I think it was Keith or maybe Jim that circled back and said, "here, let's get the bike off you first then you can sit up."
I was laying on the ground on my back under the bike, pinching my lip to get out what felt like a thorn, and I was digging around between my cheek and gum to ensure that the wasp was not burrowing into my mouth to sting me again. After I sat up I drooled for a bit; my lower lip was swollen up to the size of my little finger, which is no big deal if you're Agelina Jolie but I have rather thin Irish lips and it was a sort of big deal.
It was a weird way to bring the best part of the ride - probably the best mountain bike ride I've ever had - to an end. I hit Patapsco for the better part of three hours with a big chunk of the Morning Ride crew. It was advertised as an easy ride - which it was until we hit the first few uphills. It was in fact moderately paced, but we were still zipping along pretty well. Keeping up on downhills and flats was no trouble, though I was digging pretty deep on the uphills to keep in contact with the rest of the group. Three flats among the group, a little brake problem for somebody, and I busted a Crank Brothers Candy SL pedal *on the first friggin' ride* with an untimely rock strike.
But it was still a great ride. The best part of it is I went through several five minute periods riding fast flats and descending in the middle to the front of the group, keeping up with a couple legit fast guys.
It wasn't the going relatively fast that was great about it, however.
I've discovered this summer that there is a place you can go mentally in mountain biking where you aren't consciously doing anything. You don't notice particular rocks or trees, you don't think about what's ahead and what you just passed, there's no fear in you nor any conscious thought. You're just riding along, zipping along the trail close to the limits of what the bike & tires are capable of.
The only other thing I've ever done that compares to this is hitting a mogul field at speed while skiing, and zipping through it without missing a move. There was one long downhill stretch on Charcoal or the trail just East of it where I spent two minutes bouncing left/right/left/left/right and so forth. The tires seemed to just find grooves, the suspension loaded up a tiny bit as I leaned quickly into each turn then decompressed as I swung the bike up to vertical then leaned again to make the next little move.
In fact, it's wrong to describe them as turns. It was more like picking the right line using quick little hip & foot swerves on the bike, not riding so much as just flowing quickly right to left, as if I were water passing through rapids quickly by negotiating closely and quickly around rocks, with no wasted motion.
The bee sting came at the end of a three or four minute stretch like that. I was bombing down from Kidd's Hey Watch This Hump near the end of Lewis & Clarke trail, down toward the stream crossing and the log trail. Not for the first time today I grabbed Bill B's wheel and just hung in there, concentrating but not thinking, just zipping along. As we came out of the grass depression, across the wood bridge, I saw a tiny yellow and black flash fly into the corner of my mouth, and when it stung it felt like the World's Cruelest Dentist had just jabbed the World's Gnarliest Needle of Novacaine into the inside of my lower lip. I braked a little for just a second but the pain was so severe that both hands shot into my mouth and I just tipped over at speed, leaving a little blood offering to the Gods of Patapsco.
Pretty soon, the rear guys caught up and the front guys circled back, and they removed my bike as I tried to remove the remnants of the wasp. A couple quick hits of the asthma inhaler to make sure that nothing went seriously wrong, a bit of drooling, and then I was on the way back to the car with nothing more than a serious headache, a still-painful lip and a scuffed leg. It was nervous though, and the mojo was gone.
That was a major bummer, dude, but even the bummer wasn't enough to destroy the buzz I had from flowing on those trails.
The buzz that you get is the cool thing that mountain biking (aggressive, skillful mountain biking, as distinct from tooling around and trail riding) offers over road riding.
Some times the mountain bike is a lot tougher to deal with; you can't get faster just by working harder. To get faster, you have to "get it," to pick better lines, to learn to pick better lines without thinking about it, and to commit to blasting through, around, or over obstacles that would give you pause were you riding slower. When you have flow, you can hammer along through technical sections. When you aren't able to flow, it wouldn't matter if you had Julien Absalon's legs for the day, you just aren't going to ride well. If you flow, you'll get to the top of a technical hill and when your stronger companions ask each other where they think you are on the hill, you can startle them with an "Ahem..." You need some fitness, but in mountain biking, flow is everything.
Today, for a total of maybe 15-20 minutes out of a 3 hour ride, it felt like I really got it; the feeling was like what Luke Skywalker had when Obi Wan Kenobi blindfolded him and told him to trust the force. I committed, kept an eye on the trail, semi-focused on swaying right to left in rhythmic and smooth lines, and I rolled. It was beautiful.
That little success, the tiny triumph over the stubborn and hard-to-pick up mountain biking skillset, made up for a couple really tough hills, the exhaustion at the end of the ride, and yes, the wasp sting.
It boils down to a pretty simple distinction. Like road cycling, mountain biking offers a sense of accomplishment and overcoming suffering. Mountain biking differs, however, in that there is a lot of room to ride artistically. On the days it works, it feels like what dancing must feel like to a good dancer. It feels... joyful. It's taken me three years to be able to hit this high note once in a while. I suspect that many if not most of the trail riders we pass out there in the woods will never ride enough, hard enough, or with skillful enough companions to get that feeling. I hope that those who are able to ride consistently at that skill level appreciate what they have.
The other thing about mountain biking is many of us are reflections of the riders who show us the way. We pick up their skills and habits and maybe their line-picking and perhaps their bad habits too, and to some extent our successes are attributable to their teaching, even if all they're doing is hammering along showing us by example how to pick lines. I'm grateful that my friends have been patient enough with me to let it happen, and skillful enough to teach me some good ways to git 'r done.