The Freedom of an American
Mountain biking in Lake Forest for Good Dirt to help people in Rwanda have bikes. My grit and determination allows me to finish the 25 mile ride. Thanks to living in America, I am able to afford a nice bike, eat all sorts of food, and help others.
Drip. Drip. Drip. I wake up to the sound of rain. The smell of morning dew fills the large, green jeep I'm sitting in. A light wind knocks a sprinkle of rain onto my face. The cold air energizes my body. My dad is still sound asleep in front of me. I look out the open window to my right and see my uncle, Bo, talking to his friends, Alan and Paul. We are parked in front of a subway. Their conversation goes right past my still sleepy mind. I pull my phone out of my pocket and read, “7:20, October 23, 2021.” I yawn and ask where we are.
Bo responds, “ We are still trying to figure out where the event is.”
“Mhm,” I lazily moan. I see Jason amble towards the jeep with a smile.
“Hey guys,” he greets us enthusiastically, as usual.
“What’s up, man!” Bo welcomes him. They all exchange greetings, and we decide to follow Paul and Alan to the event, Rwanda. This event is a mountain biking fundraiser, by GOOD Dirt Ride, to supply bikes for Rwanda, Africa.
Vrrrr. The rough engine starts, and the warm chair comforts me as we follow in the cold. Ten minutes later, I can see the event and only a few people since we came an hour early. Paul takes a left turn, looking for the entrance. Jason, then Bo follows. We see Paul make a U-turn, and I assume that we missed the entrance, but Jason turns right, up a small hill. It ends up being a nearly empty parking spot near the event. We give them a call, and they find their way shortly after. It’s still drizzling cold rain, but it’s refreshing.
I toss on my black pads and white helmet. Dad and Bo take the mountain bikes off the rack connected to the trunk of the jeep. Bo’s and my bike are turquoise, and Dad’s is a light gray. I open the trunk and grab the lube, a rag, and a tool used to dust the bikes. I finish tuning up the bikes and decide to ride around the lot for a bit, feeling restless due to the flood of dopamine pouring into my brain. There is a large, square dirt section across the road, and the event is to the left of it.
There is a small, two-foot drop that leads up to the dirt area, so I ride up to it and warm up as we wait for the rest of our group to arrive, Murali, Berto, and Bryan. Fifteen minutes later, Bo calls me over to get our shirt and number for our bike. We cruise down and my dad and I are introduced to some of their friends.
“Hey, I’m Quinton,” he greets me.
“I’m Scout,” I answer, as I’m shaking his hand, “Nice to meet you.” I become acquainted with Jayden and Derek soon after. Derek is the father of both Quinton and Jayden. He is wearing a red and black flannel, jeans, and has short, gray hair. Quinton and Jayden are two grown, curly-haired teenage boys that are skilled at mountain biking. We sign in to receive a Good Dirt bag of goodies and head back to the car to grab the remaining supplies, such as helmets and tools, and tie the numbers to our handlebars.
Once everyone had finished getting ready, our group followed Derek, who already knew the way. We could beat the packed crowd and peacefully start the twenty-five-mile ride, the furthest I have ever mountain biked. Thank you. I bless Derek and the clouds for providing the needed help for such a long, grueling journey.
The trail starts on a small, long fire road that connects down into a foggy, green valley. Push. Pull. Push. Pull. I focus on my technique to keep my mind relaxed and away from exhaustion. We cross underneath a freeway that cuts randomly through the natural landscape. I get a weird feeling, indescribable since it feels so out of the ordinary.
Soon, we arrive at the steepest climb of the trail. The large dirt fire road goes into the center of the thick fog that only allows you to see at most five feet in front of you. This is where the slow separates from the fast. I stay in the front of the group with Alan, Derek, Quinton, and Jayden. The second group, Jason, Paul, Berto, and Bryan, stay close. The last group, Bo, Murali, and Dad are far behind. Although Uncle Bo is a great rider, he likes to stay back and help the slower people.
I can feel my cold legs start to melt with each pedal. Even though I shouldn't have stayed in the front group, my excitement overtook logic. The steep edge of the cliff to my right is barely visible. Steep climbs randomly emerge from the fog. Jayden goes on ahead, being the best climber in our group. Then, Alan and Quinton break off the group, so only Derek and I are left to conquer the hills. We reach a large, dirt resting point, with a small downhill to relax our legs. We rest only for a minute and I follow Derek down the hill. Unexpectedly, a large, steep hill uppercuts us after a quick right turn. My legs start to burn from each pedal, but I persevere.
The fog lightens after the first hill and I can see Alan and Derek riding up a second, shorter hill fifteen feet ahead. Knowing I’ve almost caught up, my boost of confidence and energy empowers me up the last hills and to the first downhill. We wait patiently for the rest of the group. Soon enough, Berto and Paul, then Jason, and finally Bryan makes it up. Realizing that Dad, Murali, and Bo will take too long, we decide to go ahead.
