Riding with the Bainbridge mountain bike team

The Bainbridge High mountain bike team pedals through the Grand Forest on Mar. 21. Photo: Larry Steagall.

A few weeks ago, when I looked into doing a story on Bainbridge High School’s newly-formed mountain bike team, its coach, Gordon Black, was quick to suggest I come to a Wednesday practice and bring my bike along.

I immediately cast that idea to the side. I’d have a City Council meeting at around the same time, and I couldn’t show up muddy and sweaty to a place as decorous and dignified as Bainbridge City Hall. But then a fight broke out during a recent council meeting, and I figured ‘what the heck. If the politicians can practice hand-to-hand combat, why can’t the reporters show up covered in mud?’

I mountain bike fairly regularly, but not at this team’s pace. I’m also not accustomed to the rollicking, narrow pathways they take in Grand Forest Park. There were plenty of sharp turns, steep slopes, crisscrossing tree roots and muddy patches that can instantly rob a bike of all its hard-fought momentum.

I showed up to the practice with a mountain bike a guy at an island bike shop once playfully ridiculed as a “Mad Max” bike. It’s made from mostly scavenged, bartered and donated bits and pieces. Its best part – the front shocks – were yanked from some ivy behind a church in Bremerton. Nothing really syncs up well thanks to the mismatched components and my own happy-go-lucky approach to bike assembly.

Black yelled for me to shift to an easier gear on our first hill. “You’ve got to shift, Tristan! You’re going to kill yourself!” Little did he know that steep-slope shifting on the Mad Max leads only to chain derailment.

I had to chase hard to catch up with the team’s two lead riders. Once I did – usually at the top of a hill where they regularly wait for the rest of the team to catch up – I’d fumble for my notepad and gasp out as much of a question as I could muster – usually something as groundbreaking as “Why (gasp!) do you like (gasp!) mountain biking?”

To which I’d get a response as enlightening as “Uh, ’cause it’s fun?”

After more than an hour of riding and quick, trailside interviewing, I managed to get some workable quotes. Thankfully, the weather was dry, so the post-ride mud splatter was minimal. I quick changed and was in my usual press table seat a few minutes after the ride. None of the City Hall regulars were the wiser, except for maybe the Bainbridge Review reporter who likely caught a whiff of my hard work over the course of the five-hour meeting.

After the story came out (which you can read here), Black sent me an update on the team’s first competition on Sunday. The team placed fourth out of 18 high school teams. Bainbridge riders took home a third-place prize and a two fourth-place finishes.

“Pretty good for a relatively small team,” he said. “The best part is everyone loved it. They want to come back for more.”

You can learn more about the team at their website.