“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends.” – Legends of the Fall
Maybe growing up I watched too many Clint Eastwood type, rugged individualist movies; because when things get heavy in my life, when the world starts to gather too much momentum for me to take, I pretty much want grab my pack and walk out the back door into the woods. Somewhere along the line, life took turns and paths that have made it somewhat inescapable. School, marriage, a cat: all things that on a day-today basis I would consider the trappings of a happy and complete—if somewhat directionless at this point in time—life. But somewhere, hidden not far beneath the fleshy veneer of domestication, lies the primal urge to wander, to roam uninhabited landscapes and live in a world where there is more to the meaning of life than paychecks and pant brands. Some days these urges swell up in growing waves of discontent, pressing against the confines of everyday life. Everywhere I look is a possible escape route—the clothes on my back and the money in my wallet more than enough to jettison this location for somewhere wild and untouched.
This is why I ride. Riding fills the gaps between these waves that are so desirous of cataclysmic change. Riding is what keeps them from becoming an unstoppable tsunami that ruins everything human with its brutal natural beauty; because every time that I get on a bike and leave my driveway, the world stops. The job, the family, the car, even the racing with a social structure all its own, all take a back seat to something infinitely more basic and instinctual. Is this some sort of return to a primitive hunter-gatherer state? Of course not, and obviously it’s not the same as buying a bus ticket for Alaska and vanishing off the map, Chris McCandless style. But think about it, every time you’ve gone for a mountain bike ride without telling anyone where you were, every time you “forget” to bring the phone on your four hour ride, what are you searching for? Sure we all get caught up in the training, in the data, in the electronic devices that tell us and our friends how fast and how far. But cast your mind back to before all that, maybe even when you were just a kid if you have to. What was it about those two wheels that made riding a bike better than everything else? I think that riding is what keeps a great number of us inside the lines.
This is a radical view that makes me sound like a civilization-hating hermit, but I love my shower and tempurpedic mattress as much as the next person. I do think, though, that in modern day life we have lost something that connected us more intimately to the world around us, and that in some of us that loss exerts a force more profound than in others. For me, maybe for you if this is true, riding acts like a damper on a fire: the coals still burn, but under control, because really, how many of us want to totally abandon our lives for something primitive? How easy is it even to do that anymore? The list of truly wild places seems to shrink on a daily basis while the reaches of “civilization” entwine themselves deeper and deeper into every moment of our lives. Even in the places where we can look at relatively untouched natural beauty, how many of us take the time to leave the phone and the ipod and all the other detritus of everyday life at home and just engage in the landscape? But in a few short minutes after the click-click of my cleats in my pedals, I can vanish from the world I know into a myopic adventure of my own making. I can ride until I am literally on the edge of collapse to see what happens. I can set goals or records to break, pretending as I have since I was a kid, that everything is an adventure, that maybe I am the first person to do this.
It’s a shell game that requires a willing suspension of disbelief. You get passed by a car on even the remotest of back-road rides and the illusion of solitude is cracked, or you round the corner on your mountain bike ride only to find the overlook already occupied by other riders. But, this is about an escape that takes place as a world within a world. The silence and the landscape is as much in your perception of it as in the reality. So you ignore the car and look the other way, putting you head into the wind in a struggle against the elements. On the trail maybe you smile and nod and offer the basic pleasantries to your fellow riders and then go your separate ways content with the knowledge conveyed in just a few simple gestures and words, the knowledge that they too are in the midst of their own adventure.
This is why I ride. Because in a world where more and more we are focused on the comfortable, on the ease with which technology allows us to live our everyday lives, riding is still hard and sometimes uncomfortable, and if you ride long enough and hard enough you will know what it feels like to physically fail. These are moments of solitude and clarity where, if I can say this without sounding too cliché, we can see what we are made of. It’s what allows me a window of a few hours to step outside the safe world around me, test the limits of what I know, and then come back and take a hot shower knowing that tomorrow if it gets to be too much, I can always run away again.