Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Evening ride

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.


  1. I can totally relate to this post, one of the things I love about biking is that you can use it to get away from the world when you need to do a little soul searching. I often find your blog inspiring because of the great photos and the upbeat nature of most of them, however this might be one of my favorites because it feels more real. For every downhill in life there is an uphill waiting if you pedal long enough.

  2. Dont you just love the sunsets? Again ... beautiful photos Jill.

  3. After last weekend you need to decompress. And I didn't realize your ankle was hurting so badly. I'm sorry.

  4. Stunning photo, Jill! Sure hope John is okay. Saw that he was in Idaho Falls yesterday, so assume his has thrown in the towel on his record attempt. Was sorry to see he got into some pretty nasty weather west of Butte near Fleecer.

  5. Really? You couldn't think of anything to say to your friend when he was hurting and in need and reached out to you?

  6. I think your friend John will have to come to terms with his personal demons/reasons that he's doing the GDR in the first place. How were you supposed to explalin why/how YOU were able to make it thru the race last year? I think it is diff for everybody. When things get REALLY tough...each of us must do some serious soul searching to find answers...should I stop, should I go on, HOW do I go on? He must answer these questions for himself. It's part of the journey he's set sail on. Only he can decide if it's worth it.

    AWESOME post btw...I love it that you so casually go out into the evening to ride...alone. Not many people like that out there.

  7. I still feel guilty that I wasn't more supportive when he called. I must have sounded like a robot on the line. I do remember saying, when he asked me how I got through it, "it's an easy thing to finish if you don't give yourself a strict time limit." Which is both unhelpful and untrue.

    For me, this ride revealed how detached I can become during my solo rides on non-technical terrain. It's a deeply meditative state for me, and in the midst of it, it's difficult to return to normal social mindset. It was revelatory on how *I* managed to get through the Divide one year ago. I was hyper-focused, to the point where little else existed in my mind.

    When I said I shouldn't have answered the phone, I didn't mean I shouldn't have talked with John. I just meant that in a better situation, I would have waited until I returned from my ride and back to reality, although by then it would have been late in the evening.

  8. Awesome photos as always - truly inspiring sunset.
    I often find I need a nice mindless solo ride. One where you can disappear into your own head and clean house. It's one of my favorite parts about riding.
    It's difficult when you're in that place to also meet the needs of another - especially when on the phone...

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