The Mountain Bike Life

There are the nearby go-to rides that are the bread-n-butter of what we do. Our quick-hits and close-by’s that are convenient and satisfying and serve the popular purpose. However, there must always be bigger rides on the horizon. Our reach must exceed our grasp.

Narrow lines stitched together on unexplored maps. A hopeful sea of possibilities. Squinting through satellites via Google Earth, trying to trace faded singletrack through a scree field on a mountainside, separating goat tracks from bike tracks to string together something amazing. Something to accomplish. Something to survive, knowing that there is the outside possibility, however remote that you might not. A ride that leaves the masses to the peasant trails in guidebooks and on websites, trails for the weekend warriors and the once-in-a-whilers. A trail that can be conquered, instead of simply ridden. This is Backcountry season.

It is important to lose yourself in riding in distant places. Not necessarily Tibet distant, but places just beyond the reach of comfort. Places that are much easier to get into than they are to get out of. Places beyond the signals of cell phones, and motorolas and desperate cries for help. It is here that the world becomes once again ominous, like it used to be. It is only a very infinitesimal fraction of human existence that we have lived outside of this area. We have conditioned ourselves only in the past hundred-or-so-years to rely on everything else, but never completely on ourselves. We live in a world where all points are instantaneously reachable by cell phone and internet. Where help via Police, EMS and the Fire Dept are a mere three digits away. We generally have no mortal fear, no insecurity about anything jumping out from behind a bush and killing us unexpectedly. The greatest thing we have to fear is each other, and even in that case we fear something familiar. Additionally, in this case that which we fear is relatively predictable, and susceptible to reason. So aside from the slow killers like cancer and disease, we typically do not live in a state of high alert. A person could, and many people actually do, live indefinitely indoors. One could huddle away inside a private residence with a constant trickle of local chinese delivery and Amazon Prime and never set foot outside for months and months until the creditors started knocking and the eviction notices start piling up and all the credit cards are maxed. And that’s assuming one stops going to work. In this age of telecommuting it may not ever be necessary to leave the house again.

We have separated ourselves from the world, and when we actually go out in it, immerse ourselves in it, we find ourselves afraid of it. It seldom even occurs to us that nature is not an enemy. That nature is not lying in wait to pounce upon us at the earliest convenient opportunity. That nature is neutral, and when surrounded by it we are once again included in it instead of the supposed master of it. When we venture out into the great anarchy of nature, the unpredictability, the enormity, we become starkly aware of the absence of human order.

Captain Chaos himself, Josh Sare

At home in HappyTown, FirstWorldCountry we expect people to stop at red lights and are surprised when they don’t. We expect people to drive on the correct side and are surprised when they don’t. We expect electricity and dial tones and drinking water to be there when we flip switches and pick up receivers and turn faucets, and are surprised when they aren’t. In the Backcountry we realize that our expectations are fewer. For the most part our assumptions of outcomes are purely theoretical: We believe our map to be accurate. We think we have enough water. We doubt the probability of catastrophic mechanical or physical breakdown beyond the ability of the multi-tool and first-aid kit. The incline, condition, and difficulty of the trail. The amount of truth behind the statement “wild animals are more afraid of you than you of them”. The likelihood of being eaten by a lion. The stability of the weather vs. the amount of weather prepared to be dealt with. The time allotted before concerned loved-ones dispatch search and rescue teams. These are variables. The variables we are used to dealing with are usually things like the variability of drive time from A to B at given times of day. Things that while annoying and frustrating are generally unlikely to kill you.

In the backcountry personal entropy levels are higher. There is no prediction of outcome. Domino’s and Papa John’s will not be there to tell you they love you and bring you pizza. The only constant is self-reliance. When riding there you throw yourself at the mercy of yourself. You must know that you are clever, determined, and resourceful enough to get yourself home. That nothing will stop you. And that if something stops you that you will be able to deal with that with a touch of humility as you are crushed beneath a boulder or in the jaws of a lion. Because that is life. There are a million ways to die wherever you are. Those that perish or are injured or lost in the wild are pointed at with fat little fingers by the folks that are cloistered in their homes to be made examples of as what happens when one leaves the protective confines of civilization. No mention is made of the thousands of people dying daily from prolonged battles with sloth and carbohydrate addiction, of the sad masses with hollow eyes content to live in cubes and in pursuit of 2 weeks vacation per year after 5 years and a pension fund hemorrhaging dollars faster than it produces them. The casualties of our cause are martyred, severed heads raised atop television-station antennas by the media as warnings to all: Stay in your homes. Do not attempt to leave the box in either the physical or mental sense. Others have tried and failed. You will be safe with the Kardashians, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars. We will inform you of any changes in the world that are worthy of your notice. If Pizza Hut brings back the additional pie for $5, you be the first to know. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

The Backcountry reminds us that we are not spectators, we are participants. We can navigate the universe with the full extent of free will and are free to have the universe’s will navigated upon us in the form of pitfalls and perils, but also in the form of epic rides, never ending descents, incredible sweeping vistas, insane climbs and a pervasive sense of accomplishment and euphoria ill-matched by anything ever offered by The Price is Right.

We set out to conquer the Backcountry, but really we conquer ourselves.

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