It WAS somewhere between spotting the hefty tree trunk lying across Sullivan Canyon Trail and actually running into it that I realized I was in trouble. But it wasn't until I had flipped over my bike's handlebars and into a one-armed handstand that I experienced my moment of clarity.
The epiphany was simple: "I should have worn gloves."
Gloves have the distinct advantage of not bleeding the way my scraped-up right palm did moments later. They're not the only thing to take with you when going mountain biking, though.
"My recommendation," says veteran mountain biker Bill O'Neil, who along with another biking buddy, Ali Sagheb, formed my trail-riding posse, "is to bring more water than you think you're going to need, a basic tire repair kit -- generally a spare tube and a patch kit -- a pump, a multi-use tool with Allen wrenches and a chain-breaker, and a basic first-aid kit with a couple of Band-Aids, some gauze pieces and tape."
It helps even more if, like my companions, you also bring a $3,000 Yeti 575 with a telescoping, spring-loaded seat and full suspension cushioning both wheels, instead of an old-school mountain bike like mine -- a $300 Trek 4300 with no shock absorbers for the back wheel or seat besides the one a carbohydrate-rich diet had already provided.
Of course, the beauty of our mission -- to ride Brentwood's Sullivan Canyon from the entrance gate on Queensferry Road to Mulholland Drive and back -- is that it offers something for every level of mountain biker: With several natural ramps, drops and obstacles along they way, seasoned and well-equipped riders have plenty of opportunities to catch air. Novices, however, can follow alternate routes around the worst impediments and emerge from it unscathed -- at least if they follow Mr. O'Neil's tips for tackling the downhill portion of their ride:
"Drop your saddle and ride with your weight behind it, standing up so that your [bent] knees can absorb the shock.
"Keeping that weight toward the back of the bike is totally critical. As soon as that weight comes up in front of the [back] wheel, you're going over the bars.
"Saddle down, weight back," he summarizes, adding last but not least, "Control your speed."
Aye, there's the rub. Speeding around a blind turn, I invited a completely avoidable accident. Downhilling Sullivan Canyon was just too much fun.
Uphilling, on the other hand, revealed my only complaint about this well-maintained and verdant trail: Marked by a much steeper incline and a sudden absence of shade, the last of the four-and-change miles outbound to Sullivan Fire Road is an exhausting low-gear grind.
You can skip it and turn back earlier, of course, but then you don't get the payoff -- a sprawling panorama of the San Fernando Valley to the north and the undulating waves of the Santa Monica Mountains to the south.
Hellbent on enjoying it but unable to maintain forward momentum -- with neither clip-on biking shoes nor toe straps, my feet were constantly flying off the pedals -- I did the unthinkable: I walked my bike to the top.
Looking down from that hard-earned summit, the bottom line was clearly visible: Do bike Sullivan Canyon but only with the right gear, plenty of water and, of course, gloves just in case you decide to do a little hand-dance on the way down.
BIKING SULLIVAN CANYON
DETAILS: Nine miles round-trip. Elevation gain, 1,200 feet. Duration: 1.5-3 hours.
INFO: Access main gate at the end of Queensferry Road off West Bayliss