Oh, my aching ischial tuberosity

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

I’ve never had a mountain bike, but I bought one last week after a friend told me I’d be an idiot if I didn’t. It was displayed outside his office, a rental bike that the adventure shop he worked for was retiring. It had been completely overhauled and practically sparkled, but still I hemmed and hawed when I first saw it, cheapskate that I am.

“That’s a thousand-dollar bike for a hundred-and-fifty bucks. What’s wrong with you?” he said.

So I got out my checkbook. It was an impulse buy, like when you spontaneously grab breath mints or a tube of grout when standing in the “39 items or fewer” line at the grocery store.

Now, I’m no stranger to uneven ground, and gravity and I have been friends for decades. I run trails in the mountains at least 100 days a year, love climbing big granite walls, will ascend frozen waterfalls for money, ski way too fast, don’t mind falling out of airplanes, and gleefully jump from just about any height if the water is deep enough. Recently, a friend and I stood on a ledge as big as two business-sized envelopes 700 feet up a sheer desert cliff, tied in with ropes, eating power bars and chatting away about life’s little nothings as if we were lounging by the pool. This stuff just doesn’t faze me. My wife thinks it’s a mental disorder.

Mountain biking? Sheesh. It’s just like trail running but with wheels, right? Hmm…and I should probably get a helmet.

So, I get the contraption and think about it all the time, keep looking at the clock at my office, daydreaming, and then I go riding every day after work for four days straight. (Yes, I may have some kind of addictive personality.)

Eschewing beginner terrain as too wimpy for an experienced adrenalin junkie like me, my initial two-wheeled forays are right out near the ragged edge of stupid. Learning curve? We don’t need no stinking learning curve. Steep, twisty, rutted trails, boulders, deep mud, stream crossings, ravines, the crumbly edges of rivers, I laugh at all of it: ha, ha, ha. In the first two days I do learn two valuable things however: not all logs can (or should) be jumped, and water is always deeper than you think.

But, I get the hang of things right quick and am soon returning home each evening caked in mud and congealed blood, limping faintly, with splinters in my eyebrows, smelling vaguely of swamp, and grinning like a little boy who finally got permission to play with a flame thrower. My wife just points toward the shower.

Now, mountain biking is all about crashing and I crash every day and enjoy it immensely. On day five, I have a remarkable catastrophe that unfolds as slowly as a Japanese tea ceremony: teetering along at 3 mph too close to the edge of a steep embankment, I misjudge the squeeze between two trees, catch left handle bar, front wheel twists into a rotted stump, stump upsets balance, all human and mechanical parts lean dangerously left, rear wheel skids rightward in thick muck, left crank digs into soft earth, left arm goes out in classic (wrist-snapping) bracing motion, man and bicycle topple as unit over brink of abyss, left hand rams into damp earth, frame gets hung up on stump, wheels invert (up is now down), right shoe gets stuck in front chain ring, and then man and machine pause while gravity, momentum, and inertia have a brief committee meeting (front wheel rotates slowly in the air, for effect, and man has time to wonder if he should file quarterly); tipping point is finally reached and man and bicycle and pine needles and clumps of stump and sod and muck and sticks and small rocks and dislodged invertebrates all yard sale gracefully downhill toward raging river and clatter and skid bum-over-teakettle several times (in apparent slow motion) and finally end in filthy heap just uphill from the torrent. I love this!

Riding with a limp back to the car, with adrenalin no longer pumping, I realize that I’m pretty beat up. In particular, my ischial tuberositys (butt bones) are sore — probably from riding hard four days in a row after a lapse of several years.

I later regale friends on the phone with the tale of the crash, full of sound effects and hand gyrations. As an aside, I mention my excessive posterior discomfort to one friend, and, deeply concerned, he interrupts: “The bike came with a seat, right?”

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