I NERVOUSLY ROLLED up to the starting line, wrapped my hands around the bars in a white-knuckled death grip, firmly planted my flip-flop on the pedal and hunched myself over in racing position. I glanced at the two competitors to my left, then at the racer on my right. The announcer counted us down. I pedaled half a stroke, promptly popped a wheelie and landed flat on my back, clumsily taking the woman to my right down with me.
Laughter erupted before we scurried back to our feet and feverishly pedaled around the rest of the grassy loop through a gauntlet of beer-fueled hecklers to a sprint finale. We all crossed the finish line, egos humbled, nearly in tears from the hilarity of the past two minutes.
It was the mini-bike race at the Mountain Bike Oregon festival in Oakridge, Oregon. This was where riders morphed into uncoordinated giants wobbling around on baby bikes, teetering between entertainment and embarrassment in heat after ridiculous heat, egged on by MBO organizer and emcee extraordinaire Randy Dreiling and taunted by fellow festival-goers.
Such nonsensical merriment tends to take place when 300 mountain bikers congregate for three days in a field in small-town Oregon. While the days are spent shuttling some of the state's most scenic, rugged and, best of all, rarely ridden singletrack, then soaking tired muscles in the cold, clear waters of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, the evenings are left open to play.
After a long day pedaling dozens of miles on spaghetti-thin singletrack that winds through wide-open meadows, along ridgelines overlooking the snow-capped Cascade Mountains and through canopies of old- and second-growth forests, campers line up for a hot dinner and sit down with their school lunch trays as close to the beer garden as possible. Then the mini-bikes appear.
Motivated by liquid courage and questionable judgment—courtesy of the fine (and bottomless) craft beer provided by several of Oregon's premier micro-breweries—men, women and children, locals and visitors, all allow themselves to be coaxed onto the tiny two-wheelers and proceed to make asses out of themselves in front of a cheering crowd as the last hint of light fades from the summer sky.