The Craft is Long

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Bike | One Comment

“Ars longa, vita brevis.” ~Hippocrates

I burrowed deep into the soft snow. Wind howled. Snow swirled. I dug my tripod into the snow until only its head was above the surface. I could see the picture I wanted to make. It was there. Right there. But shot after shot missed. “Come on!” I hissed. “Get the picture.”  I burrowed deeper, and made more adjustments to the tripod and the camera. Still, what I saw with my eyes, and what I wanted in my head, proved elusive. “Figure it out!”

The snowflakes were big now. My lens was covered with thick, white splotches.

A few minutes later I retreated, downtrodden and beaten. The storm had won. And the picture in my head stayed there.


“Have you registered yet for JayP’s Fat Pursuit?”

“No. Not sure I want to.”

“Why not? It should be a lot of fun.”

“It might be. Or it might be a lot of pushing through unrideable snow.”

“Just register.”

So I registered, uncertain about what I was getting into. I bought a fat bike because I wanted one more way to avoid the indoor trainer.  I wanted to keep winter interesting. But mostly, I wanted to have a lot of fun on a silly bike. Yes, fat bikes are silly. But that’s why they are so enjoyable to ride. Every time I rode over snow packed roads and trails I felt like I was stealing something. Every day on the fat bike was a bonus—one less day on the trainer. Why muddle that silliness with racing?

“60 klicks, and just 2400 vertical? I can handle that.” I was looking at the course profile for the Fat Pursuit. “Maybe this will be fun. And besides, I need a few days away from the office.” I was just starting to feel optimistic about the day when I checked the weather forecast. “Ah, crap.” Snow. A high of 10. And wind. My optimism faded.


I sat on the photos for a few days. I didn’t want to look at them. I didn’t want to confirm the suspicion that my afternoon in the snow was fruitless. But eventually I had to look. I quickly flipped through the files, unimpressed and disappointed. “No. No. No.” Were there any keepers? “No. No. No–well, maybe.” I marked the file number, and moved on. A few days later I returned to the pictures. I started to see them differently. “Maybe I’ve got something here after all.” One shot stood out from the rest. I opened it with Photoshop, and went to work.


After a nervous dinner and racer meeting in Island Park, and a restless night of sleep, it was time to race. As forecasted, snow was falling. Wind was blowing. And the temperature lingered in the single-digits. The hose on my Camelback froze solid before I even reached the start line. But I was optimistic. The trail was firm. If I kept moving, I should be able to keep the cold away.

I flatted 30 minutes later.

Fixing the flat—which happened when I decided to add air to my tire, and the frozen stem broke—took me a long time. I got cold. And now I was off the back. But the trail was still firm, and my attitude still positive. Off I went. Slowly I pulled myself back into the pack. I wasn’t going to win the race. That was never an option. But maybe I’d still be able to salvage a respectable result.

But then trail went soft.

As I climbed, the snow got deeper. And the pedaling, slower. Much, much slower. I was off the bike as often as I was on it. And soon, off, more than on. I got grumpy. And cold. So. Cold. Other riders floated through the snow. I flailed. “I don’t know how to ride in the snow.” The realization came suddenly, and dreadfully. The day was growing old, and I still had 30 kilometers to ride. “I’m in trouble.” I continued to fight the soft snow, cursing as I went. Another rider suggested that I drop a few pounds of pressure my my front tire. Life improved, a little.


The original photograph, the one that only existed in my head, never materialized onto my computer screen. But after some time, and a lot of file review, and some post-precessing, a different picture appeared. And it was better than what I had gone looking for in the first place. My frustration during the shoot was in vain. My disappointment, premature. But it was only after additional work, and more struggling, that I saw what I had found.

“Ars longa, vita brevis.” The craft is long, life is short.


I wanted to drop out of the race. I was as cold as I’ve ever been. The winners had finished long ago. What was the point anymore? But there was no way to quit. No shuttle. No snow machine. Only the lonely, frozen road, and my bicycle. So I pedaled until I finished. What choice did I have?

I’m happy I finished. But I’m happier that I started. I experienced something new, something difficult. I didn’t learn what I thought I’d learn. I didn’t have fun—not in the same way that I’d spent the winter playing on fat tires. But after more work than I expected, I found something better than mere fun.

The craft is long, life is short.


1 Comment

  1. Sean
    March 12, 2014

    Great photo.

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