The Little Tennessee River gets backed up at the Fontana Dam forming an emerald green reservoir that has been on my mind since the beginning of summer. Along the shoreline, long leaf pine needles blanket the forty miles of single track that meander through a North Carolina State Recreation Area named Tsali. It was there that I fell in love with mountain biking on a chilly October day, much like today, seventeen years ago.
Tsali was my first experience leaning into banked corners, involuntarily launching over whoop-de-do’s, and trail riding from sun up to until sun down. Whipping through the woods amidst the peace and quiet of the natural world turned out to be my definition of fun. That trip to North Carolina was just the start. From there I rode everywhere I could; the Smokies, the Blue Ridge, Pisgah, Monongahela, the Appalachians, the Sawtooths, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Colorado Rockies, the Metacomet Ridge, and even Dooley’s Run right in my parents’ backyard. No matter the location, the thrill was the same. I was hooked.
After college graduation, I took a summer job leading mountain bike trips out west, and ended up staying for the year. I can’t recall if I put pressure on myself, or felt it elsewhere, but when the year came to a close, I determined it was time to follow a more traditional post graduation path. I packed up, headed home, went back to school, and got a job. I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but in the blink of an eye thirteen years flew by without me so much as throwing a leg over a mountain bike. Within that time frame I gave “my” mountain bike back to my father, and picked up road biking on the side.
For all intents and purposes, I am no longer a mountain biker. V-brakes have been replaced with discs. Triple chain rings, flat bars, and bar ends are all gone. 26” wheels look out of place in the sea of 650’s and 29ers. Judy Butter is no longer the answer to stiction. My full finger gloves are too small. People say “shred” instead of “ride.” I haven’t seen a Grateful Dead sticker on a bike in years. Mountain biking, it seems, has passed me by.
It took a road ride last April, in Greenwich, Connecticut to rekindle my interest in getting back on the trail. Darren, who works at Signature Cycles and was leading the road ride that morning, was guiding us through winding hills and beautiful country side, but for the first time in a long time, my mind was in the woods. I don’t recall how, but the topic of Tsali came up. As chance would have it, Darren had been there too, and had equally fond memories. We shared stories and fawned over the trails, the pine needles, and that glorious lake. Somewhere on the silky smooth roads of Greenwich, I decided that it was time go off road once again.
Perhaps it’s fitting that seventeen days into October, just seventeen years after my trip to Tsali that started it all, the design for my first Seven mountain bike sits in the queue (behind all of yours), ready to build.
I cannot wait.