How Eight Dollar Mountain ate my bike

    Every scar on a mountain biker tells a story. If you ride for long enough, you're bound to crash. For me, the worst crash I had took me off of my old bike and onto a new one, and left me with an injury that I'm not sure will ever fully heal.

    For years, I rode a Gary Fisher Tassajara. It was the first mountain bike I owned, and I rode every kind of trail on it. I never replaced the shocks. After so much abuse, they failed, and I switched them to lockout mode, riding the same trails with no suspension at all.

    In May 2013, I decided to ride a road near my house, which circled the base of Eight Dollar Mountain.

    Eight Dollar Mountain is an isolated peak that rises to more than 4,000 feet elevation at the north end of the Illinois Valley. Straddled to the north by Deer Creek, and to the west and south by the Illinois River, the mountain is a prominent feature above the one-flashing-yellow-light town of Selma.

    According to local folklore, the mountain is so named because in the 1800s, an old miner wore out a pair of $8 boots walking the circumference of the hill. The story may be apocryphal — another theory says the name stems from an $8 gold nugget found near the mountain — but it's believable as a testament to the ruggedness of the mountain's rocky terrain.

    I found myself rolling over rockbeds on the unmaintained road along the west side of the mountain, where massive piles of thousands of large boulders, most too heavy for one person to lift, are evidence of the mining operations that occurred here more than 100 years ago.

    I headed for a very steep section, littered with rocks. As I approached it, I made a common amateur mistake. Instead of leaning back, I stood up on my bike, shifting my weight too far forward.

    The results were disastrous. My front wheel immediately fell out from under me. My right shoulder plowed into a boulder and I soon realized I could not lift my arm above shoulder-height without intense pain.

    My bike did not fare well, either. The front rim, no doubt weakened by the rough ride, had "tacoed." It was completely bent out of shape. Disheartened, I was forced to carry my bike home on my shoulder. Luckily, an old high-school acquaintance of mine had been fishing in the area, and gave me a ride so I wouldn't have to walk in the dark. Note to self: always have an escape plan.

    I learned later that I had separated my shoulder. A year afterwards, my collarbone is lower on one side.

    Just like it did to that mythical gold miner's $8 boots, Eight Dollar Mountain also dealt the final blow to my $800 bike. That was the last time I rode it.

    In the fall, I bought a Specialized Rockhopper. With larger, 29-inch wheels, it rolls right over roots and rocks much more easily. But I am still extra cautious now to lean back, not forward.

    Mail Tribune copy editor Forrest Roth can be reached at

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