by Matt Allyn
Frustrated with the latest garden of aged rocks filling the mountain bike trail, I begrudgingly climbed off my bike to hike through the terrain. Already, my legs were toasted, my jersey was drenched, and my ego felt like it had been hit by a bus. All this pain and my race wasn’t even half over. I needed a beer.
My two obsessions in life are beer and endurance sports. Like beer, with sports, I always like to try something new. Last September, however, this tendency roped me into a two-hour-plus collegiate mountain bike race over one of the hardest trails I’d likely ever see on only a few months of experience.
I’d picked up mountain biking over the summer at the encouragement of friends. We made a deal that if I got a bike, they’d buy homebrewing equipment. I sold my inoperable 1963 Pontiac Bonneville to a local car collector and immediately invested in a clear-coat, polished aluminum Trek 8500. Quick and rough rides followed, and soon I was at least crashing without going over my handlebars. By the time I returned to Syracuse University for my senior year, I could hardly wait for the mountain biking season opener at Penn State.
Saturday morning of the race we unloaded the car at the bottom of the trails I would later learn had an “Epic” designation by the International Mountain Bike Association. Out of the three men’s categories, I signed up for “B,” the equivalent of junior varsity. Sure, there was a beginners’ class, but my teammate Lindsey assured me that I was in good enough shape to handle the longer race. Lindsey was wrong.
The race started on pavement and quickly turned onto a long, uphill dirt road. Knowing the race would only get tougher, I hung in the back and attempted to chat with other racers between gasps for air. After the road, the hill continued on a sandy singletrack filled with loose rocks and narrow passes around trees. The loose rocks gave way to rock patches, and the rock patches turned into rock gardens. After an hour I was miserable and defeated, and I wanted out. As I stumbled down the last careening, rocky slope of my first lap, I threw out a desperate Hail Mary to the spectators. “Beer? Anyone have a beer?” My prayer was answered.
I pulled my bike off the trail and was met with a stream-cooled Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and warm company. Another racer, with a broken pedal, offered condolences as he sipped a hefeweizen, promising there was nothing wrong with dropping out. But I wasn’t dropping out; I was just recharging. Like Popeye’s can of spinach, the beer lifted me up and threw me back on the trail to complete another lap and finish the race I’d so recently denounced.
I’m no rookie when it comes to fine beer. I’ve had the Belgian Quadrupels of monks and the best IPAs either coast can offer, but that pumpkin ale will always be one of the best tasting beers I’ve ever had.