I’m done for the day. The office has worn me down sufficiently for one nine-hour period. My head hurts from squinting at the computer screen, my body feels heavy from inactivity, and my back scolds me for sitting for so long.
As I burst out of the door and into the evening sunshine and spring breeze, I spread my arms wide to soak as much of it in as possible. Every bit of radiation, every fresh, unfiltered oxygen molecule that passes over my skin… I thank it for waiting for me, and apologize for neglecting it all day from my fluorescent-lit cell. As I stroll towards my car, my bike smiles at me and quietly says, “I’m ready. Are you?”
The grind. The man. The rat race. They have a way of sapping your energy and getting you down, but there is no better cure for that than pedaling into the woods and playing games with physics and nature. Time accelerates, and the duration of four favorite songs, played at excessive volume, finds me at the trailhead.
As I downshift and begin pedaling up the hill to start my loop, all angst and negativity from the day has evaporated. Those same oxygen molecules now flow into my lungs, through my heart, and then on to the atrophied limbs that are screaming with joy for the exercise. Even brutal exertion feels more like a gift than a punishment on a day like today.
I reach the summit after a 45-minute climb, take a sip of water, and stare out at the sunset and back at civilization. This is what I was put on Earth to do. That other thing…I only do that to allow me to experience places like this. My boss couldn’t track me down in a million years out here.
Seat down, knee pads on, and I’m in reaction mode. The world around me turns to a blur as I focus on a descent that is very familiar, yet still remains one of my all-time favorites. Conditions are perfect. The recent rain has made the dirt beautiful and tacky, and I giggle as I put my foot out and drift around an off-camber corner. There is something very liberating about laughing out loud in spite of the fact that no one can hear you.
Riding my bike is a humbling experience. Every corner, root, and jump is a puzzle that I can only partially solve. No human being has ever had a perfect run on any trail. There is always room for improvement and learning, and that is part of what keeps drawing me back for more.
What is work? The events of the day until this point are nonexistent as my bike dances underneath me. New life is emerging all around as the grip of winter releases, and I travel alone at dusk in my place of sanctuary. I used to try to explain this feeling to non-riders. I have given up. The scope of human communication cannot accurately depict the feelings that it brings to me, nor can it describe the sense of satisfaction afterwards. As I dance with my partner in crime down the mountainside, it truly feels like a part of me.
I triple over three roots, rail a corner, and shift my weight back as my suspension soaks up a rock garden. In the blink of an eye, my front tire hits a wet rock and swaps out. It’s scary how quickly crashes occur on a mountain bike, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Before I know what is happening, I have somehow wrapped my right leg all the way into the frame, and the bike and I are an intermingled heap as we accelerate towards the unforgiving ground.
I see stars. My upper leg is crushed in a vice that the bike has somehow created. The pain is beyond anything that I have ever experienced. I tumble to a stop, and involuntarily scream in agony to the empty woods. My mind is racing to make sense of the situation; it all just happened so fast. As if on cue, a cold breeze hits my sweat-drenched neck to signal the onset of night.
I lie back in the ferns and close my eyes. The pain is still unbearable, and my mind races to assess the situation. Who did I tell that I was coming out here? Nobody. Did I see anyone at the pull-off or on the trail? No. How long will it be before anyone knows I am gone? It’s five miles of singletrack to the nearest form of civilization.
My leg is still throbbing in pain and beginning to turn the dark hue of a deep tissue bruise, but I did not feel or hear the horrible snap of a broken bone. Ten minutes of counting my blessings and gathering my thoughts on the forest floor, and I am back on my bike slowly rolling downhill.
I exit the trail and turn onto the uphill fire road that will reunite me with my vehicle. The last hint of daylight is fading from the sky, and the warmth is quickly following suit. In spite of the shot of pain that accompanies every other pedal crank, the work keeps me warm.
Sometimes, the knowledge of how something could have transpired is just as powerful as the actual events would have been. As I limp my bike up to the roof rack on my car, I do so with a dire awareness of what could have happened, and the peculiar feeling that I have some things yet to do in this life.
In spite of the pressures that the world places on me, it is time to create a vocation for myself, rather than just a paycheck. My time on this earth is too short to do something that is not fulfilling.
My parents had it right when they repeated to me, “Never confuse having a career with having a life.”