourself.
The bikes are set up for downhill too. Huge shock absorbers on the front and the back, and REALLY good brakes. The guy I had for the lesson explained it like this: the bikes weigh far less than a motorcycle, but have the same type of brakes. And while there's gears on the bike (only on the back sprocket, the front is fixed), you don't usually shift. You find a gear that's good for flat ground, and then you forget about the gears, stand up on the pedals, and brake like hell.
And did I ever brake like hell. In fact, I probably braked way more than I should have. The problem was, when you turn on a mountain bike, you want to lean the bike over, but keep your weight over the wheels as much as possible - so you sort of stay upright while tilting the bike sideways. The problem is, that's not at all how you do it on a motorcycle - at least not a low-slung cruiser like I've got. If you try to stay upright, that means you have to tilt the bike more to get more turn, which means the pegs might scrape the ground long before you're turning as sharply as you could. And you don't have to worry as much about keeping weight over the tires, because the bike weighs 500 lbs or more. (I think in street racing you do a little more like mountain biking and keep your weight a little higher and over the tires, but I don't know for sure.)
So I didn't keep my weight right on the turns, and had to go slower to keep traction and not skid out... but I didn't know that at first. So on the third turn my tires slipped, and the bike went out from under me, and down I went. I hit the ground hard on my left side, and my head did a little bounce off the ground, but nothing hurt too bad. Got a little scraped up, and the bike got dirty, but otherwise we were good.
After that, the instructor slowed down a bit, and we didn't quite go that fast anymore. By the end of the day I was getting a little more comfortable with it, but on the last run of the day he (at my request) took off at the speed he'd normally take one of those tracks - and I was blown away.
I'd definitely do it again - in fact, I think if I lived in Seattle, I'd get a season pass for Whistler and go up there a few times a month in the summer. Though it was by far the most expensive day I've had on the trip - I can't do many of those days, as much as it was worth it this time.