At the end of the parking lot, past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park soccer fields and beyond the gate, a narrow dirt path divides in two. One goes right, around the hill, and through a grassy field before disappearing from view. Locals prefer starting the ride on the trail to the left. A short steep ascent of the ridge takes you to the best trails in the quickest fashion. This particular trail is rocky, but passable for experienced riders, at least until the very top. If there was a Hillary Step at the Tyler Mill Recreation Area, this would surely be it.
The crux is narrow, and no more than a short patch of trail, but it features exposed roots and bedrock shiny from years of use, that refuse to give tires any purchase. The approach is steep already, but this section is perfectly vertical and requires the front wheel to be lifted up and over. A single tree on the left won’t allow for more than one bike through at a time, but does provide something to hold onto should you veer too far left, and over the edge. Above the trail is too wooded to offer an alternative route. There is no line to choose, no new approach, you either have what it takes that day or you don’t.
Adding to the difficulty is the complete lack of rhythm and increased heart rate that comes from starting off a ride with an immediate, technical climb. Of course, this is all just background noise and may not occur to you at that moment, but what does, is that everyone behind will be forced to walk up should you spin out, effectively plugging the trail. The pressure is high. Sometimes no one makes it. The few that do are rewarded with a flawless trip to the summit, and a moment to bask in their own sweet glory, as they watch the rest struggle to achieve the same. The only solace in getting caught behind the bottleneck is listening to the good-natured heckling of the poor soul who had to put a foot down, and knowing you won’t have to face the same shame. Not this time at least.
I haven’t ridden at Tyler Mill since I lived at home many years ago, but that step has taunted me ever since.
This spring I plan to bring my bike back home, and give it another try. I may not have the unabashed courage I had as a kid, but I will have a bike that fits perfectly and was designed to excel on the very trails I described to the design team, trails just like Tyler Mill. I’ll have loads of new technology to help as well, but the biggest help of all, might be the twenty-year-old monkey on my back, prodding me all the way up.
Wish me luck.