Pumped Up

I dreamed about ‘the woods’ last night. The woods were a sprawling swath of undeveloped land separating my neighborhood from Interstate 270. During my grade school years, my friends and I spent our afternoons and weekends searching for salamanders and crayfish under rocks in the rainwater stream bisecting the woods. We roamed well-worn paths and gave uninspired names to all the landmarks. The Abandoned Car, the Big Hill, the Old Tree.

The stream traveled through a five-foot diameter and thirty-yard-long drainpipe crossing under I-270 to the ‘other side of the woods.’ A place I never visited. My parents forbade it. They concocted unlikely scenarios that would undoubtedly occur if I ever made the trip under the highway.

“A flashflood will fill the pipe with water. You’ll drown and be swept away.”

“That pipe is full of sewer gas. You’ll die right in the middle. We won’t even be able to retrieve your body.”

“Hobos live on the other side of 270. You don’t want to meet a hobo in the middle of the woods, do you?”

These cautionary tales, probably passed from one parent to the next, worked exceptionally well. Many kids claimed to have explored the other side of the woods, but I never once saw anyone make the trip.

They bulldozed those woods by the time I graduated high school. Rockville, Maryland boomed in the late seventies. Every home built was immediately bought. The next generation of neighborhood kids missed out on a life altering experience. Even today, I explore those paths nightly in my dreams.   

As my friends and I abutted our teens, those same paths transformed into a race course for our stingray bikes. We constructed banked turns and jumps made from wood scraps found in our basements. We dug pits and dragged fallen trees across the paths. We emulated Evel Knievel’s latest dares. The older, cooler kids tried the most dangerous tricks.  Not many years later, we snuck into those woods to smoke cigarettes and pot and drink mixed liquor concoctions from pickle jars.

I change little. Forty years later, my drug and alcohol days are long past. But I still love exploring wooded trails, the more remote, the better. And recently, racing a bicycle through the woods has become my principal hobby.

In the summer of 2019, Eli joined a mountain biking team. By fall, I caught the bug and bought myself a mountain bike of my own. In 2010, I disassembled my last, worn-out mountain bike for spare parts to help lower the cost of a bike I was building from scratch. At forty-eight years old, I assumed my mountain biking career was complete. Ten years later, I ride as much as thirteen-year-old me. I coach Eli’s team, so starting last July, I ride trails three days a week, every week.  

As fifteen-year-olds are wont to do, Eli spends much of his free time watching YouTube videos. What videos? He’s pretty interested in cooking, so a lot of chef videos. And lately, his primary topic is mountain biking. Recently, he’s watching people build bike parks in their back yards.

A couple of weeks ago, getting ready for the patio project I promised my wife, I dug forty pavers out of an old overgrown patio in a corner of my yard. Twenty of those pavers are more like blocks: six inches wide and eight inches long. They sit three inches off the ground. We lined those up end-to-end and made a skinny—a long skinny structure, six inches wide, to ride our bikes along. The point is to ride the whole length without falling off. Eli is great at this. From time to time he stacks a few blocks randomly on top of the skinny and rides over them as he keeps his wheels dead in the center on the blocks. With no extra obstacles, I fall off two-thirds of the way across… every time.

Last Sunday, Susan and Eli went to a butcher in the next town over. They were gone at least forty-five minutes. The entire time, I rode the skinny. Down around the fire-pit, to the edge of the lawn, up onto the skinny, and… “Crap!” I fell off. Down around the fire-pit, to the edge of the lawn, up onto the skinny, etc.

My neighbors just built a beautiful patio on the back of their house. It’s huge, covered with a roof held up by three grand columns. It features an eating area and a couple of large wicker couches with cushions. They sit back there all. the. time.

On Sunday afternoon, they entertained their parents. Both sets, I think. Six adults and three children thirty feet away. The grandparents look a few years younger than me. Because we planted a forsythia hedge eight years ago, it’s now chest height. They couldn’t see that I was riding an obstacle. All they could see was a middle-aged guy riding circles in his (smallish) back yard for the better part of an hour saying “Crap!” every time he passed close to the house.

Last week, Eli asked “Hey Dad, have you heard of Whistler in Canada? They have a huge mountain bike park there.” Funny question. I actually follow the blog of a mountain biker who lives in Whistler. I feel like I know quite a bit about the mountain biking in Whistler. Eli watched several videos of their pump track. A pump track is a small, tight mountain bike course with close rolling hills and banked curves. On Friday, Eli said, “I want to build one in our back yard.”

