I spend lots of time backpacking in NW Arkansas and decided to ride a while. Until today at the bike shop I haven't been on a bike since I was about 12 (trust me, not pretty). Even though I didn't have alot of $$$ to spend the guy at the bike shop let me ride anything and I ended up on about 5 different bikes. I ended up picking out a Specialized Hard Rock. Mainly because it felt the best to me. Of course it was in the upper end of my budget and they didn't take Discover so now it sits in wait in the Lay-a-way for the next three weeks as I find some extra cash here and there. Anyway, on to the newbie Q's: How long should I stay on nice safe flat ground before hitting the steep trails? Did I pick a good entry level bike? I can walk with a 35lb pack about 12 miles a day in steep terrain, I can at least push a bike that far right? I dont really need the skin tight shorts do I? Any suggestions on helments? I'm guessing the best way to figure out the whole 21 speed gear stuff is to just screw with it right (bike store guy explained it but it was a little over my head)? Thanks to anyone willing to help me with a new hobby that will most likely end in a very cool/painful death or at least one that will be entertaining to anyone who gets to see it.