Mythical and Tangible: Tales of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Singletrack chronicles—like this blog has—my ongoing journey to find spiritual and philosophical meaning in outdoor adventure. But mostly, it’s just stories about mountain biking and skiing in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. I’ve tried to write in the tradition of some my favorite authors—Abbey, Thoreau, Ruess—while developing my own (distinct?) voice. I hope you’ll read the book, and understand a little better afterward why I chase after delusions of grandeur in the beautiful mountains above my home.
“In his lyrical book of essays, Adam Lisonbee sets out to define the paradoxical forces that many of us experience when we venture into the wilderness: Joyful leaps between the mythical and the tangible. “Mythical and Tangible: Tales of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Singletrack,” explores the changing dynamics of spring, summer, fall and winter, and how the seasons shift perspective and shape experiences. This well-crafted book draws the reader in, inviting everyone to join in Lisonbee’s outdoor revolution: ‘Let us imagine more often. Let us embrace delusion and ambition and possibility. Let us believe.’”
~Jill Homer, author of Ghost Trails and Be Brave, Be Strong
“…nicely captures the various motivations, feelings, and experiences we enjoy (and sometimes suffer through) in the distinct four seasons…in the intermountain west.” ~Matt Bradley.
“….not simply a retelling of outdoor adventures, but also how real life, family, experiences, heroes, thoughts, faith, loves and memories help to form the adventures. To form a love and passion of not just being outdoors, but EXPERIENCING the outdoors.” ~Jason Mahokey, XXC Magazine.
It was a cloudy morning. Gray and black, the sky churned and turned over head. It was late July. My wife was scheduled to be induced the next day with the twins. We braced ourselves, the same way we have been bracing ourselves every day since January. That new reality was knocking at the door.
I glanced out the window in my office and up at Timpanogos. While not the highest peak along the Wasatch, it is the most prominent, recognizable, iconic. It towers over the valley unseen by the masses below. It is just another forgotten landmark, an unnoticed part of a dramatic, underappreciated backdrop.
The trees, clouds, sunsets, and moonrises are all overlooked by the hustling and bustling of people and children hurrying home to stare at the box in the living room. Eager to see exotic locales, absurd comedies, and steamy soap operas, oblivious to the amazing geological wonder standing over them. Unaware of the miles of trails, canyons, meadows, hollows, and drainages that make up the mountain. Ignorant of the history and the myths behind the sentinel of the valley, apathetic to the quiet solitude it so easily and readily offers up. Not everybody. But many.
I stared out the window for a long time. The headwall of Grove Creek Canyon bled into Sage Flat. A small portion of Timpooneke Road was visible on the mountain, a dirt circumnavigation around the mighty Timpanogos. I longed to be there. To watch the herd of elk graze quietly and peacefully in the grassy meadows or to hear the eagles or the hawks or the crows. The songbirds chirp and whistled while somewhere deep in the brush a mountain lion lurked, and a black bear watched. But the elk were undeterred in their feast. The wapiti, the Utah State animal, majesty on hooves and with antlers.
I sat idly for a few minutes. My mind drifted from Sage Flat to other parts of the mountain and the labyrinth of trails; the thrill and flow of the Ridge Trail, the white knuckle descent of Trail 252—known locally and affectionately and appropriately as “Joy”—and the grinding, laborious boulder-laden climb through Dry Fork.
I daydreamed about the view from Ant Knolls and the massive granite walls of Mineral Basin. I longed to stand near Catherine’s Pass where Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton ski resorts all converge; where American Fork and the Cottonwood Canyons collide in a rocky and violent uprising. In the distance, there’s a glimpse of Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, and The Canyons—the hub of Wasatch tourism and recreation all visible from that jagged perch of 10,500 feet above sea level.
Below, the massive cirques and basins sprawled outward, filled with bony pine trees and shrubs, boulder fields, and twisted, bent, cracked, and destroyed aspen trees—their deformities left in the wake of violent, powerful, avalanches. Running streams pooled in the undergrowth, slowly trickling down the mountain into larger rivers and eventually into the shower or sink. In the shade, the snow lingered, crusty, hard, and stubborn. The wind drifted over and through the trees, tinkling the aspen leaves, swaying the tall pines, a low howl bounced off the massive mountain walls.
The entire world seemed to stretch out in front of me from this high narrow rocky ridge. The purple horizons of the Uinta Mountains stretched heavenward in the east. Timpanogos was small and ordinary to the west. The peaks of the Wasatch—Superior, Grandeur, Lone, The Pfeifferhorn, and countless others—reached and yawned into the sky, the snow at their north facing summits a year round squatter, never melting, never leaving.
I dreamt of riding the Great Western Trail. I bobbed and rocked over the rugged singletrack. Steep, intimidating, dangerous, and thrilling. A loud “pisshhh” echoed off the stony walls as air exploded from my front tire. I tipped precariously over the front of my handlebars, and for an instant I was suspended in the air—neither moving forward nor backward. And then, with surprising speed and force I hit the granite below. My bike rattled over the top of me as I tumbled through the rocks, finally coming to rest among sharp bits of broken shale and dusty trail. Another crash. Another set of bruises. Another day riding the Rockies.
Going over the bars on the bicycle is a terrifying moment of uncertainty, when injury and pain hang in the air, taunting, threatening, looming. Inevitable. It is not unlike the feeling I felt at that very moment as I waited, trapped in a pocket of intimidated wonder. Twins. They would nearly double the amount of children we have. Our home was already a den of chaos and unrest. Sometimes anyway. There were good days. Fun, happy, relaxing, constructive, productive, and stereotypically smiley LDS days. But there were bad days as well. Yelling and screaming. Brooding and fighting. Grumpy, moody, whiney children. Impatient, tyrannical, short tempered parents. Parenthood.
Reality. I was still in the office.
But the mountains outside the window beckoned, called. I longed for a string of uninterrupted days among the rocky slopes of the Wasatch Front. I pined to explore the massive Wasatch Plateau, or the thin-aired Markagunt, or the mysterious Kaiparowits. To wander in the deserts of the south and west, the hoodoo of the south and east, and the thick forests of the Uintas and the color country of Nine Mile Canyon. An ancient people dwelled here in Utah. Their presence lingers. Their writings and pictures and arrow heads and pottery lie half buried in the hard clay or the soft sand in canyons and crags across the state. If you find an artifact leave it alone, don’t touch it. Walk away! The BLM might track you down and hand out a hefty fine.
The noise and din and construction outside, the never ending road repairs, and the many so-called improvements interrupted my thoughts. I was once again surrounded by crowded streets, apartments and suburban homes, and strip malls—half of which are doomed to vacancy and vagrancy. I sighed a deep breath. The summer day passed quietly into evening. Life goes on. Onward, ever onward.