Phases of a Relationship

11.2.2007 | 3:02 am

One of the most gratifying experiences human beings can have in a lifetime is a deep, abiding relationship. You never know when such a relationship might begin, and it’s not always easy to tell whether you’ve come across a relationship that’s got enough staying power to last a lifetime, or merely a few days.

Once found, though, there’s no denying: it’s worth it. As the two of you learn more about each other, discovering depth and quirks you would never have suspected when you first met, you can’t help but say to yourself, “This is what gives my life joy and meaning. This relationship, truly, is sublime.”

I am talking about, of course, the relationship between a cyclist and mountain bike trail.

First Date
Does the relationship between trail and rider spring to life fully formed? Do you know every waterbar, every spur, every ledge drop the first time you ride a trail?

No, of course you don’t. You wouldn’t want to even if you could, because that would take away the joy of early courtship, the rapturous early days of mutual discovery.

And that would be sad indeed.

So when you first hear about a trail, take it slow. Don’t just rush to the top of the trail in a car and bomb down it. Shuttling a trail is like introducing yourself to a beautiful woman by grabbing her butt. Sure, it’s been done — all too often, really — but you can bet that the trail will not respect you for it.

No, instead find out about the trail. Ask friends what it’s like, what it’s best qualities are. What days are best to ride it? What you should wear — baggies or lycra? Should you bring bottles, or is a Camelbak in order? This is your only chance to make a first impression with the trail, so make it a good one.

Next, introduce yourself to the trail by riding the whole thing. Preferably, do the uphill first. Acknowledge the trail’s fine characteristics, but don’t be too effusive. Excessive flattery sounds false, and the trail can tell the difference between honest appreciation and a tacky come-on.

Second Date
Oh, the heady moments after the first ride on a new mountain bike trail! In your euphoria, you will want to tell all your friends about it — about the trail’s clever switchbacks, its teasing false summits, its rambunctiously fast and daring descent.

Can you sleep the night after such a ride? No! All you can think about is riding that trail again (if only it will have you). Sleep is kilometers — nay, miles! — away.

“Please, please, please,” you pray to St. Eddie, who watches over cyclists. “Let that trail like me as much as I like it.”

And then — at last! — the moment of the second ride arrives. Sometimes, alas, this second ride reveals flaws you didn’t notice in the rush of the first ride. Perhaps the trail is usually crowded, and you were just lucky the first time you rode it. Perhaps it is not as technically challenging as you remember from your first ride; it’s one of those master-it-and-move-on trails.

Perhaps it turns out that the trail is infested with mosquitoes, ticks, and angry, mutant wolverines, some of which appear rabid.

Hey, it happens.

More often, though, the second ride is your opportunity to notice exquisite, charming details you didn’t notice during the first ride, because you were taking in the big picture. “This trail has three distinct kinds of terrain!” you might find yourself exclaiming excitedly. “All in one ride! How is that even possible?”

“And here is a sidetrail that takes me on a quick downhill jaunt over roots and ledges, and through four switchbacks, before rejoining the main trail. I can’t decide which way is better, they’re both so good!”

You may find your emotions welling up, getting the best of you. In which case: pull yourself together, man. Trails don’t like blubbering pansies.

At the end of the ride, if you find yourself astounded to note that you somehow — impossible as you would have thought it just one day ago — like this trail even better now, well, you’re on the way to a long-term relationship.

Going Steady
Before long, you find yourself telling all and sundry that this trail is the best trail in the world. You can’t help yourself. And when it’s time to ride, you don’t even think about where to go ride. It’s a foregone conclusion. Why would you ride anywhere else?

The more you ride this trail, the better you get to know it. Now totally comfortable with the main features of the ride, you begin to explore different lines. Maybe try blasting up a difficult pitch in a harder gear, or perhaps seeing if you can ride the entire trail without ever putting your foot down.

You begin to notice even subtle things about the trail. You can tell the difference between how it rides in Summer and Autumn. You come up with names for certain moves on the trail — in-jokes that have meaning only you and the trail would ever understand.

Eventually, you stop calling the trail by its proper name. In your head, at at least, it’s “my trail.”

Ol’ Ball and Chain
Then, one day after riding your trail, you realize: you just did the entire ride without noticing a single thing. Your mind was elsewhere the entire time.

And don’t think the trail couldn’t tell, buster.

Soon, you’re wondering if maybe you’ve outgrown this trail. If maybe you’ve seen all it has to offer.

And then, one day, a riding buddy tells you about a trail that’s just been cut. It’s still a little rough and the line’s definitely evolving, but it has real potential.

