With apologies to Bill Bryson.
I come from San Antonio. Somebody had to.
There are generally two types of people born in San Antonio: those who can’t imagine leaving, and those who can’t wait to. Raised by two Midwesterners who often seem bewildered as to how they ended up as residents of the Lone Star State in the first place, I naturally grew up with a disposition that put me in the latter camp. Despite 20 years there, I didn’t get interested in true mountain biking during that time and never explored the existing singletrack. This holiday season, I figured it was about damn time to change that.
My zeal for decamping to Colorado not withstanding, I’m always happy to return to the hot, humid bosom of my youth, fuel up on Tex-Mex food and explore the Texas Hill County. Its rolling, scrubby, rocky terrain—defined by juniper bushes, limestone ledges and live oak and mesquite trees—is firmly imprinted on the psyche of every outdoor-loving central Texan as a spiritual landscape.
Mountain biking in San Antonio, our nation’s seventh largest city, was akin to stepping a decade or two back in time, before strong mountain bike advocacy groups, bike-specific trail design and online resources for planning glorious singletrack expeditions. It was a bit of a free-for-all, as the parks are criss-crossed with tangles of informal, unmapped and unsigned singletrack that beckon you to just hop on your bike and disappear into the woods without a plan.
Indeed, it felt more like the way we rode bikes as kids: find dirt and put your tires on it just to see where it goes. A chosen route might deliver you to a series of steep, root- and rock-cluttered chutes for bombing descents, or to a stinking, trash-strewn flood plain near an abandoned neighborhood. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one of the trails that traverses across town, linking up with other parks as it snakes through creek beds and under overpasses. You never know. It was straight-up fun.
Many writers have opined on whether or not we can, in our minds and through our emotions, “go home again.” I’m not likely to offer anything thought-provoking on the subject and to say that I’m unsentimental is an understatement. I don’t get to go home to an intact family or the house I was raised in, but the parks and landscapes I so loved as a kid are still there. Exploring them by mountain bike connected my past and present in a comforting way, taking something familiar and making it new and exciting, again.
The best I can leave you with is a reminder that the notion of mountain biking needing to be a reliably epic experience shouldn’t deter you from throwing your bike in the car for that next road trip back to wherever your roots are. It’s likely that no one will ever send a video crew and a pack of tattooed hipsters with mountain bikes to do something “rad” in San Antonio, but I’m never going to drive there again without a set of knobby tires. Besides, the city is near to several state parks and natural areas with truly excellent riding on formal trails, but that’s a Texan’s little secret.