Weekly Roundup: Fear Of Flying Edition

We’re only in the middle of March and Slim Shady is already droppin’ bodies. Not Slim Shady the middle-aged rapper who keeps trying to get Donald Trump’s attention, but “Slim Shady” the semi-secret downhill jump line in Newark, Ohio. Built by a coalition of junior-pro MTB racers and wealthy farmers with time on their hands, Slim Shady is intended to be the biggest and gnarliest set of jumps between Highland Park in New Hampshire and Trestle Bike Park in Denver. Forget Snowshoe Mountain, Bryce, or even Windrock; this stuff is stouter by far.

Unlike at all of the aforementioned places, you can’t buy a lift pass for Shady. Because there’s no lift. You get there by riding through a series of trails. If you don’t know where it is, then you’re not likely to find it. The total drop of the line is about 250 feet, and you have to walk your bike back up after each run.

When it is dry and complete, Slim Shady will have about twelve jumps. Right now there are nine of them, split almost evenly between gaps and tabletops, the longest being 31 feet across. Yesterday the bottom five jumps were still too wet from a recent rain, but the top four were rideable albeit sticky and slow.

Thirteen riders, including myself, took a shot at the top four while I was there. Nobody was seriously hurt, thankfully, although people have already been testing the patience of the local ambulance staff on this trail before Spring has even officially sprung. Two of the thirteen riders managed to clear all four jumps. One of them was my old pal, Bolivian professional BMX racer Javier Larrea. The other, of course, was my eleven-year-old son.

John’s been bugging me to give Slim Shady a try. Late last year, after I broke my fibula in Austin, he’d ridden some of the easier jumps in the intermediate section on the way to Slim Shady, but we were limited by how far I could walk with him on crutches. (I don’t recommend going a mile or so down an MTB trail on crutches, largely because of the depression that sets in after you realize you have to go back up the hill the same way you came.)

Until this weekend, the trails were considered closed due to weather, but on Saturday the trail masters announced that it might be possible to go have a look, at least. So Javier, John, and I loaded up, drove out to Newark, and rode up to the top of the hill. The first jump didn’t look bad — it’s 28 feet across, but the top is flat. Unfortunately, there’s a large roller right before the jump that either steals all your speed or causes the imperfectly skilled to be hideously off-balance when they hit the launch (see above for an illustration of what happens, taken from another section of the same trails).

Javier and I test-rode the first jump and didn’t get much more than about five feet across it before landing. Javier pronounced it too unpleasant to try clearing the jump, at least while the ground was still wet. “I didn’t come here to not try it,” John said, and rode down the hill before I could stop him. His first attempt was a “50/50”, meaning that he landed with his front wheel on the backside of the jump and the back wheel on the top. He pushed his bike back up the hill and tried again. This time, the shock of landing caused him to hit the chinbar of his helmet on his handlebars, at which point he wobbled off-trail into a group of bushes.

“Alright, you tried it, let’s go home,” I said.

“What I need,” John said, “is to go faster.” This is one of those moments where, as a parent, you have a real shit sandwich of a decision matrix. My son had just escaped injury on a jump trail that is already notorious for putting people in the hospital. He wasn’t wearing any of the chest or neck protection gear we take with us to Snowshoe or Denver. The safest thing to do was to pack up and tell him we would return another time — and to not return until he was 13 or 14 and physically large enough to conquer the jumps out of sheer strength and will.

Ah, but there’s this: Every time you make the safe choice in front of your son, whether it is for him or for yourself, he is watching and learning from you. Can my son break fifty bones on a bicycle, spend a total of a few weeks in an ICU, and still arrive at adulthood healthy enough to do business? Certainly he can; that’s what I’ve done. Can my son have the life he wants if cowardice and timidity are his default behaviors? Of course not.

It’s easy to envision the consequences of letting him take too many risks: he is dead, or paralyzed, or crippled. I can summon those images in my mind without effort; indeed they arrive unbidden. It makes me want to take him home, set him in front of the computer, and announce that this is Video Gaming Weekend and so is every other weekend.

The consequences of blunting his spirit are harder to understand, but I can sum them up like so: he becomes a bugman, a coward who takes selfies with his mouth submissively open in front of consumer goods, a man who avoids confrontation at all costs, a “consoomer”… someone else’s fan. It is within my power to take this male child, someone who spent four days riding Boreal Mountain with a torn ligament in his arm, someone whom I once witnessed get into a shoving match with a grown teenager over a practice gate slot at a BMX national race, and turn him into… well, I won’t name names, but you’ve seen the average male autowriter, right? You know plenty of corporate executives, right? You’re aware of the kind of human being who thrives in the university environment?

