Recently a friend invited my daughter and me to a social event on a weekday I did not have to work.
I turned it down, citing a need to be in the woods on a mountain bike. She responded something about understanding my need for solitude.
The fact of the matter was and is being alone had and has nothing to do with wanting to be in the woods. Being alone isn’t something I even like.
Being alone is positively terrifying.
It was the need to do something to prove I am alive that sends me to the woods. If you’ve never done something involving speed, boulders and flying through the air with very little control (just enough to stay upright, really), you should try it.It’ll knock the ho-hum right out of your daily routine.
Of course, there’s the physical conditioning brought on by mountain biking I’ve grown to desire. I ran the 400-meter dash in high school – the most grueling race in all of track and field, in the opinion of many – and it was easier than 20-plus miles up winding hills covered with tree roots, mud and rocks. Even downhill stretches are tough, for they require constant attention, adding a mental workout to the deal. A rider will almost always wreck when he or she feels too comfortable with the terrain.
But the solitude …
There seems to be none of it on the trail. I race deer, dodge squirrels and have spotted bears in the woods. Snakes are lurking beneath the ground cover, ticks and fire ants are everywhere and the trees – which surrender the illusion they’re souls – gaze at you from above. An abrupt stop on the trail will show you how “alone” you are … just listen while those startled by your arrival scurry for “safety.”
I believe I have allies in the woods.
I believe I have abandoned my friends in town.
I believe I’m positively exotic draped in forest.
That is part of the reason I ride. The only changes in the world I can orchestrate are those within myself. Cruising through the dirt, I see clearly what I must do and encourage myself to do it.
Everything makes sense when I’m in the woods, risking my life and hangin’ with the trees.
It’d be nice to have another person with whom to ride. I feel the need to share the forest’s gospel, but fear the possibility I’m the only one interested. I fear rejection. I do not fear treacherous 24-inch-wide trails along slippery cliff sides, but I’m afraid of meeting new people, discovering I don’t like them and being left with no choice but to wish it never happened.
It’s safer to hang with the fire ants than a person who baffles me.