Saturday 19th August – The Spark

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The smoke was slightly less intense this morning but still lingered in the air. It had become so common place that we hardly noticed it anymore. Since we had some bananas going off, it was mandatory that I cooked banana pancakes while Dan made us coffee and hot chocolate. Today we planned to repeat the rides of yesterday with the next demo bike so it almost felt like routine as Dan followed me into town again, first to Hutch’s to return the red Giant and then to WebCyclery to pick up the Scott.

At Hutch’s they took the bike back and after a quick check that the gears still changed as they should, they wished me well on my search but didn’t try to help me out with my bike search when I told them about my feeling of the shocks. They’d just lost a customer! Around the corner at WebCyclery, Shannon called me by name as soon as I walked in the door and hooked me up with the demo bike. He couldn’t set the brakes up moto-style because of the brake type but that was the only nuance. Instead of charging me the $75 daily demo fee, he knocked it down to $40 because I told him I wasn’t going to need it for the full 24 hours. Unlike the other bike shop, Shannon spent at least twenty minutes with me making sure the bike was set up for me with the seat height and suspension. Turns out when he’d eyeballed the setup yesterday, he got it spot on and didn’t have to make any adjustments. Promising I’d be back mid-afternoon, I rolled the most expensive bike I have ridden out into the carpark.

Dan told me the black and fluro yellow two-wheeler looked like a Ferrari as he carefully placed it into the Cabana next to the white Giant. We were treating it particularly gently because if I happened to like this particular model, it was the demo I would have to buy since the shop didn’t have a new one to offer. Just like yesterday, Dan followed me out of town and ten minutes down the road back into the forest. We parked in the same spot as yesterday, leaving Cleo in the Cabana. Wanting to test the size of the bike, I thought I’d try storing the Scott on the roof and surprisingly, my rack accepted the wheel base of the 29er bike. That was good to know, though I suspected that if I bought a bike this nice I would store it inside the van until I got back to California.

At the top of the trailhead, we got the bikes out and since the white Giant was ready to go, I made my adjustments while he played around on the pump track. Once I was done fiddling with the position of the brake levers and the gear shift, I hit the pump track and was immediately impressed with the air I was getting. I didn’t even have to try to lift this frame, it just seemed to want to fly. Trying to keep a logical mind and not go head over heels, we finished the pump track and hit the “Funner” trail. We knew where we were going this time so there wasn’t nearly as much stopping. About halfway down Funner, I got that love at first ride feeling. Compared to the red Giant, the suspension on the Spark made this bike float. Every time I landed on the grand, it felt soft and smooth. The 29er wheels rolled easily and gave me plenty of leeway getting over some rocky sections. Being on bigger wheels did make me feel as though I was higher off the ground so tipping over some rock drops made me feel like I was more likely to go over the bars, but I didn’t let that get to me, it would take time to get used to.

To Dan’s credit, he was pretty well keeping up with me and hit everything I did. I only found out at the end of the trail that he’d been going full tilt to stay with me while I’d been more meandering along. Still, not bad for a noob, I’m sure he’ll be a full blown rider within months, especially with a decent bike under him. I was convinced that this was my bike by the time we got to Storm King so I spent the rest of the trail enjoying it was much as I can. There were no mishaps, but I managed to find the limit on a sandy berm where I had a minor washout. I felt like I was flying.

Same as yesterday, as we crossed the road at the end of the trail, we whooped and yelled at Cleo to greet us and she obliged hopping out of the car full of beans to say hi. Dan didn’t even have to ask what I’d thought of the bike, the smile on my face said it all. I didn’t have to shop any more, I’d found it! We had planned to do another afternoon ride, but it wasn’t necessary, I was convinced. Dan took the obligatory photo of me riding the bike side-on for comparative purposes and after putting the Spark side-by-side with the white Giant, I thought the frame on the Spark must surely be bigger, but after a quick tape measure, we found that the main triangle was identical to the Giant but it was the larger rear triangle and front fork angle that made the frame seem so much grander.

Oooh, I was excited1 I was messaging Derek back and forth as we drove back to collect my car and he was right on it giving me advice about which of the Spark models I should go with. Dan followed me back to the shop where he left me to it. He didn’t want to influence my decision so while I went inside to return the bike and make my big decision, he and Cleo went over the river to McKay park to watch the surfers play around in the rapids.

Shannon greeted me as I walked back in and I was happy to say that I was keen to buy. The shop wasn’t busy so he spent the next hour with me breaking down the different features of the two bikes I had to choose from. I’d ridden the 930, but since I wanted a brand new bike, I was going to opt for either the 910 or the 920, the 910 being the top of the range. Shannon put the two bikes side by side and we ran through everything, me filling out my handwritten comparison matrix as he explained everything. I rode each bike up and down the alleyway beside the shop just to get a feel of the upgraded brakes and shifting components but the carbon frame and the suspension was the same as the bike I’d ridden. Shannon finished everything off by quoting me the final price on both bikes before we left it and I went off to have lunch and mull over my decision.

