A bad night biking beats a good day running

The best part of the week for me is finding a new place to mountain bike, and spending a couple hours exploring its twisting trails and challenging terrain.

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and the best thing I can say about the outing is that any time spent on my bike beats running down an asphalt road for a workout. Running is the simplest form of exertion: putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward (similar to my personal opinion about road biking). Mountain biking requires attention to the geography and geology, gear changes, and bursts of energy. When biking in the woods, the scenery is always changing, and there’s so much more to do than focusing my mind and finding my zone. In short, it’s not boring, and it requires a strong connection between my brain and legs. Unfortunately that connection isn’t always firing.

Last night I travelled to Russell Mill State Forest in Chelmsford to explore the singletrack that NEMBA riders gush about. Bad weather was closing in and I felt rushed. I dived into the piney woods, trying to figure out the best way to explore the terrain. A large pond bordered the right side of the property, and I could hear heavy machinery working on something at the far end. Even though I didn’t have a serious time crunch (other than the weather and eventual darkness) my head wasn’t with me. I would have been better off running. The short fire roads didn’t allow for enough warm-up (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) so I was in twisty singletrack before I was really ready. It wasn’t pretty, and when the mosquitoes discovered this slow-moving feast, I was really not happy about the ride.

Russell Mill State Forest in Chelmsford is definitely a fun place to ride despite my experience (bring bug spray!)

Russell Mill deserves the accolades it gets on Singletracks.com and NEMBA’s Riding Zone. Someone has created great biking opportunities in this small space. There is tons of loopy trail — not too tight, not too technical — just right, as Goldilocks might say if she biked. Sadly, I was way off my game, turning into the ferns and doing endos right and left. I had to stop and walk through the rock gardens most of the time. Even the medium-width bridges were too much for me, I felt like a first-timer and I didn’t like it.

an obstacle like this log was out of the question for me last night

Even though it wasn’t my night, I stopped frequently to photograph the beauty of the woods and the trails. I began to forget what a lousy ride I was having and just enjoyed the scenery. I thought of how much fun the trails will be when I revisit them in the future. And pretty soon the gloom lifted. I started to successfully execute some of the rocks and pop over the logs. Without realizing it, I stayed on the bike through more of the technical stuff. Somehow, something had clicked and it became a good night riding.

any time spent in woods this pretty beats running down a road

When it was time to leave, I was happy to discover that I was at the wrong end of the property and had to ride my way out. Thank God the guys working on the heavy equipment hadn’t called it a night and I used that as a frame of reference (lost track of the pond entirely!) to hunt around for the right route.

If I had quit early when I was having a lousy ride, I wouldn't have found this fun double bridge in Russell Mill State Forest

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