Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I should know myself better than this by now. I have two very nice bike lights that take all of thirty seconds to mount on the handlebars. However, I often leave these lights at home, on purpose, as though neglecting to bring lights will force me to return at a decent hour. So I leave the bike lights behind, but I do bring a small headlamp and red blinkies, because, you know, safety first.

I was little bit lost in my project today, and failed to noticed the quickly passing hours until it was already 3:04 p.m. Oh, I need to go. Slap on a long-sleeved T-shirt and tights. My running pack from last weekend's trail race and its leftover water, hat, jacket and mittens should suffice for supplies. The responsible side of me just wants to stay at home and keep writing; don't break the flow. But louder voices lodge a compelling protest.  You promised we were going mountain biking today. You've been home in warm, sunny California for a week. No more excuses.

Okay, okay. What  kind of ride do I even have time for now that it's what, 3:17 p.m.? Sun sets at 5:10. Useable daylight lasts until 5:30. That should at least give me time to tag Black Mountain. I pedal away from my apartment building, mind still crowded with chapter outlines and dialogue. Not that any of that stuff is really all that important, but I admit I sometimes wonder exactly why I feel so compelled to ride my bike. Daily exercise has been such a part of my routine for so many years, through so many major life changes, that I have a difficult time imagining my self identity without it. Exercise serves as both my anchor and my escape, but sometimes I wonder if it's too much of a priority. What is it exactly that drives me to cut the line to my creative juices and redirect all of my energy to simple pedaling? What does mountain biking accomplish for me that words can not?

I pedal up the steep road as guilt about stifled creativity and slow work progress gives way to the blissful mindlessness of hard effort. It's easy to ignore the more oppressive thoughts in my head when so much oxygen is directed to my muscles — one of the side effects of exercise that I cherish. With guilt and worry out of the way, I launch into the trail with renewed enthusiasm, the kind that never grows stale no matter how many times I venture outside for a simple ride. After cresting the mountain top, I briefly remember I was supposed to do something here, but can't remember what that something might be. Warm January air and rich afternoon light prompts me onward to a smooth ribbon of singletrack. The blast of chilled air and swirls of dust put a smile on my face, which is as good a reason as any to tuck in and coast all the way to the canyon.

It's there — twelve miles, 2,700 feet of climbing, and 600 feet of descending later — that I remember what it was I set out to do on this ride: Get home by dark. Wisps of pink light stretching across the sky tell me this is not a likely scenario. But I engage the high gear anyway, and get all the workout I need in twenty red-lining minutes. With my grimace factor on high, the air temperature turns from chilled to raw, and there's only enough oxygen flowing to my brain to register gasps and moans. But the rewards are unmistakable. I reach the top of Black Mountain just in time to watch the vermillion sun slip beneath a sheet of haze over the Pacific. Steeped in pink light and endorphin euphoria, I steal a few minutes of fading daylight to catch my breath.

I pull on all the warm layers in my pack, sip some leftover race water, and switch on my headlamp and blinkies now for good measure, because I'm going to need them soon. I'm not going to make it home before dark, and by the time I shower and eat dinner I'm probably going to be too tired to get any more work done today. And yet, the ride is completely worth it. I should know myself better than this by now. 


  1. I have the same thing going on although my writing is severely compromised by the necessity of having to work 10 hours a day. Yet, I HAVE to run/bike/ski whatever...non-negotiable. And I have to work. So creativity loses out. Always.

  2. From your pictures and words it was a ride too good to miss. My favourite time of day captured beautifully.

  3. Sometimes, I find the best part of not getting home by dark is stumbling upon the most spectacular sunsets that I've managed to see, particularly when I was living in Southern California... usually I am running and am not smart enough to bring a headlamp and spend some longer than expected quality time redeveloping my senses for footing on a trail (not a luxury that is easy by bike).

    And I love every minute of it. Glad I'm not alone.

  4. Thanks for your almost daily interesting journaling.

  5. How fantastic that you can roll out your front door to these views. Beautiful in the afternoon sun. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks Jill for putting things in perspective so clearly. When you have to ride, you have to ride. It is funny these obsessions that drive us on. But remember that those rides will clear your head more and allow you to write even better. Sunsets like that inspire ideas in your head that are priceless. A friend just shared your story and recommended I read your book about the Divide Trail. I just ordered it and look forward to reading it. I have seen the movie and read a few books on endurance sports and seem to be getting the bug. I just got back into mountain biking again after a 10 year hiatus and it is just fun again. Well take care. Thanks again. Chris


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