When I pulled into his driveway, my buddy Ken asked where I wanted to ride that day.

“Beats me,” I said, “this is your neck of the woods, you tell me.”

Unlike the middle of the state where I live, in the hills of Western North Carolina when they say “mountain biking” they’re talking about literal mountains.

You spend the first half of the day peddling up. Once you get to the top, you flip a switch on your bike to open up the suspension, and then fly down the other side of the mountain as fast as you can go.

Mach-chicken, we sometimes call it.

It can be a little dangerous if you're not careful, but it’s wicked fun.

“Let’s do Farlow,” Ken said, with a sinister grin.

We met up with another buddy, Jay, at the local bike shop where I rented a Santa Cruz Bronson, a bike that was plenty capable for this trail. An hour later we were at the trailhead and started the climb.

This was my second or third time riding this sort of trail, and I was still not used to such brutal climbs. I pulled up the rear for what seemed like the entire day, doing my best to keep up with guys who do this two or three times a week.

They were cool about it, though, and despite my slow pace, we made it to the top around lunchtime.

“You ready?


“You sure?”


“You can always go back the way we came.”

“Hell no, let’s go!”

Right away, I knew this trail was different than any I’d ever ridden. Not 100 yards in, there was a long rock garden. Except that, unlike the rock gardens back home, these rocks were shifting around beneath my wheels.

You know how if you are driving a car on a paved road and you hit a gravel road at high speed the car will tend to get a little squirrelly and slide around? It was like that, only I was on the bike, and these were big-ass rocks, not gravel.

Aside from several of these rock gardens, there were big three and four foot drops (that I did not attempt), practically vertical sections of the trail, and slick rocks beside waterfalls and creek crossings.

I spent most of the day scared shitless with my butt puckered up, and I walked a lot.

But I made it down unscathed, and it was insanely fun.

My buddies were all woo-hoos and high-fives.

“You made it, dude!”

Hell yes, I did, and if it weren’t for the long climb to get to the top, I’d have been ready to do it again. Instead, we turned left onto Daniel’s Ridge for the 1/2 mile ride to the parking lot and cold beer.

The bike I’d rented performed so well I’d already decided to buy it. In fact, the one I was riding was a terrible color, and I wondered if the shop would make a good deal on it because of that.

One minute I was zipping along on this relatively easy trail, still pumped from the decent and having the time of my life while thinking about buying a bike.

The next thing I knew, WHAM, I was over the bars and laying flat on my face.

Facedown with the bike on top of me, I knew right away something wasn’t right with my shoulder. Figuring I could still ride, I stood up and got on the bike, but it was no use. Putting any pressure on the handlebars with that arm was excruciating, and this was not the sort of trail you ride with one hand.

Ken and Jay carried my bike down for me.

At the ER I found out that I had a grade III-IV separation of my AC joint. That’s a fancy way of saying I’d jacked my shoulder all up and torn some ligaments. They patched me up and sent me home and, although the joint separation is permanent, I was healed up in a couple of months.

There were no scars, but my left arm is now about an inch longer than my right, and I’m reminded of that crash every time I put on a dress shirt.

When things are going really well it’s easy to get careless, to forget the effort it took to get there. It’s easy to shift into auto-pilot and stop considering the obstacles that lie ahead. Obstacles that, if you’re not paying attention, and bring your progress to an abrupt halt.

Even though I lived to ride another day, I guess you can say I learned that lesson the hard way.