By Scott Morris
Whether it’s in a fresh puddle after a summer thunderstorm or on a swampy jeep trail far from paved roads, Southern boys like to get muddy.
As I recall, the last whipping I got came as a result of too much fun in the mud.
Back before mountain biking was cool, Cousin Jeff and I took my Sears and Roebuck single-speed bicycle — complete with chrome fenders — deep into the woods along Flint Creek. We returned home about dusk covered in muck from blond crewcut to calloused barefoot.
We were laughing loudly until we saw Dad, who didn’t share the same excitement for our newfound sport. He wasn’t happy about our ruined clothes and trashed bike, and he didn’t spare the rod.
A few years later, Cousin Jeff and I “borrowed” his mother’s massive Oldsmobile station wagon and took it trail riding. Seems like there was hell to pay after that muddy incident, too.
Adulthood required putting away many childish things, but thankfully mud wasn’t one of them. The popularity of mountain biking makes it acceptable for grown men and women to get muddy without risking corporal punishment.
The South is blessed with mud, from single-track to fire roads to horse trails, which provide convenient opportunities for grown-ups to feel like kids again.
Here in Florence, Alabama, a volunteer team of dirt-track enthusiasts maintain a short, but challenging trail system at Wildwood Park, which is just a short ride from my house.
My love of this sport was always reserved for the cool-weather months when wind and cold conspired against riding a road bike. Mountain biking helped me be a better climber when I returned to road cycling in the summer.
I even built some vacations around mountain biking, including the great Tsali trails near Bryson City, North Carolina, where Son No. 3 and I spent a few memorable and muddy days of autumn.
But two circumstances conspired to curb my enthusiasm for mountain biking. I had a bad crash a few years ago on the Pine Torch Trail in Bankhead National Forest. My bloody appearance after a face-plant on a rock traumatized Son No. 4 more than me. I was a gruesome sight for days. Even the doctor was alarmed, and prescribed strong antibiotics because the crash occurred on a horse trail.
The other circumstance involves age, weight and gravity. I am finding it more and more difficult to haul myself up steep inclines while negotiating roots and rocks.
But occasionally in the winter I oil the chain on my old Trek mountain bike and head out to Wildwood Park. I pedal on the flats, fly down the hills, and get off and push the bicycle up the steepest inclines.
I’m much less reckless, much more protective of my old bones. But when I return home tired and muddy, I feel like that boy who discovered mountain biking on a heavy Sears cruiser.