This is my favorite time of year to ride. The air is crisp in the lungs and the colored leaves flitter down through the sunbeams filtered by the forest branches. The ground is a perfect blend of moist squish and dry roots, providing a fast, bermy ride. The large rocks are hidden in mounds of leaves just deep enough to leave you confident without swallowing your wheel.

It’s days like this that cause me to hold onto the last rays of summer, eager to take advantage of every opportunity to be on the bike. In just another few weeks I will choose not to ride because it’s too blustery. It’s good to be in touch with that, because those are the days when your window of opportunity becomes much smaller and you start wishing for the summer and fall. I can’t help but chastise myself for not riding more in the fall when weather and trails are near perfect.

I wasn’t at all in the mood to ride last weekend and had to force myself into it despite my exhaustion and the fact that this was a rare opportunity. I churned up the rocky trail wishing that I was putting together my children’s Halloween costumes instead of riding, and immediately shamed myself for such thoughts. The climb hurt so much that my girlfriend asked me what was wrong with me.

I go through phases when I just need to take care of my business, and that means shirking all of my time in the woods. I replace riding with running so that I don’t spend as much time on myself, while still keeping a cardio workout on the schedule. The waist of my jeans seems to fluctuate as well as I store fat for winter by eating late-night pizza after days filled with paying bills and shuttling children.

But then I have a day like Sunday, when a seasonal trail opens, allowing me access to the narrow bridges, steep stairs and waterbar climbs that I have missed all summer. The sun shone on us enough all day so that we wore shorts and light shirts, and then wool once the sun slipped away abruptly at 5, hiding from the north slope of the mountain. Chipmunks and squirrels raced across the trail foraging their last acorns for the winter, trying to keep their tails intact as they squeezed past my wheel and out of the dog’s reach. It’s the kind of day where I look out across the blue ranges and say proudly, “I live here.”