I had my first experience with Jamaican Mountain Biking today. Things didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but I had a good time and learned a lot more about Jamaican culture and their trails.
The day started out perfect. I met Jon (co-owner of Singletrack Jamaica) and his shuttle driver Norval at John Crow’s Tavern, which lay across the street from where we were staying … Sandcastles Resort. Jon told me we would be meeting up with a bunch of French Canadians to do the ride. He asked me if I liked riding with others and I told him I enjoy riding with most everyone.
After paying Jon for the excursion Norval took me to pick up Sanchez (my personal guide) and three bikes from his house.
After much thought I could not figure out why we needed three bikes. Was Norval going to ride? Was Sanchez going to ride a different bike depending on which run we were riding? Did one of the Canadians need a bike?
Riding in Norval’s van was an adventure. As with all the Jamaican driving I had witnessed so far everyone drives as fast as they can with one hand on the horn!
When we arrived at our starting point the Canadians were waiting there.
Sanchez would be leading a group of seven riders … six Canadians and me. Actually Sanchez had recruited another Jamaican guide (Aaron) to help, and he either came with the Canadians or live locally. He rode the third bike we had hauled and would assume the job of riding behind the group … making sure no one got left behind or lost.
Sean, one of the Canadians, took it upon himself to welcome me and introduced me to each one of his buddies. I quickly sensed all were quality human beings (after all, we were all mountain bikers) and just as quickly forgot all their names.
I also met Pierre, the fellow the Canadians were staying with who would act as their shuttle driver.
I took a close look at the bike I would be riding and could see no good place to mount my Garmin, so I just started the trip counter and placed it in my Camelback.
We hit the trail traveling down a skinny single track, Sanchez leading, Canadians next, me, and Aaron taking up the rear. I didn’t feel real comfortable on the bike I had rented from Jon (a Santa Cruz Butcher) so I took it a little slower than the others. At one point one of the Canadians said something to me about being slow and I responded, “Hey, I am riding a new bike on a new trail, give me a break.” I think he felt bad after that.
The Canadians had been enjoying these Jamaican Mountain Biking trails all week on their own bikes. One fellow told me they only had to pay $20 each way to bring a bike on the plane as luggage. My price would have been $150 each way, so I rented Jon’s own personal bike for $50 a day.
Once we had blasted down a couple hundred yards our trail made a sharp left turn and we ground up a steep, rocky climb.
Everyone was waiting when Aaron and I reached the top. I thought I might get a good photo of the group but when I reached for my phone … I found nothing! The pouch I have been using to hold my phone and business cards for the past year was no longer attached to my belt.
“I lost my phone,” I announced to the group as I turned to go back down the hill.
I had barely began my descent when Sanchez roared by me, stopped fifty yards father, then pedaled back with the pouch.
I inspected the phone pouch once back on top and realized the material had ripped on one side and would no longer work. I jammed the pouch into my pack and the phone into my shorts pocket. I was now extremely worried about losing the phone … but I needed it to be handy for photos.
Once back under way we wove our way through the jungle, periodically riding through clearings where cows and goats stood grazing. Some of the houses were well kept, some not so much. All were surrounded with thick foliage.
Dogs and chickens seemed to scatter as we passed. The local people often looked up and yelled, “Sanchez,” as we flew by. Now I realized why Jon had told me I would need a Jamaican guide. We were biking right through the middle of everyday Jamaican life.
Another reason we needed Sanchez was the trails … branching off in many different directions. Sanchez was not only a talented rider but knew exactly where we should go.
We had stopped for a break so I took advantage of the time to not only catch my breath but to inspect everyone’s rig. Most the Canadians were riding something called an “Xprezo.”
“Yah, these are great bikes,” one of the Canadians informed me. “See the guy over there in the black? He makes them.”
Once rested, we were all straddling our bikes when Sanchez led out. But just as I got my butt on my seat Aaron yelled, “You have a flat! You have a flat!” At first I wasn’t sure who he was warning. I jumped back off the bike and looked … sure enough, my rear tire was flat.
Before we had even started riding Sean had warned me about flats. He said they had suffered many a flat while riding the past week. “A lot of thorns in the area?” I inquired. “No, it has to do with these rocks … some kind of sharp coral.”
I removed the wheel and let out the air but told the guys I had not brought a single tool. Sean said his buddy didn’t need tools, so I handed the wheel to his buddy. This guy used his massive forearms to pull the tire bead right off the rim! Another fellow offered a tube, and seconds later the first guy began pumping air back into the tire.
About the time Sanchez got back to the group the Canadians had me up and rolling!