Man, better to be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I took a deep breath. “If you think you can do it,” I said, “you should try.” And he did, touching his rear wheel down at the 31-foot mark like a deftly-landed regional jet before continuing to the next jump and coming within six inches of clearing that one as well. Five minutes later, Javier tried the first two jumps and cleared them. He and John pushed back up the hill and ran the jumps together. On their return, Javier said “I do not think it is possible until John, he show me. Now, I think,” and he squinted in my direction, “it is possible for you.”

Well, to make a long story and the effort of an hour short, it was not possible. My Guerilla Gravity Megatrail, specified in cost-no-object fashion, saved me from the consequences of twelve failed attempts thanks to its American-made MRP suspension. My last jump was a “50/50”, just where my son had started. I just couldn’t get the requisite velocity. The ground that didn’t sink beneath 120 pounds of my son and his bike, or 200 pounds of Javier and his, proved molasses-like with 291 pounds of author and Megatrail. Possibly I can get it in a few weeks when the trail dries up.

In the meantime, however, John and Javier had moved on. The third jump was just 12 feet across, but it had to be jumped at an angle so you could pick up a curved downhill run to a 26-foot angled gap. There would be no short landings or cautious attempts possible on this. Fail to clear it and you’ll put your front wheel into a dirt wall at what Strava tells me is 29 miles per hour. This will put you in the hospital.

“Under no circumstances,” I said, “do I want you trying that fourth jump today.”

“I agree,” John said. As I was pushing my bike up the hill for yet another failed attempt at Jump One, I saw him streaking past me in the other direction, clearing the first one, then the second, then the third, disappearing from view… then I heard this high-pitched screech. I dropped my bike and started running in that direction…

…because I’m an idiot who, hearing my child screaming at the bottom of a 75-foot elevation drop, would obviously run that way instead of using a bicycle designed for the purpose of riding rapidly down a hill. Javier, who had been posted up on the third jump, saw me galumphing in his direction on an ankle that, frankly speaking, still isn’t working very well, and bellowed in my direction,

“NO! HE HAS MADE IT! HE IS NOT HURT!”

Alright, readers, it’s time for Parenting Decision Number Two Of The Day. The obvious thing to do is to punish John for doing something I told him not to do. This is how I will keep him from wingsuit-ing through Delicate Arch. (Last week, he asked me, as if the idea had just come to his mind, “How old do you have to be for BASE jumping?”) If I fail to discipline him for this disobedience, no matter how high-spirited, I risk him coming to harm in the future from similar disobedience.

And yet.

I know from experience what it is like to have that moment where you are certain you can try something on a bike, or in a race car, that didn’t seem possible just seconds prior. These moments are the building blocks of heroism, of savoir faire, of manhood. So I waited for John to push his bike back up to me. “Didn’t I tell you not to do that?”

“Yes… but I saw the jump, and I knew I could clear it, and I just forgot what you said.”

“The fourth jump is today’s limit. If you even roll the fifth, we go home and I come up with a punishment you will hate. No fifth jump. Say it.”

“No…” a brief murderous look that made me profoundly grateful for being three times his weight and strength, “…fifth jump.”

“Alright. In exchange for that, you can whip the first jump.” A “whip” is a deliberate sideways motion in mid-air. It requires more speed and therefore raises the possibility of something else going wrong.

Which is how we get to the final part of the video that starts this article, cropped together from two runs because I kept dropping the phone out of concern. John whips the first jump, overshooting the landing at about the 33-foot mark and causing me to break the Third Commandment, before clearing the second jump, tail-tapping the third, and pedaling down the hill to effortlessly clear the final gap.

At that point, seven of the ten adult riders who had been watching all of this decided to quit for the day. And I can’t blame them. None of them had even gotten as far as I had on the first jump, let alone cleaning four in a row during slightly muddy conditions. I watched John panting at the bottom of the hill. Javier and I looked at each other…

“He’s done,” I said.

“I agree,” Javier replied. “But now… I have to do all four, so I’m not humiliated by your child.” Which he did, while John and I watched.

“Why do I have to be done riding?” John asked.

“Do you know the phrase, ‘dodging a bullet’?” I replied.

“Yes. It’s stupid. I can dodge an airsoft,” and it’s true, I’ve seen him simply disappear from the path of a 400fps BB during indoor matches like a ninety-pound Keanu Reeves, “but nobody can dodge a bullet.”

“It’s more of a metaphor. We’re going to leave, before anybody starts thinking about styling over these jumps. And I think you’re tired.”