You go ride it — you know, just to see what’s out there — and suddenly you’re no longer interested in “your trail.” All you can think about is this latest piece of singletrack. You don’t even feel guilty, because hey, it’s just a trail, right?

You heartless bastard.

Months go by, during which you rarely — if ever — ride your trail. You make feeble excuses (“It’s out of my way” or “It’s Winter and covered with three feet of snow”) for not riding out on what used to be your favorite trail. Oh, sure, from time to time you run into each other and you halfheartedly promise yourself you’re going to go riding there sometime really soon. But you never do, do you?

Until one day.

For some reason, you wake up with your old favorite trail fresh in your mind — you’ve been dreaming about it. Your dream has brought it all back to you: the intensity of the climb, the rush of the descent, the joy of a perfectly realized series of switchbacks.

How could you have been such a fool?

You rush back to your trail — for you now realize that this is truly the best trail in the world — and you ride it again.

And it’s just as you remember. It’s like you’ve never been apart. It’s perfect.

But some day, as you’re bombing the descent and a heretofore unseen exposed root end expertly threads your front wheel’s spokes and brings your front end to an immediate halt, launching you up and over as if your bike were a trebuchet, and your body flies twenty feet toward a welcoming boulder field, you will finally understand the gravity of your sin.

Sure, the trail was willing to take you back. But you were a fool to think you had been forgiven.


  1. Comment by Travis | 11.2.2007 | 5:49 am

    There are many things I could apply this to, restaurants, but alas, my favourite trail is in another country, and it will be some months before I can ride her again

  2. Comment by Lowrydr | 11.2.2007 | 6:06 am

    I think you may need to go out to the garage and clean off that bike seat. This post made me all sweaty and it’s only 40 degrees outside.

  3. Comment by mytzpyk | 11.2.2007 | 6:21 am

    A a minute I thought I was going to need a cigarette…

  4. Comment by Eric D | 11.2.2007 | 6:21 am

    i heard that people in Utah sometimes have multiple trail relationships. is that true?

  5. Comment by Freight Train | 11.2.2007 | 6:36 am

    Nice post Fatty! This one got me laughing ….. even after a particularly stressful morning at work.

  6. Comment by BurkeInTheOzarks | 11.2.2007 | 6:37 am

    Superb post!

    However, I do have one criticism: if I saw angry, mutant wolverines I’m not sure I would care if some of them were rabid. I mean, c’mon, they’re already angry and mutated!

  7. Comment by MonsieurM | 11.2.2007 | 6:44 am

    I’ve always been a road cyclist, mountain biking never really inspired me. But since I started reading your blog Fatty, and especially this post, I’m feeling more and more the need to try it. You’ve really interested me in getting off the road with those big heavy bikes and when I finally get to try it, it’ll be your fault :)

  8. Comment by Big Boned | 11.2.2007 | 6:59 am


  9. Comment by Keith | 11.2.2007 | 7:07 am

    I’m getting a little worried:

    I reach satisfaction/exhaustion long before my trail does.

    Do you think my trail might be looking for a stronger more experienced rider?
    (Maybe someone with 29’s?)

  10. Comment by The Neil | 11.2.2007 | 7:45 am

    Well done Fatty, well done.

    Erik, You can have have multiple trail relationships, but they’re kinda like children, your always going to have your favorite.

  11. Comment by fatty | 11.2.2007 | 7:46 am

    keith – don’t worry. i understand upgrading to 29″ wheels is totally possible. it’s not even that painful or invasive of a procedure.

    burkeInTheOzarks – rabid mutant wolverines are 2.4 times as ravenous. the rabies combine with the titanium skeletons for devastating effect

    eric – i confess, i have met people who ride multiple trails. worse, i have seen trails with multiple riders on them AT THE SAME TIME. i find such behavior reprehensible.

    travis – you can have relationships with restaraunts in a similar way, but there is a key difference. if i crash and burn on a trail, that’s just part of the give-and-take. i come back while the scabs are still fresh. if i get food poisoning at a restaraunt, that’s it forever. i can never go back and get queasy just thinking about the place. trails get lotsa second chances. restaraunts don’t get any.

    lowrydr – thanks, i think. please though, always practice safe cycling (ie, wear a helmet).

    mytzpyk – a cigarette? you mean a high-protein recovery drink, right?

    freight train – dude, i promise you do not want to compare stress levels with me.

    nonsieurm – every road cyclist should try mountain biking, just like every mountain biker should try road biking. it’s good to swing both ways.

