"Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself."
~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
On Monday my lower body was mostly useless, blistered feet and fried quads, still cooked from a lot of walking downhill. I did my laundry and my dishes; I made me feel conventionally useful, but a little bit like I was somehow missing out. The sunset burned with deep summer intensity; I missed it in the way people often miss their spouses while they're away at work - it was out there, but not close in the way I was accustomed to. I watched it from my balcony, pleasant but distant, like calling on the phone to say hello.
Tuesday was the weekly ride with the Dirt Girls, the perfect solution to launch my taper 10 days prior to the next big adventure. The plan called for a mellow ride up the Rattlesnake Recreation Area with lots of chatting and resting, followed by a fast, fun descent. My legs were recovered and already feeling strong thanks to prior fitness; it takes more than a weekend's worth of pounding to really faze them for long these days. But my legs' strength made the rest of me feel restless and a little bit impatient. Big mountains turned gold beneath the storm-filtered sunlight; they whispered silver-tongued seductions that I had to ignore. I turned for home as the subdued sunset slipped beneath the rugged skyline.
I think about fitness and I wonder what it means, really means, to me. My body has never been a big priority for me; as far as I'm concerned, all it's mainly good for is carrying me through this world that I am madly in love with. It's a vehicle, like my bicycles, which in turn are an extension of me. And like my bicycles, sometimes I let my body get out of tune, and sometimes I leave it too long in the elements, and sometimes I bash it against the rocks. But when I feel fit, really fit, I feel like there's nothing in the world that can stop me from traveling relentlessly over the mountains and fields, through the valleys and streams, splashing, squealing, sprinting toward that blissfully elusive horizon I think of as freedom.
I plan adventures because their promise drives me. Adventures are a sublime sunset that I can chase. I grind my body into the dust and dirt and pavement toward the horizon, that elusive line I think of as fitness, which is really just a color-streaked threshold between my body and a borderless expanse of discovery. But as I approach that line, I discover there's nothing there but more horizon, more reasons to keep grinding away, and I realize that even if could somehow become exponentially stronger and faster, I would only chase sunset forever.
And I wonder what it means, really means, to me, to have no real destination. But instead of pressing for an answer, I slow down lest my body burn out. I take the breaths I badly need. I let the darkness surround me. And I steel myself for the next big cycle, because the sun is going to come around again, and again and again, whether I chase it or not. Bodies are limited but discovery is infinite, and somewhere therein lies the balance of life, the equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.