Jayden and Derek explain how the trail is like a tiny Meadows, another trail in Aliso Viejo that is bombarded with many switchbacks, and they shoot into the trail before anyone is ready. Paul and Jason go right after.
“Let’s go, Scout,” Berto nods his head towards the trail.
“Let’s do it!” I respond. We head down the trail with Quinton and Bryan following right behind me. A photographer in the bushes to the right snaps a photo of each of us. Instantly, a quick left turn hits us, but we keep ongoing. The fog is getting thicker and thicker the further we traverse into the valley.
Left. Right. Left. Right. We run into a line of people stuck behind one slow person descending the mountain. Eventually, we get to the bottom of the trail and rest in a grassy area surrounded by a fork in the road before the next climb begins. My mind wanders into a deep trance as blood rushes to my head from the adrenaline.
“Are we ready?” Paul questions us.
“Yep!” Jason responds in an excited tone. The rest of us answer by getting ready to start riding.
Click. I clip my foot into the pedal and we climb a wide road with tall, green trees on either side. After only five minutes of riding, we reach an unexpected banana station that is sponsoring the ride. I grab a banana from the ginormous box, take a bite, and my hunger turns the plain, filling banana into a delicious treat. We quickly start moving again, to keep our legs warm.
The rain finally comes to a halt and my numb fingers come back to life. Unfortunately, my legs start burning even more. I can hear the little voice inside my head telling me to give up. I’ve been at this point many times before, so I persevere through the pain.
Only after a few more miles, we make it to the first, planned break station. This station marks about a third of the way to the end. Blue and White canopy tents are shielding the workers from the previous rain, and each station has either snacks, drinks, or a bike repairer. I grab a paper cup and fill it with a random drink. I take a sip and it’s a stale-tasting, brown-tinted energy drink. I down it so I can ration the water in my backpack better.
Again, we go. Hill, after hill, after hill, the trail never ends. I lose track of time and how far we’ve gone. The only thing that’s on my mind is the next hill. Then it’s the hill after that. I want it to end. Surprisingly, I see a blue and white tent in the distance. I take a deep breath in and out. The awaited break had finally come. I realize that… Wait! Since the first stop was a third of the way into the trail and this is the second stop… I’m only two-thirds of the way! I lose motivation to keep going, but Derek mentions, “ The last downhill is just around the corner.” My eyes widen, a slight smirk grows on my face in relief that I will finish my first biking marathon. I grab a blue energy drink in a paper cup and quench my everlasting thirst with the sugary, flavorful creation.
After a long break, using the restroom, resting, and finding the group, we head off to a trail called Water Works. It starts as a dirt, singletrack with a few turns and bridge crossings. We enter deeper into the valley and come across jumps of varying sizes. We pass by a group using a dirtbike to send the jumps onto a skinny, wooden beam. They all cheer for the mountain bikers passing through.
Finally, the trail comes to the end and it widens into a flat fire road. Our group decides to climb up once more to ride Water Works again. Berto and I don’t want to go, so we ride together, back to the parking lot. Everything we talk about becomes a blur. My tight muscles feel ticklish instead of pain. I stand up on the bike to stretch but suddenly a terrible cramp begins, making my legs go limp for a second. I run into a rock, but get myself reorientated. I’m worried that if I rest, my legs will spasm, and I won’t be able to go on, so I switch to the easiest gear and just crank.
Berto mentally supports me through the last two miles back, and I finally make it to the finish line. I step off my bike to hang it on the rack but my legs begin to cramp harder than I have ever experienced. A volunteer comes over to help due to my distressing actions.
“Where does it hurt?” the volunteer asks.
I point to my thighs, “Here.” He grabs my left leg and slowly squeezes it harder and harder.
“Tell me when to stop,” he tells me.
“Now,” I answer. He asks Berto to squeeze my right leg. The pain hits me like a truck. I place the back of my hands on my forehead, close my eyes, and persist through the pain. I can feel my legs decompressing like a balloon. After a few minutes, he lets go and questions if I feel better.
I say, “Yes,” and thank him. He instructs me to take a warm bath with Epsom salts to help the cramping, and I thank him again. I cool down on the grass as we wait for the rest of our group to arrive. Surprisingly I see Bo with Paul, Jason, Bryan. They tell me that they passed Dad, Murali, and Bo their second time down Water Works.
Dad and Murali finish, and we go to use the free burger ticket from the Good Dirt bag for the In-N-Out truck parked in the middle of the event. I take a giant bite of the burger and it’s twice as juicy and flavorful than any other burger I’ve had. Ending a ride with tasty food is the best part of mountain biking.