After I drove over to meet Dan, I messaged Derek to give him the final details, hoping he would help point me in the right direction before making my final decision. It took me a while to track down my man and his dog, but eventually we found each other in the park. In a new, exciting twist, I knew my friend Anthony was in Bend or on his way so I’d been in touch with him and he was at a brewery around the corner. Perfect! We drove on over there to treat ourselves to some beer and some good food. In another exciting twist, the brewery was two doors down from the bike shop. We’d last seen Anthony in Colorado when we explored Crested Butte and Pike’s Peak together and when we walked into the bar, we immediately saw him sitting at the bar chatting it up with a local. I gave him a shoulder squeeze from behind in greeting and we hugged then sat down at the bar beside him.

The mood was super cheery as I told him how much money I was about to drop and with beers in front of us a short time later, we were chatting away nonstop both between us and with the random local sitting at the corner of the bar. Even the bartender got involved with the banter we were having such a good time. The burger and tuna poke Dan and I shared was delicious, the perfect amount and quality of food to wash down our riding. I let my mind have an hour-long rest from decision making before looking at Derek’s feedback. He suggested the 920 was a better deal, but I was being materialistic wanting the sexier looking (and more expensive one). I was in turmoil for only a few minutes before I decided I wanted the bike that was matt black with a splash of orange. I downed my beer and left the boys at the bar to walk next door and make the purchase.

When I bought the white Giant, it was my first ever mountain bike and I knew nothing about riding. I thought to myself, “this will do me for starters, I’ll upgrade after a year or two.” Being the tightarse and optimist that I am, she was my ride for the next five years. Knowing this, I was sure this bike was going to be my faithful steed for the next decade. Why not go top of the line?

Shannon was there to greet me and I simply said, “910!” to him and he brought up the details on his computer. We discussed the logistics and planned for me to pick it up Tuesday afternoon after the eclipse. This meant he would be the one to build it, instead of someone I hadn’t met. After talking some more about the details of the bike build, we got to payment. I was confident my debit card wouldn’t work and that was correct. Since I was no longer the owner of a credit card, we contemplated options and settled on a cheque. I went back out to my car and dug out my cheque book from the bowels of my under-bed storage then returned and wrote the number $4,050.98 on a small piece of paper and signed my name below. Wholly shit. I left Shannon with a smile and walked triumphantly back to the brewery to meet the boys.

I had a ridiculous smile on my face and they congratulated me. The bar tender immediately came over and I informed him I would like one of the cocktails he’d been mixing temptingly infront of me all afternoon. He had a refreshing moisenberry drink in front of me within minutes and we toasted to my incredible loss of money. I was on cloud nine. It had been a relatively easy purchase and I was confident I’d made the right choice. What a day. We’d woken up thinking we’d test ride another bike then we ended up meeting up with a great mate and I spent a shit tonne of money on something that will make me very happy.

In the next unpredictable twist, Anthony invited us to stay at the campsite he’d booked in Tulamo State Park, just ten minutes out of Bend. When I asked how he’d managed to get a site, he explained that he’d booked it only a little bit in advance – in NOVEMBER of last year. We all drove out of the brewery carpark and followed Anthony to our digs for the night. It was only about ten minutes out of town and when we arrived, the rest of Anthony’s party had just parked up.

Joining Anthony were Brian, his wife Kerry and Ethan. All techies from the Bay area, I had met Brian before on the Mount Whitney hike but everyone else was new company. After introducing ourselves, we shuffled our cars around so that we legally had four cars parked in and around the campsite when there was really only room for one. The Bay area crew had been driving since early morning to make it here and were keen to source some ganja in the weed-legal Oregon so after camp, Brian and Anthony drove off for a supply run. After we helped the others set up camp, I noticed the hot showers in the building nearby so us dirtbags made the most of us. Dan, Cleo and I locked ourselves in a shower cubicle and washed off days (let’s be honest, probably weeks) of dirt. Cleo didn’t really fancy the experience but at least she came out gleaming.

Back at the campsite, we joined Kerry and Ethan at the picnic table and chatted away about Bay area life and van life, getting to know our new friends. We did some more car shuffling when we had a visit from one of the many camp hosts and after shifting my van, me and Dan did the honest thing and paid the $7 extra vehicle fee so we could spend the night without getting disturbed.

After the boys returned, we had dinner, to which all of us contributed something, then whiled away the rest of the evening talking and laughing around the picnic table. Everyone ingested weed in some form while I stuck to the beer. The laughter increased as a result and we thought more than once that we were in trouble with the law when we had more visits from the camp hosts.

It was a relatively early night since most in the party were tired in some form. The Bay area group because they’d driven all day, us dirtbags because we’d been riding and me especially because of the stress I’d been through. Goodnight everyone, pretty sure we all slept well that night.

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