“I’m not tired.” But in this Parenting Decision Number Three, my intuition was completely correct; he ran out of gas on the way back up the hill and I ended up carrying both of our bikes on a mile-and-a-half hike out of the woods. During the drive home, he kept chattering about how possible the rest of the jump line would be. “I mean, if you get the sixth one, the seventh isn’t even that long…” This is going to be a hard summer for me. Not just because I’ll be worried. “Dad, once you clear the first one, the rest will be easy, in my opinion.”

I paused for thought before responding. “John, it’s possible that I won’t ever get the first one, or any of them afterwards.” In the rearview mirror, I could see him frowning.

“But… you’re a great rider! You can do anything that I can do! It might just take you longer, because you’re still recovering from being hurt.” Time for Parenting Decision Number Four:

“John, in the months and years to come you’re going to find yourself doing more and more things that I can’t do. I apologize for this. You were born late; I was already way past my prime as a rider by then. And now I’m so far past it, I can’t even remember what it was like. This is the natural order of things. There are very few great fifty-year-old mountain bikers, and I’m not one of them. I don’t want you to worry about whether or not I’m going to clear any part of Slim Shady. I’ll still enjoy myself going there even if I keep bouncing off that first jump.”

“We don’t have to ever go again,” he snapped, and looked out the window.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course we’re going to go. There’s just one thing you need to remember.”

“What’s that?”

“I can still beat you up.” The cloud crossing his face cleared, and he returned to watching the Send ‘Er Buds on YouTube, so I didn’t continue as I’d planned, which would have been to say,

For now..

* * *

For Hagerty this week, I wrote about another kind of timidity before writing what I think is our most fun alternate-history piece yet.

30 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Fear Of Flying Edition”

  1. Avatarstingray65

    I suspect the automakers are sticking with sedan and CUV format EVs because those are form factors that buyers like to avoid losing even more money electrifying their product lines, because minivans type formats seem to be universally hated by women who can’t stand the idea of being a soccer mom, and because sedans and CUVs have lower drag coefficients and hence get more range from a given battery size.

    What is interesting is that the most popular form factors for EVs are also the form factors that most people associate with highway cruising that electric cars are unsuited for, while city/commuter format small hatchbacks such as the Bolt and i3 have been much less popular even though electric cars are best suited for city traffic both in terms of their range and environmentally in reducing urban particulate emissions. I love the videos on YouTube showing enthusiast Elon fanboys showing how easy it is to go cross-country in their Teslas and only having to spend an extra 4 hours per day sitting at Supercharger locations waiting to fill up their battery so they can drive 2 hours for the next “refill” and save $5 on fuel. I guess they figure their time is only worth $1.25 per hour, but I bet a disproportionate number think the $15 per hour minimum wage is a fine idea.

    Reply
    • Avatardejal

      Give me a real trunk in a sedan and lets talk. I’m done with mail slots. I might settle for 5 door hatch backs.

      Everyone is pimping the new Hyundai + Kia electrics. I believe 80% charge in under 20 minutes. If there’s a plug that can do it. If it’s not broken. If it is where you need to go. If you are not # 10 in line for the 20 minute charge. At best I might go for a plug in Hybrid. More for ghits and siggles.

      Reply
      • Avatarstingray65

        Wow – you mean that instead of spending 5 minutes to get 500 miles of range with a dirty gasoline car I can use 20 minutes to get enough range to drive 150 miles in a luxurious Kia EV (assuming the “supercharger” is functioning and available to use, I don’t use the A/C or heater, drive at a moderate speed, the outside temperature is between 50 and 75F)?

        Reply
        • Avatardejal

          I like what I see, but you got people going “OOOOOHHHHH, IT CHARGES SO FAST!!!!!!!!” Only if you have that infrastructure where you drive. I looked up on a couple of those recharger map web sites. Where I would go in mileage to a relatives house would be cutting it close to their max range. Nearest “Good” charger at that location is at least 50 miles away. BFD that it fast charges. So, I get there. I then drive past another 50 to get a full recharge and waste 50 of the charge coming back.

          Or I plug into a wall outlet.

          Reply
  2. AvatarJohn C.

    It is pretty far fetched to develop an alternate reality where Rock’s strategy of axing cars that were recognizably Olds in favor of expensive me too import wanna be’s was successful. That the endgame is a Camaro with a not even waterfall grill badged as Cutlass is perhaps right, as a return to Omega, Ventura, Apollo off the 70s Nova.