I’m not a yard-guy. In the fifteen years since we’ve lived in our house, we’ve never spent a cent on fertilizer. We spread grass seed when areas look especially rough, but our bar is low. Much of the yard is actually moss, which is fine with me. It’s green and it doesn’t grow. The only time we’ve put any real effort into our back yard is when we decided to farm it. Living in a rural area inspired us to plant crops. That only lasted two years. Being a farmer is hard work. “You want to build a pump track? Knock yourself out.”

And so it started. On Saturday, we loaded a scoop of top soil in our pickup ($26) and dumped it in the yard. Eli built a pretty banked curve and a couple of rolling hills (rollers). Everything is somewhat small right now, but another scoop will bring it all up to scale. Susan helped with some of the construction, as did Eli’s friend Jonah. Me? No, I didn’t build it. My fifty-eight-year-old back hurts from mountain biking three days a week. But I certainly rode it.

29 thoughts on “Pumped Up

  1. Fun! It’s very cool that you and Eli are doing this stuff together. Keeping you young & fit and giving Eli great memories with his dad!

    Your story of the woods is just like Stephen King’s “It”. Good thing you didn’t go under the freeway😉

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    • Not going into ‘the other side of the woods’ is one of my biggest regrets. But I’ve explored enough remote places to make up for it at this point. “Keeping me young and fit” Right, I often wonder who benefits more from my participation. Him or me?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, to hear your neighbors guessing why you were saying “crap” so often 🙂

    Funny how our childhood fun – playing in the woods – becomes our adult passion. It’s almost like that part of us never grew up. Well, mentally, anyway. Our bodies, however, are saying, “Easy, there. Take it slow….”

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  3. My neighbor’s back deck and our back deck face each other. They are retired and have also really built up a beautiful area they entertain VERY frequently. I try to keep our deck looking O-K just for them. That is funny about the “crap” thing. My neighbor is innocently nosy. I think she would be right over to see what the heck I was doing.
    That sounds really cool! And you and Eli get to share this together. That is really special!

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    • Having these neighbors is a big change for us. Before them, the woman who lived there spent zero time in her back yard. I think we do a pretty good job of ignoring each other, but some activities just beg to be watched.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I loved the simplicity of those bikes. My friends and I were constantly taking them apart and rebuilding them. Now, if the slightest thing goes wrong, I feel like I need to take the bike to the shop or risk causing hundreds of dollars of damage.

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  4. Love the “balance beam” you and Eli constructed to test your balance on your bikes. And I found out (long after the fact) that my boys dragged a small picnic table to the drainpipe crossing the road behind our house and set up their “headquarters” there when they were kids. Where was I when this was going on???

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      • It’s not a compliment but truth. I look for you, in my inbox. I can not tell you how much joy you bring, how much joy and hope Leah’s posts mean to me. I look for them. Save them as long as I can before rushing to open them like Christmas gifts from a friend. We need each other. Keep on sharing. You give me the confidence to keep sharing me. I can be a good. I can be serious. Yall give me the freedom to be just me. Keep on doing you. You are freeing so many folks who silently read. Folks who wish they had the freedom to share as you and I. Let’s keep on writing, Jeff. Let’s keep on finding the courage to offer our hearts and thoughts with the world. It is so freeing. I love you, my friend. Keep loving me back.❤

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  5. YEAAAAhhhh ELI! Gooooo JEFF!! This is so fun. I love it. I am so stoked for you guys and the rad pump track being built. For the record, the pump track in linked video was built specifically for Crankworx, and isn’t usually there. And, the quads on the girls that win pump track? Powerhouses. Trick I recently learned for skinnies – Drag the back brake to even out speed so that your pedal stroke/power stays consistent and you don’t lose your balance. It totally works on uphill skinnies.
    Drainpipe be damned, but I suspect the other side of the woods might have been disappointing after all that hype..

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  6. I know nothing about biking, but this all still sounds cool AF. Glad you are making the most of the surrounding outdoors and time with your family! And hey at least you kept it G-rated for your neighbors! Hehe

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      • It definitely doesn’t have the same sort of puritan view of nudity or sexual “purity,” at least not to the same extent. I was totally shocked when I first came here and saw a show on TV called Naked Attraction. It’s a dating show where everyone is literally 100% naked, and they show EVERYTHING, both genders. This was 10 p.m. on the standard TV license programming. I could only imagine the uproar that would get back home!! As for rating system I’m not sure, haven’t paid too much attention!

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      • Haha you probably wake much earlier in your day than I do in mine! But yes it is nearing my bedtime. And yours apparently! Signing off!

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    • To be a good mountain biker in Pennsylvania, you need to excel at riding rock gardens. Even the easiest trails have rock gardens. The other day the gas company was laying new pipe and they dug up a whole mess of big rocks. So today, as a birthday gift to myself, I built a huge rock garden in my back yard. It’s pretty challenging. Sometimes it seems like Susan has *two* teenage boys to reign in.

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