By Hella Comat
There I was, on a bike trip in the Nevada desert, using tweezers to dig cactus spines out of a stranger’s butt, and having the time of my life. More about the spiky plants later, but if you thought mountain biking wasn’t for a 50-something lady, I am living proof that it can be done!
For a radical change from the trails of southern Ontario, my sister, another 50-something and my brother-in-law decided to do a mountain bike trip in the Las Vegas area. It’s a relatively cheap place to fly to, the hotels are affordable, there are several bike tour companies, and the scenery and single track are fabulous!
Our hotel was the Excalibur. With its medieval castle and knights theme, Disneyland atmosphere, and constant lure to gamble, three mountain bikers didn’t fit in, but in Vegas, weird is normal.
Our first day was a guided bike ride in Bootleg Canyon, near Hoover Dam. We followed our guide, whooping and hollering like kids though dusty, sandy, rocky terrain broken by occasional beautiful, tiny wildflowers. That day I learned a life-saving lesson.
When you’re following a young, enthusiastic guide, don’t follow too closely. These kids are in love with riding and sometimes they forget that they have older people trooping along behind them. In my excitement, I was riding faster than I should have right behind our leader, when I noticed him shoot up a steep incline. I don’t know what clued me in to abandon his route, but it proves that older people have developed a strong and reliable self-preservation instinct – he was flying over a gap jump, so tall and wide that there was an old Volkswagen Beetle hidden deep in the gap! To this day, I have vivid visuals of what might have happened had I continued to ‘follow the leader’.
We switched to the west side of Vegas and a different tour group for the next few days of riding. The day started with a long, rough, rocky climb through the desert. Quickly, the ladies ended up at the tail end of the group with the young guys vying for the lead. We’d been through this routine before – let them tire themselves out; we have endurance on our side. So true – when the trail switched to single track we started reeling in the men, and when it leveled out, we had to hide our smirks as we shouted, “On the right” as we passed by. When a group of young, but not necessarily experienced, men bike together, testosterone flows. A few hard falls, a dislocated shoulder, and several of them decided to quit at lunch time. We continued on.
There are wild horses and burros in this area southwest of Vegas, and the desert is greener, mostly due to a variety of hardy bushes and cacti. Another day, we were enjoying the, scenic, rolling trails when the sand caught one of the riders. This rider, a shy young doctor went down, butt-first onto a spiny cactus. When she caught up with us and explained her plight, the tour guide said he had the tools to deal with the problem and produced a pair of tweezers. She modestly declined his help and insisted she’d continue on. Old lady to the rescue! Having a buff young guy staring closely at your rear end, even for a doctor, is apparently unnerving, but having a motherly senior is acceptable. I was glad to help; pulling those tiny spines out of her spandex shorts even made me wince with pain.
We finished our vacation with exhausted but fabulous grins. Yes, you can mountain bike after five decades on earth, and you can have an amazing time. Tour guides ask what type of riding you want and tailor the ride accordingly. Other riders may give you the “What are YOU doing here?” look, but stand and ride firm – an unfamiliar trail tends to iron out differences in ability and strength. Finally, your wealth of knowledge and experience can come in very handy.
We had such a great vacation in Vegas, we didn’t have time to gamble!
Hella Comat has been riding bicycles for a long time, ever since she was a young girl. She started mountain biking in her 40s and has biked extensively in southern Ontario, with mountain bike trips in Quebec, New York, Vermont, North Caroline, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Utah.
She is the WebMaster and an Assistant Coach for RideOutside.