TAMA HILLS RECREATION CENTER, Japan — Joel Brinkman shook his head doubtfully as he stared down — way down — the “Double Doozie.”

A pair of downward slopes angled at some 45 degrees, they presented a formidable challenge, one Brinkman said he declined at the last Tour de Tama Mountain Bike Race in May, a contest run in monsoon-like conditions.

Sunday’s race, run under ice-blue, sunny skies, brought Brinkman back to what he called the bane of the 6.2-mile Tama Hills Recreation Center course, replete with steep uphills and dangerous downhills made more treacherous by mud from days of drenching rain.

“I got this far last year but I took a DNF,” or “did not finish,” said the 43-year-old Nebraskan. The GS-12, assigned to Yokota Air Base, was competing in the men’s masters division.

“I’ll try it this time. It’s not nearly as muddy as it was last June, but it’s still challenging. We don’t have trails like this in Nebraska,” he said.

He waited for a few minutes to summon his courage, while course designer Rick McCoy urged him on. “Sit back. ... Little or no front brake,” he instructed.

“The longer I wait, the less courage I have,” Brinkman murmured.

Finally, with a shove of his foot, he went on his way, down the “Double Doozie” to the bottom of the gully, then became airborne over a small knoll just beyond the slope.

Crash! Down he went in a heap.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever caught air,” he said, limping slightly after clamboring to his feet. “I think I’ll get the award for the most spectacular crash.”

“That’s a shoo-in,” McCoy joked.

Aches, mud and all, Brinkman did complete the course. Others among the 66-rider field, including 14 status of forces agreement competitors, suffered much the same fate on a course that left many with bruises, bumps, even the occasional broken finger.

“Even with a dry day, the course still has wet leaves from the rains this week, and you have to adjust going from the sun into the shadows,” said Joe Heinrichs, outdoor recreation director of Yokota Air Base, which includes Tama.

Heinrichs oversaw Sunday’s event, the only mountain bike race held on a U.S. Forces facility in the Pacific.

That the race is tough is no accident, said McCoy, 35, who’s designed the course for every Tour de Tama.

“It’s designed to be challenging,” said the former Yokota security policeman who now owns R&R Cycles, a contract outfit selling and repairing bicycles on Yokota.

“Everything’s rollable. It’s just a matter of brake control, positioning your body weight, shifting back for downhills and front for uphills,” he said. “But it is entertaining.”

McCoy does his best to weigh his desire to make the course as tough as possible with Heinrichs’ concern about rider safety.

“I’m the one who checks out the safety hazards,” Heinrichs said.

McCoy said, “They kind of limit what I can do. They try to keep me in check before I get too carried away.”

Some might argue that the “Double Doozie” goes past the limit of course extremes. McCoy said it just “looks scary.” But, then, he’s been riding BMX bicycles since 1979, when he was 13.

“Usually, what messes people up is their fear and reaction,” he said. “And it’s a natural reaction, and that’s what causes them to crash.”

Some, like Brinkman, chose to brave it. A few tumbled over the handlebars and into the bushes below. Others tried to walk down, which McCoy tried to discourage.

“It’s easier to ride it than walk down, believe me,” he told more than a few riders - including Jason Leonardis, 26, a Yokota dependent spouse competing in the men’s open division. Like Brinkman, Leonardis stopped upon approaching the “Double Doozie,” but more than anything just to rest his weary legs.

“I’m just not in shape for this,” he said. “I’m a soccer player. I’m used to street biking. I figured I’d better take a break before I finished.”

Then, as Brinkman did, Leonardis took off down the slope, only to end up tangled with his bike in the shrubbery at bottom.

“I’m all right!” he shouted, throwing his fists in the air.

So it went for some three hours Sunday — but even before the race’s end, organizers already were looking ahead to the next Tour de Tama, sometime in May.

“It’s a good event,” said Albert “Tico” Porras of Tama’s outdoor recreation division. “A lot of people enjoy it.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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