We catch up with The Freerider on the side of a desert mesa, wind howling and helicopter waiting for him to drop in for what could be his last appearance at the world's gnarliest mountain bike competition. It's been a tough few years, but he knows what he has to do...
It's not like The Freerider hasn't been here before, standing over his bike while the flags snapped in the wind like dozens of angry bullwhips. Listening carefully, he swore they were saying, ''You better not go yet,
'' which was in direct contrast to the walkie-talkie toting course marshall giving him the thumbs-up like this was no big thing. Really, a thumbs-up? Like it's simply a matter of cruising down to the valley floor, a few thousand feet below this ridiculous inflatable, energy drink-flavored start gate that somehow hadn't been blown off the mesa yet. If it did blow off, he thought for a split second, maybe they'd tell him to not drop-in.
Another cheesy thumbs-up, just in case The Freerider hadn't seen the first three. And that goddamn helicopter. And this goddamn wind. And especially that goddamn step-down that he'd already greased a few times but had yet to spin. It seemed like only last year that he could have won this ridiculous competition by straight airing it. That definitely wasn't last year, and there's no way that'd even make the highlights this time around.
It's been a while since The Freerider was also The Man - maybe six or seven years if he was honest with himself - and things were more complicated these days. Actually, it's just the tricks that were more complicated, and the small fact that they were being done by ''kids,
'' The Freerider would say without intending any offense. It's just that to him, a late-thirties, always limping legend, they were literally kids. The Freerider was in complete awe of how the latest wunderkinds could, despite being only a few years older than his own son, seemingly add as many variations as they wanted while in the air. Truth be told, The Freerider couldn't even name half the things these kids were doing, but he did know that his own performance was worth around half the points.
The Freerider was currently scared shitless atop a five-foot-by-five-foot shelf on the side of a crumbling red mesa, but it hadn't always been like this...
The Man used to employ a simple equation to determine if he was riding well: Amplitude = N, with N being his score. There wasn't anything else he needed to know or do, besides maybe getting a bit sideways or, if the lip was just right, remove his hands or feet before rushing to get them back on. In his glory days, going huge and going first made him The Man. Sure, Linda wouldn't let The Man have blonde highlights anymore, but he swore that it was just a year or two ago that he was spending most of his strangely large paychecks on gutter glitter and mid-range sports cars.
It was more like a decade ago. And fine, a used Porsche Cayman isn't exactly major league, but The Man could afford his own house and property - full of jumps, of course - by the time he was in his early twenties when he met Linda, his wife. The injuries had already been stacking up by that point, but so had the money; The Man was earning well into the six figures back in the early 2000s, and traveled the world on other people's dime to do something he loved: Party his brains out. As an added bonus, he even got to ride his bike in some amazing places.
He eventually lost track of how many magazine covers he was on, but most of them are still up on his garage wall. They'd be in the bedroom, too, if f*cking Linda would let him. The Man eventually sold the Porsche and bought a four-door truck for his growing family. Then, in what was clearly a subconscious I'm-not-ready response to the incoming second child, he lifted it so high off the ground that no one in his family could get into it.
The Man could have "retired" a few years ago to a marketing gig that he would have been terrible at, but things had been looking up. His knees were finally fixed-ish, and the shoulder hadn't popped out for months. On top of that, he had re-signed with his long-term bike sponsor. Sure, his paychecks went from six-digits to "You can sell the bikes when you're done with them,
'' but all The Man had to do was spin that goddamn step-down to show everyone that he was still, you know, The Man, and not just some nearly-forty-year-old freerider.
The Freerider doesn't regret selling that bright yellow Porsche but, perched high up on the side of a desert cliff, the only thing outweighing his fear is the regret he has for not taking that marketing job.
But The Man has been here many times before; helicopter at eye-level, what felt like 40mph winds, and a live feed streaming the metaphorical size of his cajones around the globe. The Freerider might not have highlights or an eyebrow ring anymore, and he might be in his late-thirties with one kid and another on the way, but The Man still has the biggest of cajones.
The wind dies, just like he knew it would, and The Man gives the cameras a thumbs up as he rolls into his line.
The sport has evolved since he was The Man, and he knows that amplitude doesn't out-score the incredibly complicated tricks being done by his competitors... Unless he takes it even further. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Freerider to find out what happens.