In the summer of 1989, ahead of the first of a couple decades-worth of the Tour de Wolf—which became the biggest mountain bike race between Atlanta and Denver—friends of mine put out word that they’d be out doing some weed-whacking and other bits of trail maintenance on the race course. I didn’t much see the need or the point—I’d never seen a mountain bike race with even 50 riders vying for the hole shot, much less 100 or more, and if I wasn’t required by some higher authority (like a governing body holding my license, not an omniscient being), there was no way I was going to give up my Saturday ride to do yard work on a yard that was not owned by my family.

Selfish? Yup. That was me in my 20s.

I sometimes think of that time, that guy I was, and I wonder how many people I could have called at 2:00 am and said, “I need you, a rug, a pickup, a shovel, a 50-lb. bag of lime and no questions in one hour.” I think there might have been a few, but there might have been some questions, regardless.

It’s true that I try not to find myself in a circumstance like that, but it’s also true that my family of choice goes a good bit deeper today than it did back then. Today, the only question is who I’d call first.

I believe that owes to my engagement in my community. If we need to do some trail work, all I need to know is when. The evolution in my thought isn’t just that I need to give to belong. I can now look back and see that my epiphanies were small, but numerous. I realized that I needed to give back to be accepted. Then I realized I needed to do more than the bare minimum to matter. The shift that was both most subtle and most significant came when I began to perform not just the trail work that was necessary, but the trail work that would soon be needed. In doing the work that some riders would never notice, my actions re-taught me the lesson that I grow when I give, that in giving without recognition I gained something I’ve never been able to put into words.

Two weeks ago the land on which my favorite trails run began to be logged for the first time in local memory. We are locked out, something like the inverse of the expectant father, wondering just how bad the damage will be when we return next month. Many of the trails my friends cut will be not just damaged, but unrecognizable.

My intimacy with these trails dates mere years; I’m the new guy, still. These trails aren’t synonymous with my history in this sport, so I’ve wondered why I suffer so with the knowledge that this wild place will enjoy the grace of a few dozen fewer redwoods. What I’ve come to realize is that in being accepted by this community, their suffering has become my own, that in seeing my friends anguish, I feel it as my own.

What I’m waiting for now isn’t the chance to ride again, but to begin the repair. I don’t want to do my part. I want to do all I can.

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  1. khal spencer says

    Good essay, Padraig.

    Reminds me of 2011. My wife and Yours Truly joined a hike led by a local naturalist to look at the biggest, oldest trees in Los Alamos County, up on the trails leading up to the Jemez Mts. It was awesome, as some of these trees were something like ten feet diameter at the base. Not old growth redwood size, but for here, massive.

    A week after that hike the Las Conchas fire roared through the area of the hike. Those trees are gone forever and given climate change, may be replaced by species needing far less water. Well, at least we saw them. Didn’t know it was goodbye, though.

    We give back because we have to look in the mirror, not because others look at us.

    1. Padraig says

      “We give back because we have to look in the mirror, not because others look at us.”

      That’s beautiful, but then, truth is aways beautiful.

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