  12. Comment by MTB W | 11.2.2007 | 7:46 am

    Hilarious! You just keep cranking out new and creative posts. You are on a roll (ok, puns intended).

    Yep, when you stop paying attention to the trail, thinking of other rides or sneaking glances at distant scenery, it gets you right back, sending you flying over the bars and leaving you writhing in agony. That is the cold, hard truth of trail relationships. But, when it is on, it is a beautiful thing, enjoying every turn, descent and dropoff, even while the climbs leave you breathless. The faster you ride, the better it gets. Even after the relationship is over and you have moved on to other trails, those pop-ins to get just one last ride in are still fun. OK, now I need a cold shower!

  13. Comment by Beth | 11.2.2007 | 7:50 am

    Neil, your “favorite” child must be in for some lifelong therapy, dude.

  14. Comment by TFloyd | 11.2.2007 | 8:15 am

    Kudos on the use of the word “trebuchet”.

  15. Comment by swimmin' at sea level | 11.2.2007 | 8:17 am

    Darn. Why is my husband always at work when I need him? Er . . . uhm . . . I mean, Bike always in the shop?

  16. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 11.2.2007 | 8:23 am

    I completely agree with MonsieurM. I’ve got to get out of central Florida and move somewhere where I can experience this kind of relationship.

  17. Comment by cheapie | 11.2.2007 | 8:24 am

    so….how’s your project at work coming along? heh. are you doing the same thing i do? waste more and more time as the deadline approaches…maybe hoping for the rapture to save you?

  18. Comment by fatty | 11.2.2007 | 8:42 am

    cheapie – project completed, job retained. thanks for asking!

  19. Comment by UltraRob | 11.2.2007 | 8:51 am

    Fatty, this has to be in your top 5 posts! I don’t know how you can crank something like this with all the stress you’re going through with Susan. My work has me stressed but that’s small compared to what you have to be going through.

  20. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.2.2007 | 8:55 am

    Just commuted in 21 miles in 38 degree fog. Brrrrrrrr! This warmed me up.

    Fatty, you do realize your mom reads this blog, don’t you?

  21. Comment by TIMK | 11.2.2007 | 9:03 am

    I’ll have to share this with the trail maintenance crew – we will be out tomorrow morning giving “our trail” (she’s so easy) a nice spa treatment in return for all the love she shows us.

  22. Comment by fatty | 11.2.2007 | 9:07 am

    ultrarob – thanks, man. i’ll have to start writing my posts at 3am more often.

  23. Comment by KP | 11.2.2007 | 9:29 am

    1. Great post, one of your best. 2. Is her name Tibble Fork? I think I met her the first time I took my custom ride out for a spin. Uh, thats not a one day stand is it? Man, this just got awkward, uh, I gotta go…

  24. Comment by Sprocketboy | 11.2.2007 | 9:30 am

    St. Eddy? Isn’t he the Diety?

  25. Comment by El Animal | 11.2.2007 | 9:31 am

    Fatty, FYI is not St. Eddie:

    Madonna del Ghisallo

    Also known as Our Lady of Ghisallo; Madonna of Ghisallo

    Medieval legend says that Count Ghisallo was travelling near the village of Magréglio when he was attacked by highway bandits. Spotting a image of the Virgin Mary in a roadside shrine, he broke away from his attackers and ran to it. There he took refuge, pled for Our Lady’s protection – and was miraculously saved from the robbers.

    As the story spread, the Madonna del Ghisallo became known as patroness of local travellers. In more recent times, cyclists would often stop to rest and pray at the chapel, which is a local landmark, and is at the top of a steep hill. After World War II, Father Ermelindo Vigano, pastor at the shrine, proposed Ghisallo as the site of an Italian shrine for bicyclists, and she was given as patroness of cyclists on 13 October 1949 by Pope Pius XII. The chapel has become equal part religious shrine, part cycling museum, with artifacts and photos from the sport. There is an eternal flame that burns there in memory of the cyclists of are no longer with us, and services each Christmas Eve and the Feast of All Souls commemorate them.

  26. Comment by Little1 | 11.2.2007 | 9:49 am

    and when you’ve begged forgiveness over and over (the handlebars) and she lets you back there is that wonderful feeling of being home.

  27. Comment by TG | 11.2.2007 | 10:02 am

    I think I need a cold shower.

  28. Pingback by | The RocBike Review » Links Of The Day: 2 November 2007 | 11.2.2007 | 10:09 am

    [...] Phases of a Relationship [...]

