The 1st Date (Marriage: Episode 3)

Scrub Preserve Around Trail at Balm Boyette
At the end of episode 2, Suzanne and I had finally broken down our (by "our" I mean "my") social defense mechanism and actually got to know each other a little. Although, we didn't make any effort to actually plan a date, or even exchange contact information. What to do? Of course, I just found her on Facebook, days later. ;-)

Through Facebook we coordinated our first date. Initially we were going to go canoeing or kayaking on the Hillsborough river. Unfortunately, the USF canoe base was closed for the season. After some discussion we decided to go mountain biking at Balm Boyette in Lithia, Florida. It was one of my regular training grounds and I was really excited to finally take a pretty girl there.

Suzanne was a little nervous. She knew that I was really into mountain biking and trained often. But, what she didn't know, is that aside from athletic performance, the trails I had selected for us also demanded considerable technical skills. The first trail out of the parking lot is a 2 mile, sand/dirt path through native Florida pineland (see image on right). In addition to the lush vegetation adorning the trail, it was early spring and the weather was perfect: bright skies, light cool breezes. 

As we rode the conversation was light, discussing the trail, biking, music, and just generally getting to know about each other. After the 2 mile ride into the main section of the trail system, the access road dumps out into open fields with patches of trees to ride through as we pushed deeper into the park and toward the more technical trails, such as Spider Berm, Gator Pit, North Abyss, Loch Ness, Pandemonium and Sidewinder. 

The first section of trees we hit was Loch Ness section. It was a windy, narrow trail with powdery soft dirt that winded through pine trees and palmetto bushes and up and down a 10 foot tall ridge line that required sharp turns on climbs and descents. Momentarily forgetting Suzanne had not had so much technical biking experience, I accelerated into Loch Ness. Suzanne, being ambitious and athletic, she accelerated as well to keep close to the "hunk" in front of her. At about a 3/4 sprint, we dropped the bikes down to the right to turn into the trees. 

The entrance to Loch Ness consists of a sharp right turn, a drop and a sudden climb and left turn into the main section. Having taken this turn many times, I barreled into it. Suzanne made the first turn fine but in the dip, while making the sharp left turn, her front wheel slid out on the soft dirt. She went down hard, but didn't have any visible injuries besides minor scratches. The most serious thing that occurred in the wreck was emotional. At this point, I was still very much a wild card. Suzanne didn't know that I would take care of her if needed. She didn't know that I was capable of and willing to carry her out of there on my shoulders if needed. 

We stopped for a little while so Suzanne could recover. It wasn't long, and she was ready to get going again. We got back on the bikes and proceeded down Loch Ness at a more cautious pace. We didn't talk much while in the trees, but after we emerged from Loch Ness (about 1/4 mile), we started talking again. We talked a little more about the wreck, but mostly we just got looking forward to more trails.

In just a few minutes we were out in the meadow, an open area with plush grass trails cut through short bushes and over small rolling hills. It is the main hub for all of the black trails and more advanced blue trails. We spent a good deal of time riding some of the advanced blue trails, slowly getting Suzanne warmed up and confident again. After about an hour of riding, she was feeling ambitious again. So, we headed around the North Abyss to Sidewinder, Swamp thing and Ridgeline. Ridgeline is a double black trail that rides more like a roller coaster than a mountain bike trail. It has some of the biggest natural features you can find in Florida--steep descents ranging from from 30% - 100% grades (yes, free falls with your wheels on dirt). For the toughest things, there were bail outs, so Suzanne didn't have to do any free falling. There are also skinny ridge lines, literally just 3-4 feet wide and 20-30 feet tall, that swoop around trees and along lakes formed from old phosphate mines that long ago filled with water. 

We were having a blast, and best of all, we were bonding quite a bit.

Near the end of Ridgeline are two large descents at about a 30% grade. The descent wasn't any steeper than things Suzanne already rode, but it was different material--loose gravel instead of packed, powdery dirt. For mountain bikes, packed, powdery dirt gives really good traction, whereas loose gravel is like walking on marbles. We proceeded down the first descent, which swoops to the right with the ridge on the right as you descend. About half way down, Suzanne's wheel slips out. By the time I turned around, it was all over. The bike lay hanging off the side of the trail and Suzanne was sitting and assessing her injuries. In addition to the relatively minor scrapes and bruises she sustained a series of shallow puncture wounds on her left calf. Based on the positions of the wounds and the proximity of grease smears, most likely the large chainring was the culprit. 

I got our bikes secured off the trail in case anyone came along, and I sat down next to Suzanne. It was difficult. I wasn't sure how she was doing emotionally. She seemed OK, but that still didn't tell me what was going on in her head. I took the position of, "this isn't a big deal, you will be fine, but we will treat it as if it is a big deal just to be sure." I got out my first aid kit and we proceded to clean the wounds. Suzanne was tough, handling the iodine swabs pretty well as she scrubbed the dirt and grease off of her injury. 

In the end, we took care of her leg, and she was able to enjoy the rest of the ride, which we kept to easier trails. Although Suzanne had a hard time with her second crash, and also with my advice not to go to the emergency room, I felt it was a great bonding experience. Suzanne handled herself very well even though she was scared. For me, Suzanne made it through the first date with shinning colors. To this day I am so proud of the challenges she faced that day, and to this day I still like to check out the now fading scare on her calf.