In the past 25 years, I have jumped from an airplane in a tandem free fall skydive and, as a pilot, I have halted the downward spiral of a spinning Cessna 152 and landed a Bonanza without the assurance of having landing gear that was down and locked.

I've swum with 700-pound Australian Fur Seals, conquered class six whitewater on the Upper Gauley — also known as the Beast of the East — completed two Ironman triathlons, and birthed three children in the space of four years.


But, despite the number of hair-raising adventures I've had, the simple thrill of trail riding still gets my heart pumping.

My first bike was bright blue with a black banana seat, a white basked, a bell, and streamers flowing from the handlebars. The kids on my street would spend hours racing around the neighborhood on our bikes — sans helmets — until the streetlights came on. I have a vivid memory of rounding a corner, running smack into the back of a parked car, and hopping right back on my bike, heedless of the blood that trickled from my knee and down my leg.

Eventually I outgrew my beloved blue bike and had, at my disposable, my mother's far less memorable green teen speed. In fact, I have no memories of riding this bike — or any bike, for that matter — for the decade that followed.

It wasn't until I'd graduated from college and Matt, my husband-to-be, went on to grad school at Virginia Tech that I found myself on a bike again: an ill-fitting rented mountain bike so that I could accompany Matt on the multitude of trails that surrounded the Blacksburg campus.

And it was terrifying. Narrow trails littered with rocks and roots, sharp turns, steep descents, the bumpy, rutted terrain causing my hands to vibrate and my vision to blur. I thought my heart would beat right out of my chest. Post-ride — my palms sweaty, my legs covered in dirt, my muscles turned to jelly from exertion and adrenaline — I wheeled my bike back to the rental shop, whirled to face Matt, and announced, "I'm gonna need a better bike."

Shortly after we were married, I got a shiny new black Specialized Hardrock Sport mountain bike of my own, complete with toe clips and a bottle cage. It was a heavy, non-suspension beast of a bike but I loved it. And I rode it everywhere: off-road and on paved trails, in my first sprint triathlon, and to trailer my young children.

And then, along my triathlon journey, I upgraded to a road bike, followed by a feather-light tri bike, and my Specialized began to collect dust in the garage.

Now, more than 20 years after I purchased it, having taken a break from triathlons, I find myself riding the Specialized again, swooping down steep, bumpy trails and careening around sharp corners, all the while amazed that the tires haven't rotted. This is not to say, however, that I am a daring trail rider.

In fact, I am quite timid — pushing my bike up the steepest hills and lifting it over the scariest obstacles. But this caution makes the riding no less thrilling.

And, I live to ride another day.