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We crest the fire road at an experts-only trail called Granny’s
Kitchen, "because it has everything, just like granny’s kitchen,"
explains Bontrager. He straps on his full-face helmet and checks his brakes
before popping down a trail so steep I elect to walk. At least, I attempt to
walk it; I end up sliding down the loose grade on my butt with nearly 50 pounds
of sophisticated bike technology tumbling after me.
Bontrager patiently stops and points out the escape routes that go
around every jump. I take most of them. Then we come to a clearing, and he
explains that Tinkerbell, the last and largest of four small jumps up ahead,
was what hooked him on freeriding a few years ago. I dive down the trail,
finally getting a feel for the bike, and happily nail each of the jumps.
Finally, I fly off Tinkerbell, letting out a yell of joy. The hefty bike
cushions the blow with a solid thud and whoosh. Bontrager declares that I’ve
sailed at least five feet. Sweet.
At another series of jumps, called Brake Check, I opt to sit out.
All weekend I’ve been hearing people call, "Clear?" — a call as
important to the freeriding world as "on belay" is to climbing. It’s
a warning to anyone below that a rider is on the way down.
As Bontrager hikes to Brake Check’s top, I think of his
bottom-line message, which seems to be both a promise to wary outsiders and a
call to arms for mountain bikers: "We have to show that this is a valid
sport — that it can be safe, can be prosperous to a local community."
Then, from up in the trees, Bontrager shouts, "Clear?" I scramble backwards to a safe spot and yell back, "Clear!" Then I scan the upper jumps, waiting for the dull rumble of bike and rider, thundering down the trail.