  29. Comment by KeepYerBag | 11.2.2007 | 10:14 am

    I thought this was a family site and here you go blue on us.

    How about getting back to the wholesome stuff like barfing, crashing and doping?

  30. Comment by fatty | 11.2.2007 | 11:09 am

    keepyerbag – don’t forget peeing and farting. i’ve done those, too.

  31. Comment by Denise | 11.2.2007 | 12:23 pm

    This was brilliant! My favorite post to date!

  32. Comment by Burk | 11.2.2007 | 12:24 pm

    Thanks dude – Been reading the website for a bit and just wanted to say thanks for the laugh!

  33. Comment by bikemike | 11.2.2007 | 12:37 pm

    sniff! you had me at waterbar.

  34. Comment by | 11.2.2007 | 12:43 pm

    Eric D: Had to drop the Mormon joke didn’t you?
    Other than that, I have to admit… I’m speechless.

  35. Comment by flossy | 11.2.2007 | 12:48 pm

    Oh I so have to give my road bike a rest and get out on my mountain bike a bit more

  36. Comment by bikeuphill9 | 11.2.2007 | 12:50 pm

    Just what I needed after a crappy day of classes and an argument with the better half. Now time for a ride!

  37. Comment by System6 | 11.2.2007 | 1:14 pm

    Dear Fatty,

    What do you do when your riding buddy talks all the Cougars he runs into, and even though he loves the trail, he doesn’t seem scared off by them either? I think he evens goes off the trail looking for Cougars.

    I haven’t discussed this with my wife because she like riding buddy and she likes the trail too, but she definitely wouldn’t approve of the cougars. Please advise.

  38. Comment by JET(not a nickname) | 11.2.2007 | 1:56 pm

    I think this may be one of my favorite posts. A classic no less. Thanks for the laugh today Fatty!

  39. Comment by Snorky | 11.2.2007 | 4:32 pm

    I always read FC’s stuff but never write but……………. isn’t there a joke here somewhere.. ya know ……having a blow out before finishing the ride…….
    I think you know where I’m going with this…..???

  40. Comment by axel | 11.2.2007 | 5:40 pm

    so what does that make your Fall Moab trip? Having fun with the guys, checking out some new exitement?
    Is that like visiting the Reeperbahn or the seedy side of Amsterdam?
    just wondering…

  41. Comment by Clydesdale | 11.2.2007 | 5:41 pm

    Rode mine this morning and it was -4 c , beautifull she was, all glimmering frost in the early morning light. bliss really… I’m misting up just harkening back.

    MonsieurM, any time you wish to come up for a ride, we have bikes that long for their favourite trails also. In fact we took a first time roadie out this morning. He still has a smile on his face even though it hurts (bruised ribs) and can’t grip his bar… ahem, handle bars because of a couple of wee tumbles in the fall leaves.

    Fatty, you nailed it with this post… err got it correct. Nailed it may be a bit “Blue” :)

  42. Comment by MonsieurM | 11.2.2007 | 5:51 pm

    Clydesdale: You’re in Ottawa right? I might take you up on that sometimes next year…

  43. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 11.2.2007 | 7:02 pm

    Sometimes the “reunited” phase doesn’t go as smoothly as you portray. There’s always the risk that your trail will hear about your infidelity.

    She’ll still welcome you back with open arms, but beware. Just when you think you’ve gotten away with it, she’ll throw you out into the trees with a glare and a snicker.

  44. Comment by tibiker | 11.2.2007 | 7:42 pm

    Truly one of your best posts. I too am curious if the lover’s name is Tibble.
    You made me feel guilty for all the “trail two timing” I’ve done over the years. I guess that explains some of those roots or rocks from nowhere that took me down….jealousy.

  45. Comment by john | 11.2.2007 | 7:47 pm

    Thanks Fatty, that was a truly inspired piece of writing.

    I’m not a mountain biker, unless you count riding around bush tracks on my 24″-wheel back-pedal-brake bike when I was a kid. Mountain bikes hadn’t been invented yet, and single-speed wasn’t trendy, it was all we had.

    But I’ll be giving it a go at a local trail in a couple of weeks with a few of the local riders. It’s going to be fun!


  46. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 11.3.2007 | 12:02 am

    That is clever writing. No where did you actually assign the trail any sexuality (that I could find anyway) yet I and others have assumed the trail was feminine. Is this a smart observation by me…. no so I’ll just move on what is a trebuchet?

