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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette About a couple dozen mountain bike riders head out on a trail ride at Franke Park.

  • After briefing the group about safety, Rich Swihart of NITRO hits the trails at Franke Park.

Sunday, July 09, 2017 1:00 am

A mountain biking crash course

Writer thrilled, spilled on trail at Franke Park

Cody Thompson | The Journal Gazette

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I don't fancy myself an extreme-sports junkie. So why I thought I could walk up to a mountain biking excursion and come out unscathed, I don't know.

But, nonetheless, I put on my barely-used gym shorts and T-shirt, dug my tennis shoes out of my closet and threw my blue road bike in my car. I made my way to Franke Park to join the Northeast Indiana Trail Riders Organization.

The organization, which has existed for five years, maintains the mountain biking trails at Franke Park.

The vice president of NITRO, Diana de Carranza, has been mountain biking for 14 years with her husband who used to ride pro downhill in South America. She says it's a great physical activity for the whole family.

“You really just need some hills and a forest,” she says.

I must admit, I felt excited about the ride. Perhaps I was finally getting the daring reporter experience of my dreams. I mean, this wasn't covering the fall of an empire, but the small amount of danger fueled my underutilized pituitary glands.

This is Fort Wayne. The last time I checked, there are no mountains here. How dangerous could this experience be?

In front of a crowd of cyclists, Rich Swihart, NITRO honorary board member, began a brief overview of safety tips. I was more focused on hooking a GoPro camera to my bike to pay much attention. There was something about keeping the pedals parallel with the ground so as to not catch on a stick or any other object protruding from the dirt.

Then the group of a couple dozen rode out to the woods. I jumped on my bike and pressed the pedal, and it zoomed around in circles – the chain had disconnected.

I climbed down and reattached the chain with help from Swihart and continued riding. A few moments later, the riders were forced to stop because my seat was too low. A few NITRO members fixed it. Finally, after some embarrassment and frustration, it was time to head into the woods.

I had been looking forward to this office escape for about a week, but I instantly became aware that I wasn't prepared. The trails were thin. I became acutely aware of the fact that I hadn't ridden a bike in two years.

The dirt paths twisted and turned as I endeavored to stay on them, often overcorrecting and riding into the grass.

“Stand up, now, now, now,” Swihart called. “You need the momentum to get up this hill.”

I was already sweating.

I was so focused on not holding the group back. Then a warning came from the back. There was a steep, winding downhill slope up ahead. I prepared, but not enough. After turning a corner, the hill appeared from nowhere. The 20-degree decline felt more like 90 degrees.

I squeezed hard on my breaks, but they weren't enough. The wheels on my worn-out bike just slid on the dirt. Down. Down. I swerved and saw the fallen log a moment too late.


I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my right side. I felt a crunch in my elbow and saw some blood running down my leg. Ahead I saw several cyclists speeding through the woods, their colorful outfits flickering between the trees.

I knew I had to jump onto my bike quickly to get the footage I needed for this story. A couple of people behind me checked that I was all right.

I kicked my front tire hard in a vain attempt to straighten it, but it still wobbled while I rode. I was cursing at myself for not paying more attention at the start when the safety warnings were given out.

“There's no shame in walking your bike if you get to something you don't think you can handle,” Swihart had said to me mere minutes before I had started riding.

I rode for approximately 25 more minutes until my wobbly tire had had enough. The pedal was repeatedly grinding against it. The handlebars were almost upside down. The pain in my elbow was getting worse. I was forced to retreat back to my car the easy way, through a field.

Phil Snider, another honorary board member in NITRO, walked me back. He told me that he had been riding the trails for years. I was staring at the long feather stuck in his helmet.

He talked to me about the history of the trails. They go back to the '80s. Before that, they were used for horses.

Around 2005, he said, 3 Rivers Velo, NITRO and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation formalized and marked the trails.

I packed my stuff in the car, accidentally stealing the helmet I had borrowed (I have made arrangements to return it), and drove myself to RediMed, where I was informed that I had, in fact, broken my elbow.

When the doctor entered the room, she asked me what happened.

“I wrecked while mountain biking,” I told her.

“Mountain biking?” she replied, confused. “There aren't any mountains in Fort Wayne.”