    My preferred alternate reality would have been updated 98s and Cutlasses designed and built by people who believed in them and were having the time of their lives in their dream jobs. For it to have worked also requires the perhaps implausible situation where the children of those who drove the wonder year Olds took their parents place in the community as leaders instead of slinking away. A Cutlass is just not a car to drop out in.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn C.

      An aspect I just thought of in Jack’s alternative universe that had Rock’s Oldsmobiles winning the Lexus customer. If the investment in Lexus in the 90s had not paid off for Toyota, it was America centered, would they today be the worlds biggest manufacturer? A Lexus flailing around in failure in 2000 like it does now changes their whole picture. It still leaves them the Prius, but that was no profit center. Would they have had the capital to get all those third world Corollas and minibuses produced that put them over the top.

      Reply
  3. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    In your alternate reality, Ford goes belly up. Is there no Alan Mullaly in that timeline to mortgage the blue oval and get enough cash to weather the storm?

    Reply
  4. Avatarspiderman

    another good article, thanks for writing

    I am also at the stage of life where things I used to do with bold, reckless abandon are losing their allure. Too risky. But I made it through relatively unscathed.

    The bugman link was entertaining too: and true, to a some extent. Nice to read someone else’s critical take on the way popular culture & marketing is moulding our species.

    Reply
  5. AvatarMike

    Great article, and timely. I shot a video yesterday of my 4 year old son screaming down our gravel driveway, careening wildly off his bent-to-hell training wheels, inches from a stone wall. Grinning ear-to-ear. And then sent it to the grandparents, because I’m an idiot.

    My daughter, who is 6, is now talking about wanting to race bicycles. I have no idea how this even works…are there leagues for this sort of thing? Facebook groups? She just has a single speed coaster brake 20″ girls bike, but she’s already following me off curbs and through the mud on my 18 speed Trek. Any thoughts how I can dip her toes into something competitive, to see if she has a taste for it without spending 4 figures on a racing rig and gear?

    Reply
    • AvatarEric L.

      Mike, where were you when I was trying to unload the last Cannondale Cujo 20+ in the country? https://www.pinkbike.com/buysell/2986476/

      My 5-year-old upgraded last month to a trigger-shifter 10-speed SRAM GX (lol, i no rite) Cujo Race from his 20″ coaster/single rear brake lever bike. It’s gone well so far. After properly deflating those monstrous 20×2.6″ Kendas, he hasn’t noticed that his big brother’s 24″ hardtail has suspension and his matching orange 20″ bike doesn’t.

      Per the last Pink Bike article I read about a pro EWS rider, she signed her first sponsorship at age, um, 12, so you’re pretty close to needing a sponsor for your daughter. The EWS racer just, lol, graduated secondary school in Germany and is excited she’ll have more time to practice. At age 19. Astonishing.

      Reply
      • AvatarMike

        Considering she has exactly 0 races under her belt, I think dropping 6 bills on a set of wheels is a bit…premature at this point. She’s not looking to rule the world, at this point, she just wants to go out and ride her bike around like a crazy maniac as fast as she can. Yesterday, though, we were out riding and she got into a terrible death wobble at speed and took a nasty tumble. Luckily she always wears a helmet, but she had no other protective gear and got a pretty decent road rash. I sat her down to calm down, made sure nothing was broken, and after a little break she hopped right back on and started riding _faster_.

        Nope. Not related to me. At all.

        Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I have two of them: a Lynskey Pro29 hardtail for cross-country riding and a Trek Session 9.9 Carbon DH bike.

      I ride the GG on jump trails because it’s easier to get in the air than the Session… on the other hand the Trek is almost uncrashable.

      Reply
  6. Avatargtem

    The idea behind an modern day Cutlass Supreme is awesome, but the as-predicted execution of it (not far from how they’d do it I think, short of calling a Mexican Chevy Blazer crossover a Cutlass), falls short. If I could wave a magic wand I’d create a Cutlass that would be basically a GM-take on a Challenger. Comfortable and roomy, adult-usable back seat, decent trunk: not a cramped, hard-to-see-out-of Camaro redo. Take whatever GM RWD platform (stretched Alpha? whatever), offer it in V6 and V8 trims with some lux interior options (pleated saddle leather, etc, etc), and for goddsake give it some tire sidewall and suspension compliance. My ’91 Park Ave on fresh struts, springs, and air shocks and 205/70R15 whitewalls laughs at potholes.

    Reply
    • AvatarArbuckle

      A big coupe that doesn’t have the Challenger’s Boomer styling and doesn’t cost over $70k would be great.
      The CT5 has the same wheelbase as the Challenger and is 195 inches long so I think that would be the better starting point.

