Is there anything better than spending most of a day on a bike, traveling from your doorstep to places you haven't yet seen? Rolling across the countryside, feeling the contours under the wheels as your legs strain to meet the wildly undulating landscape? Of course there are better things, but they rarely occur to me as I wheel my bike up the driveway with an entire late autumn day in front of me, and only a vague idea of where this ride will take me, and a hot November sun warming my skin beneath short sleeves and shorts.
As I've slipped back into the rhythm of longer bike rides, I've realized how much I value this simple motion. To be fully engaged in moments, focused on roots and rocks and flickers of memories, and somehow, even if temporarily, able to leave everything else behind. But sometimes, maybe most times, I set out with this ideal in mind, and instead everything is hard from the beginning. I crash on the rocks and add new bruises to the patchwork on my legs. The November sun is unbelievably hot, and I sip on a meager supply of water while I berate myself for carrying a puffy jacket and not more liquid. The steep dirt road is rippled with washboard and I spin out repeatedly. My legs feel weak, my throat dry, my head foggy. Sometimes, maybe most times, are like that.
After two hours I had covered a mere twelve miles, and I was out of water. Luckily, the spot where I crossed Highway 72 had a small convenience store. I made the strange decision to buy two liters of purple Gatorade. Sometimes, maybe most times, when I visit a convenience store during a bike ride, I'm addled and thirsty and make choices that I later regret. I stumbled out the door and spun pedals up a narrow road that was long and steep and appeared to be going nowhere. It was 80 degrees, and the west wind blasted my sweat-soaked arms like a blow dryer. This is what the Boulder folks call a "downslope wind" — fierce, warm, and a harbinger of rapid change.
Somewhere above 9,000 feet, I crossed into Golden Gate State Park. This place reminds me of Henry Coe State Park in California, in that it's out of the way, mysterious, and features a large network of trails that offer nothing but discouragement and pain. Okay, so I only rode the Mountain Lion Trail. But it was very hard, and after I crashed for the second time that day, I lost all my confidence. I was moving at the pace of an injured turtle and quietly wishing that a mountain lion would put me out of my misery. This is the funny, and also freeing thing about cycling — you can get so caught up in individual moments that every difficulty feels like the end of the world. Never mind that all the ways that the world might actually be ending beyond this single-track perspective.
The trail spit me out in an unknown place that was still the middle of nowhere. I rolled along an empty road and tried to visualize the first time I went snowboarding — a fateful day now almost exactly twenty years ago. It was disheartening to realize that I could only piece the memories together in fragments — the nervous jitters of riding the lift, the dread when I realized it was going a lot farther up the mountain than I expected, the bewilderment when my friend ditched me at the top of a long, "moderately difficult" run that she promised was "easy." Falling and falling and falling, and then meeting two college-age men who were actually very nice to me. They held my hands, showed me how to ride my back edge, and ensured I made it down safely. They were so pivotal, those moments. Why couldn't I recall more of the details? This is one of my difficulties with middle age — the realization that I am outliving some of my favorite memories.
Climbing and climbing on climbing on the nowhere road. Eventually I descended down a "no outlet" road and arrived at another park, White Ranch. I descended another rocky trail toward clear views of Denver, the city where I was born. I sometimes cite this fact to snooty locals who tease me about being another cliche Californian who moved to Colorado. But sometimes, maybe most times, I wish I could remember what it was like — living in Denver when I was an infant. Memories that distant were never anything but lost — but it's an idyllic daydream all the same.
The following day, change arrived. Temperatures plummeted 50 degrees, and the November sun was obscured by fog and snow. Beat and I went for a run to Bear Peak. A fierce wind intensified the chill. Swirling snow covered our tracks within minutes.
Another issue I have with middle age is this: Even as I continue to lose valued pieces of my past, my confidence about the future also erodes. Life is long in its own way, and changes so rapidly that sometimes, maybe most times, all we can do is hold on. Eighty degrees one day and snowing the next. Sometimes I think it would be best if we could always live in the moment, with no thoughts of before or after. But if we have no memories of our past, we're doomed to walk blindly into a bewildering future.
Still, as long as you can stand on a mountain in blowing snow and smile, life is pretty good. Beat and I slipped and slid downhill, racing the rapidly approaching dusk as I listened to music in which I never fail to find comfort. Today it was TV on the Radio, "Province:"
Hold your heart courageously As we walk into this dark place Stand steadfast erect and see That love is the province of the brave.