My day seemed to change somewhat when I cut a sharp turn and fell into a eight foot deep hole filled with vines. I was shocked to find I had not hurt myself one bit! The vines had caught me like a trapeze net! But getting out was the problem.
As I was handing my bike up over my head (to Aaron) I felt this sharp stinging sensation below my right breast, just like the feeling from a bee sting. I told Aaron about the pain and looked for the critter that had gotten me. He said the pain was most likely cause by a plant.
I used the vines and Aaron’s hand to scramble up out of the hole and was relieved when I got back on the bike.
When we finished the run we found Norval waiting for us. We loaded the bikes into the van and started back up to the same trailhead. While Norval’s vehicle was straining to make the climb we passed the Canadians pedaling up the hill. I wished I had known they were going to bike up as I would have liked to have joined them.
The second run started at the same location but we somehow took a different route down. I say “somehow” because I could not tell you where we turned off onto a different path … somewhere before the hill where I lost my phone.
The majority of this run was also down hill like the first. However, the burning in my chest kept increasing and I began to feel a little dizzy and weak.
When we reached the bottom I was not feeling great, not good enough to pedal back up with the Canadians.
The third run started at a different location. We were near the top of a mountain and I could see several miles in three different directions. From there we set out for the top of the mountain.
Jon had warned me we would be doing fifteen minutes of climbing right away, then start down the hill. I am not sure if it was the sting I had or the heat/humidity or if I was just a wuss, but I felt drugged out trying to keep up on the climb.
The high level of adrenaline coursing through my body didn’t seem to provide any energy and my wind passages seemed to be constricting. My hands were shaking.
We passed some real interesting sights once on top of the mountain:
A cow grazing by a hut with an incredible view to the sea a couple thousand feet below;
A well worn, dirt soccer field in a clearing near some houses;
A Jamaican girl telling us she was going to confiscate our bikes, then asking Sanchez if he wanted to share her bed!
A bunch of kids out flying a kite.
At one point Sanchez warned me of a steep, loose, rocky incline so I just stayed behind the seat and threaded my way through the foliage.
By the time we reached the BMX park I felt pretty bad. I was nauseous and was sure I was going to throw up at any time. My chest had tightened even more so I could only manage short, shallow breaths.
The Eden Park BMX track was one of the finest I had seem. Sanchez said he works with 48 kids on the track every day. He told me the track and his job were part of a program Jon had developed as the Executive Director of the Oracabessa Foundation.
I would have loved to try the track (like the other riders did) but I could barely move.
When asked if I wanted to ride down the road (to eat lunch) or take Norval’s van … I chose the van!
When we arrived at the small, roadside shanty most of the Canadians were already digging into a full plate of barbecued chicken, rice, and red peas (what we call beans in the United States).
Sanchez tried to order me a plate but the last thing I felt like doing at that time was eating! I did grab a couple of cold juices and sipped on them.
When everyone had finished the Canadians loaded their bikes into Pierre’s truck.
All of a sudden I felt much better, so when Sanchez informed me he wanted to finish riding to the beach I joined him.
We were down to James Bond Beach in about 5 minutes. What a beautiful setup they have! A large peninsula jutted out north between a gorgeous beach on the west side and an equally attractive bay on the east. I am sure Ian Flemming (James Bond author) swam and tied his boat here.
Most of that land was covered by a lawn where workers were setting up a huge stage for a Easter concert! An outdoor bar sat alongside the beach.
While waiting to meet with Jon I hopped on Sanchez’ bike and rode around the grounds. What a fine piece of machinery! I have never heard of Cube bicycles. Sanchez said they were a European company and his model (the Stereo 140) sold for $6000 to $7000 (US) dollars.
Also while waiting I checked my Strava tracks and photos. The Strava tracks looked totally screwed up, and I had taken at least 100 photos that looked pure black! I panicked, thinking all the pictures I had taken on the ride were no good … maybe my camera was in the wrong mode? But, the black photos were just extras, ones that had clicked off while the phone was in my pocket!
The Strava tracks got screwed up at the end of the first run. I must not have shut off the app when I thought I had … so the trip up the hill in Norval’s van was recorded but not the second run. The third run recorded properly as I restarted the app after realizing my previous screw up.
I am hoping my tracks on the Garmin are okay but I won’t be able to tell until I get home.
We met shortly with Jon, then suffered through another van trip back to Ocho Rios.
When I returned to the resort and told Cindy and the girls about all my calamities of my ride one of them said, “Sounds like you had a terrible time!”
My response? “No way mon.”
Writing this post has helped me realize how much I learned about Jamaica, the beautiful Jamaican people, and Jamaican Mountain Biking. I just hope I feel better during my ride tomorrow.
You can read about my other ride in paradise by clicking Jamaican Singletrack.