The Silent Bomb Run

Written for: The Gainesville Times

By: Michael Crowder

Somewhere in North Georgia I sit straddling my trusty mountain bike with both feet planted on the ground. After peddling uphill almost forever I sit quietly sipping water and gathering my thoughts.

This particular mountain sits on private property and is undiscovered by other cyclists. The locals call it "heartbreak hill" and when told that someone would actually ride a bike down it they dismiss the idea as ludicrous. Good thing I made my first run down before somebody told me it couldnít be done.

As my heart rate drops back toward the normal range from the long climb I contemplate the trail below. 8/10ths of a mile of very steep downhill with numerous vertical drops and only three shallow turns.

Basically this trail is an erosion formed drainage ditch straight down the side of a steep mountain. Tall pine trees line both sides of the trail squeezing so tight at times that all you can do is "think thin" and hope for the best.

My heart rate monitor shows more than my heart rate coming back down. It occasionally spikes upward to coincide with the butterflies in my stomach. Just once I would like one of those folks with the "No Fear" decals to be making this same run. I believe they would peel that sticker off if they made it back to the car and head on back to the coffeehouse for an early retirement.

I lock my right foot into the pedal and give the bike a tentative shove. As I slowly start rolling I clip in the left foot and nose the bike over the top of the hill. The excitement meter starts bouncing off the peg almost immediately. Keeping the bike on the correct line takes more concentration than the human mind is actually capable of and you go into the "zone".

Into the rut, out of the rut, I fight the bike to keep it on a survivable line. Every so often I hit a completely washed out area and the Earth drops away from my wheels and I find myself flying through the air. Or should I say trees, in-flight "body-English" is required to keep from smashing into a tree at what feels like terminal velocity.

At times there is a matter of inches of clearance between trees and hooking one with the handle bars is almost unthinkable. When this happens the pain index can go quite high. For the times when things donít go well I wear a full-face helmet and hip pads. No sense in smashing the pumpkin or scrubbing off the hips.

When I approach the turns I modulate my speed with some heavy braking. As soon as I start to lean into the turn I release the brakes and the bike tracks though like itís on a rail. My speed quickly returns to the ridiculous zone.

The familiar difficulties quickly pass under my wheels and I make the final turn. Before me lies a steep but much less technical section to the bottom of the hill. I turn the bike completely loose and trust in the knowledge that I have a safe run-out at the bottom.

I bust out of the trees into a large open green field and let the bike just bleed the speed off without braking. As the bike slows the reality of the world returns and I experience the elation of a successful run and the disappointment of the ride coming to an end.

As the ride passes from the present into the past I realize that there is no recollection of sound. Of all the sensory input I remember its just not there. I remember focusing on the trail as far ahead as I could possibly see, along with my peripheral vision being blurred by the speed. I remember my hands and arms going numb from the pounding of the handlebars and every big bump or drop. I remember the adrenaline rush and the moments or terror. I donít remember sounds.

I believe this quietness comes from the total concentration required by the task and reflects a moment of true mental focus. All worldly thoughts escape the mind and the task at hand is all that exists in the moment. Well its time for a quick lunch and I think another lap will make a fine desertÖ