  47. Comment by fatty | 11.3.2007 | 6:05 am

    big mike – admit it: you didn’t read the 2nd to last paragraph.

    born4lycra – a trebuchet is a big ol’ catapult-ish weapon used in medieval times to throw cattle at the other army, causing them to yell, “run away! run away!” little known fact: trebuchets work best if you have a ridiculous french accent.

    system6 – tell your wife that cougars are extinct and that she does not have to think about them. this is not true, but it will ease her mind…until the cougars attack, anyway. and then she’ll have more pressing concerns than whether you were wrong or a liar.

    clydesdale – everyone keeps calling this post blue. even my wife did. i don’t know what you’re all talking about. i’m just talking about riding my bike. if you see more than that, it’s all you.

  48. Comment by Mike Roadie | 11.3.2007 | 6:48 am

    It FINALLY got below 70 degrees here….Yea!!!!!! Going out for an inspired ride now. Thanks, Fatty…….I just forwarded the link to this excellent journalistic experience to 43 of my fellow riders. Nice work!!!!

  49. Comment by bikemike | 11.3.2007 | 2:18 pm

    just to clarify, fatty, we are talking about a john cleese-ish french accent, aren’t we?
    because, as much as i like steve martin, his french accent in the pink panther remake
    (which should never, ever, ever, ever have happened) was embarassing.

    jean reno, because he’s french, would’ve been cheating but exceptional.

    there are some really cool websites on building mini trebuchets. think of all those old pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns just hanging around with nothing to do.

  50. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 11.3.2007 | 3:37 pm

    Dag nab it. You’re 100% right. I was so enflamed with enthusiasm that my reading skills obviously dropped a couple of points.

    Born 4 Lycra
    There’s a one word response to “what is a trebuchet?”… Google. It’s what I used when I had to write a high school physics assignment based on said medieval catapult.

  51. Comment by In Oz during the Bush years | 11.3.2007 | 4:31 pm

    I am headed back to my trail in China Camp…. Haven’t see her in 8 years, so needless to say Travel insurence is my first priority!! Any one in the area that want to catch up for a ride, please let me know. I will be in the Bay Area from the 11th to Dec. 4th.


  52. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 11.4.2007 | 1:09 am

    Big Mike I could’ve googled and i do take your point but it was so impersonal I would much rather go with the source. Also I bet Google would not have linked it with Monty Python either.
    Just checking I am assuming you you were setiing the assignment rather than actually doing it.

  53. Comment by leroy | 11.4.2007 | 5:54 pm

    But how do you explain a road rash you didn’t pick up on your trail?

    I don’t need the explanation. It’s for a friend.


    Why are you looking at me like that?

  54. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 11.4.2007 | 9:31 pm

    Born 4
    I’m the proverbial rock and hard place wedge at present. I’m serving them up to the teenagers in my prac classes one moment and having them handed to me with tea and biscuits by my university lecturers the next.

  55. Comment by jdannettel | 11.5.2007 | 9:37 am

    In order to submit my registration as a fellow ‘Fat Cyclist’ I raced the Dust Devil – McDowell Mountains Mountain Bike race proudly wearing my Fat Cyclist bike jersey. While I am still getting in shape from returning from the Middle East, I did manage to finish third in the Rock Crusher class (I guess that the R.C. class is the same as Clydesdale class, but in a way to no offend people that are over 200lbs.). The jersey worked great and, while the racing season for Arizona is technically over for the year, I will be wearing my Fat Cyclist jersey proudly while I am working down to the number printed on the sleeve of the jersey.

    Ride on fellow cyclists!!!

  56. Comment by Beast Mom | 11.5.2007 | 10:09 am

    This post was hilarious.

    “Perhaps it turns out that the trail is infested with mosquitoes, ticks, and angry, mutant wolverines, some of which appear rabid. Hey, it happens.”

    So true.

    BTW, can you write a spin-off post on the pubescent years of awkward innocence? Oh the potential magnitude of all the ugliness/funniness back there… ;)


  57. Comment by Bike Blogs | 11.5.2007 | 12:29 pm

    Eldon, would dig getting your blog up on my front page of bike blogs. Head to my site, follow the Submit Your Blog link and I’ll get you up there!

  58. Comment by chtrich | 11.6.2007 | 3:29 pm

    Truely one of your best posts ever!

  59. Pingback by Seduction and Relationships » Blog Archive » Phases of a Relationship | 11.16.2007 | 3:00 pm

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  60. Comment by Phases of a relationship | 07.2.2008 | 10:44 am

    Very funny and enlightening… especially for a guy that doesn’t ride a bike.

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