So it was that in short order Hosking began reviewing basic off-road dos and don'ts. Don't jam on the front brake (you'll go over the handlebars); don't attempt sudden directional changes in soft dirt or mid-turn (you'll go down). Do move your butt out over your back tire during steep descents to keep the rear wheel planted firmly on the ground; do scan the trail ahead (unaddressed rocks, tree roots, and drop-offs abruptly enlivening a ride); do exercise caution.
These things were important and I tried hard to focus on what Hosking was saying, but I must confess I found it hard to pay attention. Single-track is roughly a foot wide (and often narrower), and most of Mammoth's single-track was well-groomed, at points even cupped into a sort of smooth half-pipe. Riding Paper Route, a long gradual decline, was like descending a curvy luge track. We swooped down through a tunnel of pine, piercing cool shadows, and flickering sunlight. Well, Hosking swooped. But even my liberal use of brakes didn't dilute the magic.
Eventually we found ourselves back up at the base of the mountain. It was time for Chris to go, but before he did he nodded up at the summit and smiled.
"Anyone can do it," he said, "and now you know how to use your brakes."
He surveyed the dark clouds flying overhead.
"But I'd ride the Kamikaze now. Those clouds are going to build. There's a risk of the gondola being closed because of thunder and lightning."
I squandered as much time as I could, but the weather refused to cooperate. Which is how I found myself standing at the summit with my goateed friend, our noses pointed into a black sign proclaiming, "You are at the start of the Kamikaze, the West's Most Outrageous Ride."
This only served to heighten Goatee's enthusiasm.
"Radical," he grinned.
Mounting up, he adjusted his helmet and nodded.
"See you at the bottom," he said.
Only if he pitched a tent. Because the important point is thisno hill is terrifying if negotiated properly. And so my descent was bereft of the shrieking of brakes only when I stopped, which I did often. Because the view was shockingly wonderful, a head-spinning, 360-degree panorama of mountain crags and glinting lakes and great green valleys, quilt-work squares of pine and forest and grass.
So wonderful that I took the gondola back to the summit first thing the next day. This time I descended via a tamer route called "Off The Top." I junked the mapMammoth's trails are well-marked with neat wooden signsand simply rode where my nose led me. The sun warmed my face; a soft wind moved the pines. I crossed white bright sand and skirted tiny round lakes, the bike's wheels crunching merrily beneath me. I dropped through dark corridors of pine and stopped to look at empty chair lifts swaying and creaking in the sun. In four hours I saw five other riders.
Earlier Chris had told me it would be hard to get lost, but I did, which is how I happened on a lovely trail, soft with pine needles and split by streams edged with purple flowered stalks and forded by mossy wooden footbridges. Even now I can't find the trail on the map.
Precisely the point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication