it had been a week since i was on a bike and i was itching for radness. i needed to get out, i needed some dirt, i needed a climb.
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf had jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are the things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. But of course, without the top you cant have the sides. It’s the top that defines the sides.
i have always loved climbing mountains. even at a young age i hiked the canyon near my home, during grade school i climbed the hills with my classmates on field trips, later in high school i rode my bike up the mountain to the north. i think often about what draws me to the climb. is it the challenge? the reward? the process in itself? Who knows really, but something is evident- i love a good challenge. there is one mountain available to me on any day, mount tamaplais. good ol’ mt tam. the birthplace of the mountain bike. the mountain on which dreams are realized, and crushed all in the same ride. i’ve ridden tam countless times. up and down her sideways and backwards. though i’ve yet to learn her dirty ways. her dirt trails that is. so brett and i saddled up our twenty year old all terrain bicycles (as the forefathers called them) and went to discover what the mountain had to offer in the ways of trails and fire roads.
it’s true what persig says about the sides of the mountain. its the journey up the mountain that teaches you more than anything the top has to offer. though often we seek to get to the top, all the way assuming it has something to share with us- a gift, that will make all this torment worthy. on most mountains we get to the top and take in the majesty of an awe inspiring view, breathe the fresh untainted air the swims over the mass of earth. but at the peak, if you take just a second to look at what you have conquered, you realize it had very little to do with the top. it is the top where you have stopped yes, but it is the entire mountain, the sides, that got you here. your pain and struggle. your experience and emotion. all of your actions remain on the sides of the mountain, evidence of your adventure to the top. nobody gets to the end of a hill climb and thinks only of the top, for the top would not mean anything but for the actions it took to get there. the climb defines the mountain.
this mountain is my old friend. this mountain is my enemy. this mountain is my teacher. mt tam has done so many things for me in my past that i cant give it one definition. i’ve donated a fare share of blood sweat and tears to the roads along the climb, a good amount of metal shavings on the dirt too. i’ve experienced it in almost every way possible. saturday was yet another way to change my perspective. saddled up on old atbs and carrying non-necessities like beer and thin mints, this was a different kind of ride than what the last bit of rambling was about. there was to be no suffering, there was to be no blood or tears. i was staying out of the pain cave, that was for sure. i wanted to really take in what the roads had to offer.
so to the dirt we went. entering the fire roads and making our way up the good ol’ mountain. there were a bunch of people out enjoying her bosom as well. the day was beautiful and the path was dry. everywhere you look you find a carved out line that hundreds before you have taken. the last riders are leading you up the mountain. it’s not without it’s surprises. given the will, you can take one of the many mystery off shoots along the way. off a cliff? over to the other side? who knows? try it out anyway. we made easy work of the climb to the top. not much more than a long cruise. the grade is easy, but the length really tests your motivation. by the time we got to the top the sun was out and it was definitely time for a brew. while sitting near the horse shoe pit, we sipped on pbr and snacked on girl scout cookies and oranges. The perfect summit.
it was time for the fun part. single track all the way down to highway one. i’ve ridden it once before on shitbike and i still feel the rattling in my bones to this day. the path is heavily rutted and sprinkled with large stones. i figured my “mountain bike” would make the way more manageable and pleasant. boy was i wrong. i learn a lot of information about the history of bicycles through riding really shitty bicycles. this lesson was called: front suspension 101. you take a couple turns down the road and pop over a hill funnelling you into the single track leading down the mountain. before you know it you are hauling ass and flying through the curves left and right. you hit the ruts almost immediately and they begin to shake your whole body right down to your soul. at first it’s amusing. then it becomes a little bothersome. and then after a hundred feet of the vibrating roller coaster, it becomes intensely painful and distracting. you’re white-knuckling it, and trying to let go at the same time. you’re flying over the ruts but feeling every last one of them. for the bad mountain riders like me, this can only last so long. i knew if i didn’t brake, my bike would. soon enough i hit an edge, heard a bang, and felt the slithering of an empty tire beneath me. flat. i was happy to slow down for a second. we sit. i fix my tire. we take some photos. see a deer. we’re on our way again. down cobblestones’ big brother. don’t get me wrong, this was the most fun i have had in a while. it was as much radness as my mind could accept at any time, i was on overload and it was amazing, and scary. some people swear on rigid forks, i would have given anything for a tall boy at this point. i learned real quick why the suspension fork was invented, and why it is still being reinvented every year. a little while after my incident i heard another crunch and skid up the path. there stood brett in the middle of the path, not saying a world but looking at his back wheel. his derailleur had disappeared up into his cassette and we were both scared it had been severed completely from the hanger. a closer look revealed the problem. brett jiggles his derailleur a bit to see if it will come down, and out pops his pulley wheel. the pulley had become completely detached from the derailleur and one last bump had ejected it out of the arms and into the chain/cassette where is magically stayed until brett dislocated it to the ground. we look down knowing the nut and bolt are gone and we start coming up solutions in our heads. brett fumbles around the drivetrain for a second and whattayaknow, nut, bolt and bearing are all just sitting peacefully under the back tire. the great mountain bike gods were having pity on our poor souls, allowing us to survive the mountain in one piece.
bad times averted, we carry on down the mountain. a couple more ruts and then we are on the 1. there is a short and steep descent down smooth asphalt to another trailhead that takes us to another climb. the mongoose is like a motorcycle through the apexes and never lets go of the road. speeding down the hill like butter is an amazing contrast to the bike breaking mess we just came out of. we’re at the trailhead in no time. a perfect photo opportunity. brett reaches for his fanny pack (which by the way, is corduroy and matches well with his corduroy cutoffs) to find an open pocket but no phone. so that’s two rides, and two phones lost, a great record. the last place he remembered having it was all the way back on top of the hill. we turn around and start our trek up the mammoth climb. the sun is really coming out now and we are sweating our asses off lugging the old mountain bikes up the road. it’s like the brakes are on. the bikes are stuck in an invisible sludge, not allowed to move forward with any sort of ease. we summit and head for the trail hoping the phone is in the open, and still in one piece.
we encounter a couple of smart mountain bikers (those with springy things on their fork) up the way a bit and inquire. they smile and point immediately, “the two guys there! they have it!” two hikers are almost out of site, walking away from us up the hill. brett races toward them and starts yelling at them, in a polite way. we catch up and the hikers are as surprised as we are at the serendipity of it all. brett accepts his phone and offers his greatest gratitude and we are on our way again. down the water slide descent one more time. on to the trail one more time. we keep our phones pocketed, just in case.
there was on more hill to climb. this one was a bit more arduous than the last couple. this climb rises higher and faster than what we have been riding all day. we get in our little ring. or we try. my chain loves to just shift over and ride on top of the teeth of the chainring. it does it on purpose I swear. a little twitch and a bit of wiggle, and the chain falls into place. brett would be lucky to get that far, he sticks his foot in the drivetrain and kicks his chain over until it catches. we’ve got some work to do on the beasts, but for now it works. up the hill. the pain starts about three strokes in and continues as we rise up following switchback after switchback. up, up, up, up. it just goes up. i decide it’s time for another photo break and we stop. we eat the rest of the melted thin mints and breathe in the fresh air. time to move on. we’re treated to a rolling single track when we hit the first downhill. a crisp dry trail winding through what small amount of trees there are on the hill. a quick boost and then back to climbing. i know from before that we had only a small distance left and so i put my head down and trudged the rest of the way. we hit the peak, and it’s a glorious relief. the trail shoots straight back down so there’s no work to be done. we let the bikes take us to where the trail meets the 1. back on pavement. and back home.
another successful ride. another hill climbed. anther experience had.