      Reply
  7. Avatargtem

    On the Hagerty piece. Yes, the omnipresent Macan GTS or Whatever BMW X7 race-van thing, extra points for the gloss black wheel option (bleh). These things are everywhere on the wealthy north side suburbs of Indy. That and Teslas, a noticeable proportion driven by first generation Indian immigrants that call Carmel home (make of that what you will). It’s such a nice isolated life of athleisure, driving your SQ5 to Starbucks, and calling people racist on Nextdoor. In typical “trickle down” fashion, those hideous gloss black wheels are now everywhere, most commonly adorning a new crossover. Talk about bugman car: mid 40s out of shape “jockbug” in his new midsize crossover with gloss black wheels he just dropped $40k on. “Hey, the wife won’t drive a minivans, and neither will I, plus this thing is MURDERED OUT”

    Just got my old XS500 back on the road after a bit of a hiatus, been poking around the farm roads by my house. Had a shiny new Model 3 slow to a crawl after they (OMG!) accidentally turned onto a gravel road. Blew by and left them in a cloud of dust in glorious fashion on the Yamaha.

    Reply
  8. AvatarNoID

    Watching your son makes me wish so badly that I wasn’t such a sissy as a child. We had all kinds of ramps and trails cut out in the woods and I was (almost) always too chicken to jump them. And when I did jump them it wasn’t to their full potential.

    I’ve been wanting to get back into biking. We moved about 2.5 years ago and a paved trail runs behind our house along a repurposed train route, so I purchased a cheap used bike to enjoy up there with the kids but I’d really like to pull the trigger on a nice “dual purpose” bike for both paved and unpaved trails. Maybe not something for jumping (yet) but something that allows me to enjoy the trails and maybe lose a little weight.

    Reply
    • AvatarHarry

      I was also a sissy (prefered term was pussy in my neck of the woods) as a kid about it, and still am. The funny thing is I was ok catching long airs at high speeds on ski race courses, but little table tops and gaps terrify me to this day. It is just different having the ground fall away from beneath you than cold bloodedly launching yourself upwards.

      Reply
      • Avatarbenjohnson

        I was going to comment that me and my kids are sissies too – but you made me realize that the blizzard/avalanche/ice conditions we redonee ski would be terrifying for most people.

        I think the key takeaway from Jack is spending time with your kids doing *anything* outside the home is what’s of value – even if you make mistakes.

        Reply
  9. AvatarHarry

    It would seem some company named “Canoo” has taken up the challenge of trying to do what you describe in the Hagerty piece. It is about as close to an FC vehicle as you get and keep the front occupants safe. The actual thing they are debuting looks like a poorly built concept car, and most of the images seem to be “renders” The release date also doesn’t line up with what little I know about how long it takes to build a vehicle.

    Reply
  10. AvatarTomko

    For an Oldsmobile, I suggest that FE2, FE3 or W30, W31 would be more apropos RPOs than F41 that is most often associated with Chevrolet.

    Reply
  11. Avatarbaconator

    The Cutlass Supreme redux would be great, but even better would be a Lincoln coupe built on the Mustang platform. Can you imagine the Mustang’s power and handling, but with more subdued styling and a Navigator-quality interior?

    Reply
    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      One could say that the original Mustang was a scaled down Continental Mk II, with it’s long hood and short deck.

      Reply
  12. AvatarMD Streeter

    I live in Upper Michigan. Apparently there is a famous mountain biker who has spent a lot of time and money creating and promoting the area around Copper Harbor as a major mountain bike destination. Have you heard about this place? I’m no mountain biker myself (we hike and camp) so I don’t really know much about it, but a fellow once told me it was “world class.” You’re probably a 13 or so hour drive from there being in Columbus (it takes me less than 8 to get to my parents’ house in the Toledo area, and Copper Harbor is about 3 hours from here), so I’m not sure it’s really practical to head up there, but the place is extremely popular with bikers when the snows are gone, then the fat-tire crowd spends hours up there in the winter.

    Reply
  13. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    I think it is incredibly irresponsible of you to be spending that kind of money on bikes and helmets and a 911 for your son instead of investing it in a giant Ponzi scheme that definitely won’t cause the proles accumulated paper wealth go up in smoke at the next “correction.” My financial advisor is telling me to go long on precious metals like brass and lead, and lamposts and rope, but I don’t know what the hell she is talking about, my 401k is up 20% this year.

    Reply
  14. AvatarRobert Harris

    “a coward who takes selfies with his mouth submissively open in front of consumer goods” – aka Soylent Grin

    Reply

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