Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Ode to the Greenbelt

Disclaimer:  The Barton Creek Greenbelt is my favorite mountain bike trail.  I might be a little biased, so bite me.

It may not be the best, or the most difficult trail in the world, but those are relative terms anyway.  It's familiar, it feels like home, and it's mine.  I know the different sections of the main trail and some (but definitely not all) of the backtrails.  I know the sequence of the technical spots and which ones give me the most trouble, something my mind never fails to remind me of as I am trying to psych myself up to clear one.  I know, from riding with others who know far more than me, when to call out before taking a blind corner or ascending/descending a blind hill.

My long-time nemesis, no longer.
I know many who have never been to Austin, and even some who have, scoff at the existence of such a trail in Texas, dismissing anyone who waxes poetic about the Greenbelt as a narrow-minded Texan, offering the rebuttal "Dude, you need to come ride the trails in Colorado/Moab/California/etc."  All I can say is it's a good thing I came to the realization a while ago that you can't change someone's mind if they don't want it to be changed.  Otherwise, I would spend all my time spinning my wheels to convince them of how wrong they are.  Instead, I just smile and encourage the non-believers to visit Austin if given the chance and take a spin on the Greenbelt.

Yupp, this is in Austin
Or better yet, don't visit.  The army of unconscious dabblers who clog the Greenbelt during the best of weather are bad enough, with their dogshit ornaments hanging from trees or laying on the side of the trail to fester in the plastic cocoon rather than decompose naturally.  We don't need any additional traffic on the trail.  Who ever decided that it was a good idea for half of your group to stand on one side of the trail and the other half on the other side of the trail as I try to pass, anyway?  Where were you when we had the lesson on logic that would have helped you decide that you should all just step aside to the right, leaving the left side of the trail open for me to pass you safely?  And it's not just pedestrians.  Everyone loves the mountain biker who stops to fix a flat, fiddle with his bike, or just rest right in the middle of the perfect line through a section.  I guess this can be attributed to poor education of trail etiquette, but it sure seems an awful lot like common sense to me.

Another long-time nemesis no more.
And I can do without your sneers about mountain bikers, or right of way, or the non-verbal attitude you give me as I pass.  You're the one who couldn't read the signs about the leash law out there, and you're probably the kind of person who will blame me for hurting your dog when it chases after me and I kick it or hit it with my frame pump or it causes me to crash.

Of course, for every idiot on the Greenbelt, I'd like to think there are at least two responsible trail users.  You know who you are:  other mountain bikers who yield the right of way appropriately or who simply offer a friendly greeting as we pass each other, runners and hikers who keep their dogs on a leash and move to the side with their dogs as I pass, and the rare dog owner who has trained their dog to yield right of way without having to be on a leash (kudos!).  To you I smile and offer a friendly "How's it going?" or a simple "Thank you."  If you care to ask how I'm doing, and I'm not out of breath or trying desperately not to embarrass myself on a technical section, I reply "Great!" or "Couldn't be better!" or mention something about the perfect weather.

Hard to beat this December weather
I know that some people, upon reading this, will probably think "So what?  This sounds like my trail, or any other trail near a reasonably populated city where people enjoy the outdoors."  And they're probably right, only this trail is within a few miles of downtown Austin, and did I mention that it's mine?  The Greenbelt is my trail, not in the sense that I own it, or that I'm the best rider to ever ride down the Elephant Butt (this could not be further from the truth, in fact).  Nope, the Greenbelt is mine in the sense that it's what I think of when people talk about home.  It's where  I go when I need to sort out a problem, or vent frustration, or just get outside because the weather is too nice to be stuck indoors.  It's my own personalized therapist, and it's free and always knows exactly what I need.

I will be back for you some day, Culo de Elefante
Ok, so I'll bite.  For those who challenge by saying I need to ride elsewhere, I offer you this:  I spent two months living, working and riding in Moab.  Don't get me wrong, those are some incredible, world-class trails.  I loved riding out there and still dream of returning.  But most of them involve driving to reach the trailhead, or they're overcrowded with guys who spend more time worrying about the numbers in the setup of their bike (gear ratios, tire pressure, stem length, stem angle, q-factor, etc.) and making sure that everyone knows what they're running, than actually riding the damn thing and experiencing the feeling that comes with it.

The Hill of Life!
There was one trail in Moab, Flat Pass, which had a wide variety of terrain from slickrock to sand to creek crossings and was nearly devoid of any obnoxious people (save some rednecks in four wheelers) and was close enough to the farm on which I lived to ride to the trailhead.  But there was one problem: it wasn't the Greenbelt.  It didn't have 30+ miles of illegal backtrails to be discovered.  You couldn't pop out of the trail mid-ride and take a break behind Spec's with some frosty refreshments, cheese, and a baguette before bombing a quick downhill section back to Sweet Sixteen before continuing on to Travis Country.  There was no Tacodeli for post-ride replenishment of depleted glycogen stores. And there was no rope swing on the trail where you could cool off in the middle of a blazing hot summer day, or take your non-mountain biking friends for some leisurely swimming and beer drinking. And it most certainly wasn't mine.  It may have someone else's trail, but it did not belong to this guy.

Break time!
And yes, I've gone mountain biking in Colorado, and the same applies.  Of all the trails there, most require driving to get to the trailhead from any decent city (don't even get me started on Boulder) and they still don't offer the variety in train in most cases.  There very well may be a better trail out there, somewhere, which offers all of the things that I love about the Greenbelt and more, but there's still one vital criterion which it will inevitably fail to meet:  It's not the Greenbelt.

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