Sunday, November 30, 2008

A ride in black and white

Date: Nov. 30
Mileage: 20.2
November mileage: 831.1

Sometimes when I ride in a storm, the world looks black and white.

Right now the canyon is dripping with clouds so thick that they blanket the air and smother the falling snow. Powder-coated alder branches draw faint lines in the fog, but for the most part, the landscape is featureless. Wet flakes fall in silence and I can’t see them or hear them. But I can feel them on my face, so I know it’s snowing.

I pedal hard circles in high gear to stave off a creeping chill. Despite the steep pitch of the trail, I’m not working hard enough to muffle the shivers. The snow is too soft and uneven for the warmth of work. It requires cold concentration — an intricate slowness.

This is the place I like to be most of all — locked in an effort that has no room for tangents. In this white world, it's just me and the climb; keeping the wheels on the trail, keeping the pedals in motion. For a short while, not much else matters. Not much else exists, the sting of snowflakes notwithstanding.

These places where I climb in the clouds are places that belong only to me, and to my primal urge to escape distractions. I’m not looking for the contrast of white on white. I’m not worried about the past or future. I’m not caught up in the stream of circumstance, fighting a lateral drift. I’m just moving and breathing. Living life at its simplest. It’s an unsustainable state, but I value these brief moments that have been stripped of self awareness as deeply as I value the most ponderous meditations.

This is the basic reason why I ride my bike nearly every day, and why I feel I have to go outside even in the rain and snow and chill. There are better ways to get exercise, but there is no better way to go places — both to the beautiful and mysterious landscapes of the world, and the even more beautiful and mysterious landscapes of the mind.

The low fog fades behind me as I gain elevation. The whiteout is replaced by a strengthening storm, but now I can see alder and spruce, coated in snow and leaning away from the wind. The towering cliffs are whitewashed and only vaguely recognizable as mountains. Snow covers the tiniest branches and the largest boulders. The land looks familiar, but in an otherworldly way, like an old chair draped in satin.

The snow on the trail becomes deeper until I’m off my bike and walking, but still I keep climbing. I focus on the white horizon and push harder. I wonder whether it’s the strangeness or the familiarity of the land that keeps me going, and decide it’s a little of both.

When the world becomes a ghost of itself, it only feels right to move forward.