Driven to disperse
If I could be a human at any time and place in history, I might just choose then — if only to satisfy some of my deepest curiosities and drives for adventure. The Bering Land Bridge migration is still a hotly debated theory. It's most widely accepted that small bands of people crossed over from Siberia on ice-free corridors of land some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. But even scientists who adhere to this theory don't know exactly what these people were pursuing. Big game hunting seems the most likely candidate, but some geological evidence suggests that the climate on the lowlands of Beringia was not as conducive to big game habitat as previously thought. What exactly were these trailblazers searching for when they left the world they knew, for the sparse and barren tundra that today resides below the Bering Sea? I would love to know, which, as any good reporter understands, can only come from actually being there to witness what happened. Yes, becoming a human who lived 15,000 years ago would mean choosing a life as difficult as it was simple, defined by discomfort and heavy labor, and even if I lived to old age I'd be dead already, at 34, lucky if my only contribution was successfully reproducing before I met a violent or painful end. But still, I wonder. And wonder is where I travel sometimes, when I ride my bike.
Sweeping views of the smog-blanketed Silicon Valley become more defined as I rise higher into clear air. At the ridge I join a dirt road that ripples across the spine of a 2,500-foot mountain, and this is El Sereno Open Space. As the crow flies it's probably ten miles from my house, but I've never been here before. The fact that I'm in a new place, covering new ground, fills me with renewed excitement and purpose. Suddenly I'm no longer grumpy about the January heat or the fact that my bike legs seem oddly lacking in strength. Gravel crackles beneath the wheels as I gaze left, and then right, and then left again, taking in expansive blocks of urban sprawl and oak-covered mountainsides in equal turn. The descent steepens and frequent berms appear off to the side; I ride as many of them as I dare, swooping up and down near-vertical walls with squeals of glee. Caution remains because this doubletrack trail is very dry, slicked with fine moondust and littered with loose jagged rocks, which would become a veritable cheese grater in the event of any kind of crash. The scar I incurred in my last gravel road crash, at Frog Hollow in November, still aches every time I go out in the cold. I am fearful but I am joyful, because I have never been here before. This is bike-sploration, and I love this stuff.
The ancient dispersers spread and populated the whole world; now even Antarctica and the bottom of the oceans are mapped in detail, and most modern discovery comes from within. And yet I ride because I remain driven to disperse, to discover for myself the contours and features that make up the world. It may not be an entire previously undiscovered continent, but it's a start.