Back in October I took on a freelance assignment for a local Charleston magazine start-up. I interviewed the subject, completed the article, sent it to my editor and received a check in return for my services. But then the economy took a nosedive and the start-up never well, started up. I emailed the editor when the magazine's start date came and went with no sign of it on newsstands or online, but never heard back. And after a while I kind of forgot about the whole thing, until today when I was scrolling through Word documents and there it was, staring back at me, that paid for but never seen article I wrote what felt like a million years ago. And I felt bad, bad for the very nice editor who must of lost a fair amount of money on this whole thing, and who was always so enthusiastic about the project when I spoke with him on the phone. I felt bad about the article never being seen. Trust me I don't think it's some journalistic masterpiece. It's not groundbreaking or even particularly newsworthy. But writing it meant something to me. It was the first (and so far only) paid journalistic assignment I've ever received. I worked hard on it. I mountain biked for it (which if you know me you know is a lot). So this may seem a little self-indulgent and it may not interest anyone else, but I guess I'm just going to put this up here for me. Because I think no matter what direction my life goes in, this little, flawed article will always be important to me, and despite it's lack of actual publication, I want to remember it. And who knows, maybe someone from Charleston will enjoy it or get some use of it, because that's what it was supposed to do in the first place. So without further ado:
Getting Back on the Bike
For most, an average weekday morning begins with coffee, traffic, and meetings. Adam DeWitt, 25, begins his days with a 12 mile ride on the twisting dirt bike paths at Marrington Plantation, part of the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
DeWitt, the Sales Manager at Trek Bicycle Store in Mount Pleasant, good-naturedly invited me along on one of these early morning rides, despite my confession that it had been some time since I had last ridden a bike. I arrived at Marrington Plantation on an unseasonably warm October morning with an apprehensive feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even the sight of the bicycle that DeWitt took down from the hood of his car seemed alien and imposing, with its mud caked tires and complicated looking gears. Mountain biking is one of those sports that appears intimidating from far away, an activity not for the out of shape or faint of heart. If I hadn’t ridden a bike, period, in several years how would I ever survive mountain biking through woods with all kinds of obstacles in my path-tree trunks, creeks, ditches, small animals? Yet my journalistic integrity was at stake, so I hopped on the bike, strapped on my helmet, and set off with Adam leading the way. What I discovered is that, as so often happens in life, the old adages prove true. Once you’ve ridden a bike, you can’t really forget how to do it. And according to DeWitt, the reasons for mountain biking are endless.
“There’s technology in it, art in it, simplicity in it. It’s good for the environment,” explains Adam at the end of our bike ride as he loads the bikes back onto the top of his car. Despite earlier apprehensions, after several miles on a bike it’s difficult to disagree.
Mountain biking has taken DeWitt, a Clemson native, far from South Carolina. He regularly competes in races in the United States, and has even traveled as far as South Africa for the Cape Epic mountain biking race, an eight-day, 600-mile stage race that has been cited as one of the world’s great endurance events. DeWitt cites Cape Epic as his favorite race despite “only really sleeping the first few nights.” He explains that these kinds of multi-day, endurance-testing races have grown a great deal within the sport of mountain biking, cropping up everywhere from Australia to Vancouver.
Yet for those whose mountain biking ambitions extend no further than the Charleston area, there are still great outlets for the sport. The epicenter of the mountain biking world may not be in the mostly flat lands of the Lowcountry, but according to DeWitt, there are several great trails in the area including the West Ashley Greenway in southwest Charleston and the Francis Marion National Forest’s Swamp Fox Trail, one of the Lowcountry’s oldest. DeWitt cites Marrington Plantation, in particular, as one the best in the area. As one piece of the 17,000 acre Charleston Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek, Marrington Plantation offers 12 miles of mostly flat, singletrack trails that cross through scenic Lowcountry terrain. Like the West Ashley Greenway and the Swamp Fox trail, it’s open to the public with no membership required. Helmets are required.
If these convenient and beautiful trails aren’t temptation enough to figuratively and literally get back on the bike, DeWitt offers other incentives. “It’s relaxing. You can go at your own pace. It’s great for your health. It’s challenging.” And for those who can’t tell a break from a gear, there are resources a plenty in the Charleston area for mountain biking newbies. The Trek Bicycle Store offers the very latest bicycles and technology, as well as clothing, accessories and gear. If solo biking seems too daunting a task, the store offers group rides at Marrington Plantation as well as rides departing from the store’s Mount Pleasant location. For online support, the Lowcountry Fat Tire Freaks (lowcountryfattirefreaks.com) provide advice, tech talk, race updates, forums and more for “like-minded riders who enjoy riding off-road bikes on any trail they can.” Clearly both mountain biking veterans and rookies alike have a wealth of information and resources accessible to them in the Charleston area.
Albert Einstein famously said that “life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving.” All of our sports represent something to us, whether it’s the Zen-like calm of yoga, the brute strength of football, the elegant finesse of tennis. Biking, whether it’s a physically demanding mountain biking race or a leisurely ride through a town, is all about forward movement. Like Einstein noted, if you stop moving on a bike, you fall over. But according to bike enthusiasts like Adam DeWitt, the absence of biking from a life would result in a similar loss of balance. So if for no other reason, bike to keep moving forward-toward a healthier lifestyle, toward more environmentally conscious routines, toward a greater appreciation of the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, the beauty found on quiet trails and silent marshes. It may be a figure of speech, but getting back on the bike, taken literally, is anything but an empty metaphor.