Taking the Hint

The Big Lebowski: “What…What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?”

The Dude: “Dude.”

The Big Lebowski: “Huh?”

The Dude: “I don’t know, sir.”

The Big Lebowski: “Is it…is it, being prepared to do the right thing?  Whatever the price?  Isn’t that what makes a man?”

The Dude: “Sure.  That and a pair of testicles.”

The Big Lebowski: “You’re joking.  But perhaps you’re right…”


My first hint came while riding my new super-bike up the same old trail I’ve been riding for more than 20 years.  I had been riding dirtbag, second-/third-tier, and older used mountain bikes for my 25 years in the dirt.  But when I turned 50, I bought myself a brand-new, state-of-the-art 29-inch mountain bike as a present.  It easily cost more than all of my other bikes, combined.  It felt so wrong…but it felt so right.

Shortly after purchasing this dream machine, a guy stopped me on the trail and said two simple, innocuous words that shook me to the core:

“Nice bike!”

In a quarter century of riding, that had never happened to me before.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be complimented on something as shallow as a mere purchase.

A comment like that would make many a conspicuous consumer flush with pride, but not me.  I don’t judge my worth as a human being by how much stuff I buy, and how expensive that stuff is.

My "go-to" trail for the last 20+ years above Highland, California.

On my “go-to” trail for the last 20+ years above Highland, California.

They say the true nature of a man can be discerned from his relationship with his car, and that this can be boiled down to two different sorts: “the man makes the car” versus “the car makes the man.”

I’ve always been uncomfortable with material possessions.  It’s a love-hate relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next person to get a new car.  But I’m excited because of the implied reliability and the lack of maintenance for at least the first few years.  The thought that a new car, or any other kind of purchase, somehow increases my value as a human being is something that I find sad and repulsive.

In regards to my latest material purchase, did “the man make the bike,” or did “the bike make the man”?  Such thoughts pulsated through my brain after receiving the unsolicited comment about how nice my new ride was.  It left me with a hollow feeling.

For the first time in my life, I might be in danger of letting my bike define me.  And it was not a pleasant sensation.


My second hint was not nearly so subtle.

For years, Geoff and I had been talking about riding up Keller Peak Road, a narrow paved road high in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Geoff had actually ridden it before, more than a decade ago.  He enjoyed it greatly, and wanted to do it again.  I also wanted to do it, for one additional reason: to descend down the Exploration Trail.

The Exploration Trail is a multi-use singletrack trail designed to be shared by hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers that runs roughly parallel to Keller Peak Road for about four miles.  In spots it’s very rocky and technical, and beyond my capabilities as a mountain biker.  The plan was to take it slow and easy down the Exploration Trail, probably walking my bike as much as riding it, while Geoff cruised down the paved road, and we would meet back at the car.  But then I began to hear that voice.  Her voice.

“You’re young again…”

It was my new bike.  The she-devil was whispering sweet nothings in my ear again.  She was using her advanced technology to conceal my advancing age and lack of technical abilities.  She was telling me I could pull it off.  And like a fool I believed her.

It was that intoxicating voice.  It got me every time.  And the sweet curves of her tightly-sculpted aluminum body didn’t hurt, either.

My new goal with my new bike was not just to enjoy a scenic ride down this glorious mountain trail, but instead to push my limits and haul ass through the technical challenges.  After all, she said I could.

On the Exploration Trail, a couple miles before things got ugly...

On the Exploration Trail, a couple miles before things got ugly…

I bombed down the trail, pedaling hard, constantly gasping for air from the combined effects of exertion and terror.  I rode over things that just an hour before had been beyond my technical abilities as a mountain biker.  And for a brief moment in time, I felt free.

Several times I came off the bike because obstacles were far beyond even what a sexy female voice and adrenaline could power me through.  About half a mile from the end of the trail, I knew the toughest challenges were beyond me.  I was pleased that I was going to make it down in one piece.  And then it happened.


I’m still not sure exactly how it happened.  It was on a section of trail that wasn’t at all bad.  Not too steep; a little loose but not tire-eating sandy; a little rocky, but just a few scattered cobbles here and there that were easily avoidable.

Something grabbed my front tire, pitching me slightly to the right, to the downhill drop off of the side of the trail.  I over-corrected, turning the bars to the left (uphill) side of the trail.  The front tire caught again, only this time harder, and twisted the bars almost 180 degrees.

I should have gone over the bars, but my body somehow became wedged in the frame of the bike itself.  I reached out my left hand and landed hard on my left shoulder against the pine needles covering the uphill side of the trail.

Momentarily stunned, I paused to gather my bearings.  My head hurt a little; I had hit it on something.  I looked around on the dirt where I impacted and saw no rocks, so my helmet had probably just impacted the dirt.  My right should hurt, and with every passing second the pain increased.  My legs and arms stung all over, scraped from impact with various bike parts and dirt, with pine needles sticking out of them, making me look like some kind of bastard cross between a human and a porcupine.

The pain coming from my shoulder concerned me most.  But the first task was to extricate myself from the bike frame, which proved challenging.  There was some urgency to this action, as I was in a precarious spot where another mountain biker bombing down the trail might come upon me quickly and not have enough time to stop before causing me further damage.  It was an unlikely scenario, since the trail saw very little use, but it was enough of a possibility that it got me motivated to move more quickly.

After what seemed like a minute or two, I finally figured out the puzzle and was able to move body parts and bike parts in the correct sequence to unwind the mystery pretzel.  By now my shoulder was throbbing with pain, and I as pretty sure it was broken.  I started to de-quill myself, pulling pine needles out of my arms and legs, and then realized that if the shoulder was in fact broken, time was of the essence.  I could clean myself up later; better to use what precious time I had to get back to the car as quickly as possible.

After the ride...back at the car, all cleaned up!

After the ride…back at the car, all cleaned up and de-quilled!

Back at the car about five minutes later, I told Geoff what happened as I washed up a little and continued to pull pine needles out of my skin.  The shoulder was still throbbing with pain, but it didn’t feel broken.  So we drove back down the mountain.  I could monitor the situation form the comfort of home, which was just a five minute drive from an urgent care facility should I decide I needed to get it x-rayed.

Then a funny thing happened: my shoulder got better.  After a few hours of pretty intense pain, and a few days of dull pain, there were no lasting effects from the crash.  It had just been a bruise after all.  No permanent damage.

At least no permanent physical damage…

“You’re young again,” she had whispered in my ear seductively.

“You’re young again.”  If you say that ten times really fast, it sounds an awful lot like “You’re dumb again”…

I finally took the hint.  I had been focused on the wrong things.  I was letting the bike change the way I rode.  I was letting the bike define me.


My bike does not define me.  I define my bike.  No matter how cool, how expensive, or how advanced, the bike is little more than one of the tools at my disposal to help me enjoy a life outside.


“Get yourself a cheap-ass mountain bike and ride it. Ride like the wind. Ride like today is your last day on earth. Ride like any other cliché you can think of. But just ride. After all, that’s what it’s all about. Everything else is just posing.”

–“Mad” Joe Jiminez, Founder and President of Black Death Mountain Bikes


One thought on “Taking the Hint

  1. Pingback: Coming September 2013: A Life Outside 4 | Matt Artz

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