To be undressed at the Subaru’s hatch, pulling on shorts and peering into the woods for trails and sounds of life and signs of riding.
To lube chain and dial-in brakes, shifting, saddle height, alone at the trailhead or with buddies, talking smack, sneaking a hit, stretching legs.
To attack the trail and climb immediately into the woods, finding that sweet spot between two wheels, to let the bike climb and to relax all but the working muscles. Long slow breaths into the few working muscles, catching the occasional grand view on the ascent.
To throw the bike over and around problems. The stiff, light frame responsive and solid as it hits the trail.
To spin and relax eyes, hammering the line. To hammer the line is to commit to the line, to read the line, come to know the line. Acknowledge all bikers on this line before you by hammering the line.
To crest the summit, lean back and relax again, always relaxed as singletrack turns tight and fast, through rolling rhythm sections and switchbacks; the line divides in two and comes together again on the side of the ridge. Railing a hard left, rear wheel pushing the front, carving around the banked berm, throwing dirt into the woods.
To clean a tall log jam, setting front wheel on top then throwing rear up and over, maintaining speed. To hit the next one full-on, launching, touching down in time to thread between two young maples, or another rolling hit, or an off-camber sharp left around the base of a tree on wet roots.
To crash, hard. A lapse of focus: weight a bit too forward, a bad line into a wet root, a rock, a rut. Unprepared. A steady deliberate focus and preparedness key. Crash never hurts if you learn from it.
To ride a familiar favorite trail, knowing each turn and hill and being ever ready on the shifter. Each section of trail like a familiar piece of music, or a story.
To ride a new, surprising trail, knowing nothing but yourself, and your ride. To trust the shifting, rubber, brakes as an extension of yourself. That’s why I take it home and take it apart and clean and lube and tighten it often. To take it out and find its limit.
To ride at the front of a group, trying to lose who’s on your wheel, nose in the wind, breaking the spiderwebs, picking your own line.
To ride just behind, keeping that wheel. Waiting to put together a better line and opportunity.
To make that pass under braking in a corner, inside foot out of the clip, or straight by on a fast dry washboard trail totally hanging it out. Or climbing. To pass on a steep rugged climb at a step-up in a switchback, cleaning the root, no dabs and a quick “Howdy” as you go by.
To hit a small hard ascent in the right gear and carrying momentum to push over the top, out of the saddle and grinding, legs and lungs wanting to burst out of your skin.
To brake hard into a fast downhill washboard and rutted corner, pushing against the squish of the fork, leaning back against the rear wheel, suspending yourself in that sweet spot again, floating, as you let go of brakes in time to rail the top of the berm and carve around as sweet as could be.
To arrive back at the trailhead, muddy, tired, enthused in the rain or hail, glad to be so wet and cold—or dried out and dusty, a film on teeth, red eyes, sore throat, sunburn on shoulders and back of neck, hot and thirsty, gliding to the car for the beer in the cooler or oranges or sandwich bought before the ride.
To fill body completely with fresh crunchy sandwich, water, a beer, another sandwich, to eat to eat to eat.
To pull off clothes at the back of the car again, dry off and put on clean street clothes. To feel those long slow breaths and heavy beating heart, letting the past hour or two or three and the miles sink in, to carry them to the next ride. To feel that good and at peace for as long as possible. To take this relaxed sense of calm into the world to share.