Bikes Change Lives : Michele Lamelin
Let’s make this perfectly clear: I was never a fan of riding bikes. Not when I was a kid, not as a young adult, and certainly not as I approached middle age.
I had no desire to own a bicycle as a child, being perfectly happy to tromp around the woods on my own two feet, building forts and looking for salamanders under rocks and logs.
The neighborhood kids all had bikes, and in fact, the Druin brothers’ mother would join her kids in launching off a berm that divided our backyards. (We're talking 1976 ... this woman was well ahead of her time!) My mom would watch from our kitchen window and shake her head at the “silly antics” of this grown woman.
Fast forward to 1988 when, in my mid-20’s, I moved from rural Connecticut to an urban neighborhood in San Jose, California. Unable to afford a car at first, I purchased a brand new bicycle at my local bike shop. I just wanted a basic ride that would get me to and from my studio apartment in Willow Glen to my boyfriend’s house in Saratoga. How I wound up with a mountain bike is beyond me (I should be ashamed to admit the model name Trail Breaker was lost on me), but that’s apparently what I purchased, with no intention of putting those wheels to dirt. In fact, the idea of riding a bike on dirt didn’t even occur to me – that’d be Crazy!
In 1990, I moved into the foothills of Saratoga, on horse property that backed up to Fremont Older Open Space Preserve. Riding a spirited Arabian mare out on those trails was always an adventure, as these Crazy People on bicycles would come whipping through the eucalyptus groves and along narrow tracks along the ridgeline. Did I mention CRAZY? !!
Not long after that, I found myself coerced onto a bike fairly regularly by my then-husband, John. We’d ride neighborhood streets and paved bike paths, with John towing our infant son in a trailer behind him. Oh, how I hated cycling, but I sure gave it a good try. John would gift me with progressively wider and cushier new saddles every Christmas in an effort to make me more comfortable. Nope, didn’t work.
Fast forward again to 2005 ... different husband, same bike ... Rick somehow made pedaling around Yosemite Valley sound romantic and fun, so off we went … for 20 miles. 20 freaking paved miles! On that same old steel beast I purchased in the late 80's. No bueno!!! Never again!!!! Bicycling sucks!
Until … Dirt.
I discovered Dirt in 2008. Rick had started mountain biking with a buddy, and I thought I’d be a good lil wifey and give it a try so my spouse and I would have an activity to share. I started off on my ancient steel steed with its ginormous saddle on the flat Ohlone Bluff trail along the coast in Wilder. From there, I worked on my climbing skills by pedaling Rick’s full suspension Trance up a nearby fire road. I remember how proud I was when I finally made it to the top without having to take a break!
One day, a friend from my horse barn asked if she could join me on my next ride up the fire road. Lindsay, in addition to being an accomplished horsewoman, was apparently one of those Crazy People Who Loved Riding Bicycles, whether on dirt or asphalt. I was happy for the company and we climbed on up to the top. As I was turning around to head back down the way we came up, Lindsay pointed to what appeared to be a hiking trail, and said “Have you ever been down there?” I looked at her in disbelief, and she just nodded toward the trail and said, “Follow me.”
And following her changed my life.
Roots and rocks and drops OH MY! Yeeeeeeeee !!!!!
I became addicted straight away. I’d wake up at 3am thinking about my local trail systems and working them out in my head, later drawing maps of them on paper placemats at restaurants. Driving along in my truck, my heart would leap at any glimpse of dirt path. I embarked on a mission to ride anywhere and everywhere, organizing group trips with my mountain biking “tribe” to legendary places like Kernville, Hurricane, Downieville, Oakridge and more.
Mountain biking brought me to life, at mid-life. I swear it’s the Fountain of Youth, as I feel younger and healthier (on every level!) now at 51 than I did decades ago. My closest friends are those I met through mountain biking, and they have become my family. Out on the trail, I experience church, gym and therapist couch all at once. On the ascents, my mind goes on creative overdrive, and some of my most inspiring ideas are dreamed up as I earn my turns. On the descent … it’s pure, unadulterated freedom. Just me, my bike (Maynard, the love of my life!) and the Dirt. I’m that grown woman my mom shook her head over, getting giddy over launching small drops.
And oh yeah. I'm single again. But that old diehard Shogun Trail Breaker is still around ;-)