Sometimes I like to go for a solo ride. A purposeful solo ride. One where I’m all but certain to not see a single other human being, even by fluke or chance. Such was my mood Tuesday night. I had planned to join the Dirt Girls for their weekly singletrack jaunt, but my ankle was feeling extra tender and I was feeling extra de-motivated. I didn’t want to risk hike-a-bike or anything even steep enough to necessitate out-of-the-saddle pedaling. I opted for a quick trip to the store and maybe a logging road spin … something mellow but high in the mountains … above the flow of traffic and beyond the frenzy to capture every fleeting hour of the fading summer … somewhere alone.
I started at Snowbowl, ducked under the gate, and turned ginger rotations up the gravel road. The air at 5,000 feet was already steeped in the complex aroma of autumn — sweet with decaying leaves and berries, bitter with smoke and dust. I babied my ankle until I forgot about it, just as the grade steepened, and I rose breathless into the cold wind and mindless passing of time. There were no thoughts, no obervations, only fleeting snapshots — the flicker of sunlight and shadow, the rustle of yellow leaves, the ever-thinning pine forest, the deepening saturation of pink light.
At 7,600 feet, my cell phone rang. I jumped as though awoken, blinked toward the setting sun and answered it. It was my friend John, who is out trying to set a record on the Great Divide right now, and was searching for perspective during a low point. The ride had been hard. The easy days had been difficult, the difficult days almost unbearable. The clock had reached its breaking point, and so had his resolve. How do you keep grinding through something when it ceases to have meaning for you? Is it best to stop? Cling to an impossible goal? Rewrite the meaning?
I furrowed my brow and fumbled for an answer. I had nothing to offer. My mind was still far in the distance, left somewhere far below, in the hustle and traffic of the city. My body had traveled here independently, and I didn’t want to say so, but I probably shouldn’t have answered the phone.
“If only you could see this sunset. It’s incredible …” I started to say, but I had forgotten he wasn’t far away and probably already could. That doesn’t stop the questioning of purpose, the relentless search for meaning.
I listened some more, and mumbled empty words of encouragement. The cold wind sank into my core. I started to shiver. He could hear it in my voice.
“I should probably let you go,” he said. “I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.”
I put away the phone and looked toward the horizon. There was nothing to see anymore, no snapshots to take. It was dark. I flicked on my headlight, pulled on the meager layers I had carried up the mountain, and rode toward home.