There is seldom a time these days that I drive to my local trailhead without bringing a cooler stacked with a couple of my favorite ice-crusted microbrews hanging out in the backseat. Beers after trails is a new tradition that has crept up on me, attaining ritual status as a must-do in the rhythm of my week.
When I first started riding at all, I was on road bikes, peeling back 20-40 miles at a time, sometimes in a peloton, sometimes solo…but always beerless until I was back at home. When I started riding mountain bikes a few years ago, I realized that perhaps the greatest perk of the whole experience was being able to enjoy an immediate post-ride brew in a camp chair next to my car in the shade of the trailhead overstory. And if I was honest with myself, I enjoyed this moment just as much as the riding.
Beer and bikes have a long and rich history, but the ascendance of mountain biking culture and technology has fitted hand-in-glove with an explosion of beer culture and brew diversity, especially in cities like Asheville, Boulder, and Charlottesville. And all of these currents have drifted together to form what can only be called the post-ride beer “moment” when time slows down, the beta-endorphins flow freely, and a can of beer becomes the next best thing to Olympus-bestowed ambrosia.
Photo by Nighthawk Shoots
But drinking that beer after riding is about more than landing a double buzz. I’ve found that taking the time to sit by myself or a close friend after a hard ride, slowly draining my beverage, helps lock my experience into a hardened memory.
I’ll always remember riding the Spencer Gap and Fletcher Creek trails in Pisgah with a friend who had just bought his first mountain bike ( a Banshee), getting back to the car with soaked feet from a river crossing, and sitting down sweaty, dirt-caked, and wet to a Dale’s Pale Ale next to the North Mills River. I have no idea what I said or how long I sat, but I’ll always remember that moment and the glow of accomplishment and peace that my friendship, ride, and beer all pulled together.
It can be tempting to think that second or third beer at the trailhead will give the same return as the first, but the post-ride beer isn’t the same thing as a night drinking at a campsite.
The moment is meant to be temporary, halted when the last drop passes out of the can and into your mouth. That’s why I only bring two cans of beer tops when I go and ride; one for me and one for a friend that I’ve either brought or may meet on the trail. Plus I’ve got to think of my liver; it’s plenty busy processing all the proteins needed to prepare my body to recover, and I don’t need to dump a mountain of toxins (alcohol) and useless carbs (think future fat) that will only slow the recovery process down. I’m good with one–as long as I get to repeat the experience the next day and maybe the day after that…
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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