Have you had enough of 2020? Enough cancelled plans? Enough raucous politics? I feel you! This has been the longest I’ve ever gone without taking a flight somewhere… anywhere! I needed at least a weekend away, so my husband and I decided to leave the kids at home and throw ourselves down a mountain on two wheels.
Just two and a half hours away from the Atlantic City area, Mountain Creek Bike Park features some of the best downhill mountain bike terrain on the East Coast. It’s accessible to all levels of mountain bikers from beginner to world class racers. With over 1,040 feet of vertical, 52 trails and more than 60 jumps, services by a high-speed gondola, there’s plenty to ride.
We’ve never been downhill mountain biking before, so on Saturday we opted for the Experience Downhill package. If this is your first time, I HIGHLY recommend starting with this all-inclusive beginner’s package. In full disclosure, Ben did not want to do this experience, but I insisted and I’m so glad that we did. This package comes with a dual-shock downhill bike rental and all the gear that you need including a full-face helmet with knee and elbow pads. You also get a seasoned rider to give you some tips and point out the best trails.
The maximum number of riders in the Experience Downhill package is four. Our lesson started at the top of the mountain in the development zone. Here, our guide Troy, gave us some tips. Basically, you keep a finger on each break the entire time you ride and you keep you pedals level. If one pedal is down and you clip a rock, you’ll go over the handle bars. Troy then made sure that we could do some very basic obstacles. Our lesson started with four people. However, one of the other beginner riders struggled to ride standing and fell off of an obstacle. So, they decided to just head back down on the gondola.
It was now just Ben and I, and I was terrified. The riders outside of our group generally looked like pros as they easily wheelied, stoppied and rode their bikes UPstairs. With half of the Experience Downhill group on their way down the mountain on a gondola, I realized that I was so far in over my head. I think Troy picked up on this, because he kept asking if I was ok. To which, I silently nodded my head yes. Too afraid that if I opened my mouth, I might chicken out. I could also tell that Ben was nervous, if not for himself, definitely for me. He kept telling me, “just take it easy.”
“Ready?” Troy asked, “There’s a boulder we’re going to cross. Just stay to the left and you’ll be fine.” I think I shook my head no, but managed to get out a surprisingly confident sounding, “Yep!” We waited for a group of riders to go, then we were off. My hands were shaking so badly, I was worried that I might not be able to squeeze my brakes.
The trail started fast, then just got faster. “Here’s the boulder, stay left,” Troy yelled back to me. I made it. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Though, it was hard to think about much. I barely had time to stay focused on what was three feet a head of me. Finally, I had to lean back, keep my pedals level and just let go. I simply didn’t have time to think. I had to trust my body to react.
Half way down the first run, Troy stopped. “How’s it going? You feel the adrenalin? I remember the first time I rode down, I had such a rush my vision was blurry.” Every muscle in my body was electrified and shaking with adrenalin. I was terrified and invigorated at the same time. It was fun, REALLY FUN! Like being on a roller coaster that you controlled. However, while roller coasters seem dangerous, in the back of your head you know that you’re safe. The sense of danger with downhill mountain biking is very real.
Another benefit of the Experience Downhill package was that we didn’t have to wait in the lift line. The lesson was two hours, and we squeezed as many runs into those two hours as possible. After the lesson, Ben and I did a few more runs on our own. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. We grabbed a beer at the bottom of the lift and took in the post-rush relaxation.
That night we stayed at the Grand Cascades Lodge. This full-service resort is just about five miles from Mountain Creek and boasts a full menu of activities and dining options to add to your weekend. There’s golfing, a spa, an indoor pool, skeet shooting, several restaurants and more. While we were too tired to do much, we did have dinner at the Springs Bistro Restaurant. We ate in a tent outside. There was live entertainment, the service was wonderful and the food was delicious. After months of dining at home, a dinner out with just us was so needed!
Sunday, we got to the mountain early. It seems to get much more crowded in the afternoon so we were able to get a few runs in, before the lift line got too long. Unlike many other downhill mountain biking mountains, Mountain Creek maintains their own terrain as opposed to leasing it out to a larger company. Consequently, it’s much more natural and rugged than others. I overheard seasoned riders fondly calling it gnarly. With that said, we accidentally took a wrong turn. This slight deviation from the trail took us to the other side of the mountain and very rugged, rocky, technical runs. The run was a steep staircase of uneven, jagged rocks. At a few points, I opted to walk my bike down. Luckily, there were no other riders nearby, so keep that between you and me.
By Sunday afternoon, my legs were so tired and sore I couldn’t do another run. It was a lot more physically demanding than I expected. While I wasn’t peddling much, every muscle in my body was so tense, that I was sore for a couple days. I also had some pretty nasty bruises from some close calls. But I survived and I would definitely do it all again!