A-Z Day 2. Read other A-Z posts here.
The air was murky. Smoky. The long view into the Salt Lake Valley below was obscured by the hazy, indifferent sky. The vibrant colors of the earth were muted. Everything felt overheated and burnt. Everything was overheated and burnt. But despite the widespread wildfires, and the ashen blanket that had been draped over the Wasatch Front, we pedaled our bikes through the dense pine forests and the crowded aspen groves, to the top of the Wasatch Range. At 9,000 feet we were nearly above the dingy sky. But not quite.
The mountains nearby and the valley far below almost looked black and white, as if God was toying with the saturation numbers in a cosmic version of Photoshop.
But we rode anyway. And we loved every inch of trail. Even the rocky, dusty sections that rattled our teeth as we pedaled.
Mountain biking requires a unique relationship with the trail itself. Hiking, while enjoyable, is slow. The trail passes underfoot without us noticing the various undulations and variations. On a bike, however, the trail becomes an active thing. The trail lives. It bends, and winds, contours, and dips. A trail, like a river, flows. We simply float downstream. Even laborious climbing on a bike has rhythm. Every trail, smooth and fast, or chunky and slow, has a certain energy and motion to it. And a mountain bike allows us to experience that energy in high-definition reality.
The bionomics—the way we interact with our environment—of mountain biking is superlative. Unique. Unmatched. We float above the ground, and yet we are never unaware of its character. We become united with an inorganic, inanimate object, and in so doing create one of the most efficient, sustainable, and enjoyable methods of travel the world has ever known. More people riding bikes (on or off road) could have an enormous impact on the bionomics of our everyday life. We will (collectively) have more patience, more empathy, more fun. We will have fewer health problems, less economic turmoil, and a scarcity of anger and rage. That bikes can save the world is a brash idea. But what if it’s also true?
The newly built Pinecone Trail in Park City, Utah continued to climb. And climb. Above us, scattered through the trees we could see glimpses of pale blue—the sky, the horizon, the top! We had been climbing for over an hour when finally we emerged from the pine trees and gained the summit. We gazed in triumph at the world below us, a world shrouded by the exhaust of countless wildfires. We knew that miles below us was the Salt Lake Valley, and the 1 million people that call it home. But up here, there were only a handful of those people. And all of them—all of us—were smiling. Ahead of us was the Wasatch Crest Trail, the single greatest stretch of singletrack in the State. And maybe anywhere. We paused only briefly. We had waited long enough, and worked too hard, to put off our just reward any longer.
For the next several minutes life was no more (and no less) than the river-like flow of The Crest. We had come to a place where the concerns of daily life are unwelcome. A place where life is simple, narrow, and beautiful. For those short moments, the world didn’t need saving. It was already perfect. It was only blue sky, green earth, and dirt, What more could anyone want from a ride? To the left and to the right, the world dropped away from us with dramatic finality. And although we knew that all the frivolities and necessities of life were not so far away, we had become (alas, only temporarily) immune to the effects of them. We were, however briefly, immortal.
Our lives are short, hard things. Too many people in this world will never know the joy of a bicycle. Sadly, many of these same people live (and die) in the cradles of luxury. A bike is a minor financial investment to most Westerners, but it is far too expensive to actually use. After all, a bike does not have cruise control, satellite radio, or a turbo engine. Too many kids today are riding motorized scooters through the neighborhood, instead of old-fashioned, grease addled, steel-framed bicycles. More and more the “outdoors” is being experienced remotely, from the comfort of a camper, cabin, scenic viewpoint, or the Discovery Channel. Our interaction with the environment has become skewed, annihilated. And yet, the forests, deserts, and mountains are the only remaining space where we can remember what life used to be like—and what it still should sometimes be.
The bionomics of western civilization are as rotten as its economics. Coincidence?
We can change the world. We can fix our problems and heal our illnesses. It won’t be easy, and it will take a long time. Maybe a generation, or two. There isn’t one solution, or one person that can do this. However, the first step is simple, and has to occur from within (that is, not by force) each of us one-by-one. What is that first step? Reconnect. With our environment, with our families, and especially with ourselves. And how do we do that? I prefer a bike. But feet work (nearly) just as well. Leave behind the wires and the chargers and the gadgets. Even just for an hour. Pedal. Spin. Think. Climb a mountain, and instead of quickly writing your name in the logbook and running back to the chaos of home and work, stop and watch the clouds. Listen to the birds. Count the flowers.
Even mountain bikers can slow down a little bit. We can leave the number plates at home once in a while. We can ride without our power meters, hear rate monitors, GPS computers, and Strava-hunting attitudes. Ride, not for the fitness, but for the simple, innate pleasure of it all.
When our ride in Park City ended, were were all covered in dirt. Thick, dark dirt. Wasatch dirt. We guzzled chocolate milk and repeated “that was an amazing ride” to each other over and over. And indeed, it was an amazing ride. For a few hours on a Saturday morning in August we had escaped the stubborn realities that each of us must confront everyday. The mind-numbing externalities of life were eclipsed by the transcendent speed and flow of singletrack, altitude, and an elevated heart rate.
And even though we knew it wasn’t true, for a few hours we were able to pretend like everything was exactly right in the world.