Photo: Brendt A Petersen/Shutterstock

Worst Case Scenario: Cactus, Chain Suck, and Downhills

by Lindi Horton Apr 12, 2011
Lindi Horton recounts some potential worst case scenarios she avoided on three mountain biking trips.

Georgetown, Texas

Cacti line the left side of the Good Water Trail. To my right, jagged rocks would welcome my fall. I don’t want to fall here.

Earlier, I cycled past a biker lying prone on the ground. His friends hovered around him. One explained, “He flew head over bike into cactus.” Then the rest chuckled, “That’s what you get when you go too fast and slam your front brake.”

“Fuck you,” the fallen biker mumbles in anger.

Later I spot him lying on a table. He appeared to be asleep. People hover over him this time gripping tweezers. How does one remove hundreds of cactus needles? I think to myself.

Learn from others, is my second thought. Each ride, I grip my front brake. Imagining myself ass-down on a cactus head, I have begun to replace my grip with a single finger.

St. George, Utah

We casually sit around a picnic table. Mountain bikes lie against a mammoth red boulder. Flashes of headlamps dot the trails behind us as the others get in one last ride for the day. Bruises and minor lacerations freckle the sitting riders as they compete for the “worst injury.”

I recall a similar dialogue from one of the “Lethal Weapon” movies. In it, Lora and Riggs try to one-up each other’s bullet wounds. Like the movie scene, the argument in front of me heats up.

One guy is icing his knee. He says, “Dude. Try getting chain suck while climbing”.

Confused, I turn to my guide D.E.A. and ask, “What’s chain suck?”

Shaking recent trail dirt from his hair, he responds, “It’s what happens when your chain doesn’t release when changing gears.” That must really suck.

Arriving home in Austin, the shop fits my bike with anti-chain-suck plates. I always clean and inspect my chain before and after rides.

Keystone, Colorado

A Denver business trip ends early. Heading to Keystone Bike Park, I rent a bike and hire a guide named Tom. We head off to the beginner trails.

Somewhere here, a friend broke his collarbone mountain biking during a bachelor party, I remember now. Doubt flickers through my mind. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

We bike a service road arriving at the Let it Ride trail head. Biking some hills, we pick up speed. We weave through the well-marked path. The path opens to a clearing. The sun filters into the open space. A breeze rustles the tree limbs. It’s still a little chilly in the shade in May.

Tom suggests we take another turn. “It’s more fun,” he says, “And you can handle it.” He has more confidence in me than I do in myself. We arrive at the top of a steep downhill, and I freeze.

Labels pop in my head. I am a sister, daughter, and a friend. I am a technologist. I’m good with numbers. I’m smart and funny. Sometimes I’m a smartass. I am not an athlete.

I envision a tumble down the steep decline. I haven’t even put my foot back on the pedal, but humiliation clouds my senses as if I’ve already failed.

I realize that I’d prefer to fly through the air or to succumb to death itself over the embarrassment of falling in front of my guide.

Tom interrupts these thoughts. Placing a hand on my shoulder, he turns my body towards him and looks in my eyes. “Look at it this way,” he says, grinning.

“The worst thing that happens is you end up dead doing something fun. What a way to go down.” An awkward smile cracks over my lips.

Ten long inhales and exhales later, I decide to tackle the mountain. Tom and I take off, each positioned over the rear bike wheel. Every bump feels like it is trying to wrestle me to the ground. Trees blur past. We coast. Each hill carries the momentum through the next.

As we approach the home stretch, I catch a glimpse of the River Run Village. My fear begins to fade.

A residual pain from my white-knuckled grip and crunched abs begins to invade my senses. I dismount my bike. I feel a woosh of air barreling out from my lungs. Elated I have survived, I turn to look up the face of the mountain. As if sensing my pride, Tom approaches me and gives me a high-5. It was quite a ride.

Feature Image: Paul Carroll

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