Hey, Just Ride 42

Cycling nirvana.

The sweet scent of the towering pines and firs gets lost in desperate, heaving attempts to squeeze some oxygen out of light mountain air.

Tight, cramping legs cooled by the mile-thick rock beneath knobby tires. Long, dark shadows cast by a setting sun magnify the silence of solitude. One with nature. A spiritual experience.

These are times that define my soul, where the stresses of life get washed away with each stream of sweat leaping off my chin down to the worthless sheet of paper cradled in my shaking hands.

Forget about wars, hurricanes, or anything else that might make the nightly news. My reality is simple. The only truth of off-road exploration has grabbed me by the short hairs: Never trust a map.

Welcome to the Pisgah National Forest, outside of Asheville, North Carolina.

It could be the Arapaho National Forest outside of Grand Lake, Colorado.

Or the Teton-Bridger National Forest outside of Jackson, Wyoming.

Or the Sawtooth National Recreation Area outside Stanley, Idaho.

Or the Manti-La Sal National Forest outside Moab, Utah.

Heck, I’ve been lost in ’em all, facing this moment of doubt, when I sip water from my bottle like a martini, realizing it might have to last through the night.

I take a deep breath, play enni-menni-minni-moe, and head down one fork in the road knowing I’ll spend the night at the bottom — either at my campsite or alone in the middle of nowhere.

Oh, countless folks do their best to help me avoid such situations. There are topographical maps that cost $5. There are tour books that cost $8. There are college educations that cost thousands. But in that inevitable moment when that unidentified fork in the road arrives, it’s time to balance my spiritual checkbook. Karma is reality.

On this day, the sun is setting quickly. What the wonderful guide book described as a four-mile downhill is now six miles long. There should have been a fork with a gate after three miles. That’s what I printed out as my safety net. Instead, nothing.

Good news and bad news. Good news: an apple and energy bar should get me through the night. Bad news: no lighter or matches for the first time in countless rides because, of course, I was just heading out on a short, fun ride — according to that book.

The descent continues, on and on. Delirious thoughts race through my mind as quickly as the passing scenery. Ah, yeah, the Oprah episode on guardian angels comes to mind. Hmmmm. No doubt, tonight I’ll meet mine.

The miles continue to click off. Seven. Eight. Nine. The darkness brings on the cold. My sweat is dry. So is my mouth.

Suddenly, there’s life.

A sole rider ascending the mountain at dusk. Must be nuts. I slow, ask if this is the right way to the trailhead. He nods. He smiles. I smile.

Two miles later, familiar surroundings slow my heart rate. The dirt road gives way to pavement. Soon I’m at my campsite, starting a fire with the map, which finally becomes useful.

I laugh out loud.

My guardian angel is an over-weight middle-aged off-roader who heads up a mountain into darkness.

Without a map.

I should have known.

Time to ride.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    So where was that picture taken? Looks a little rocky for the Appalachians.

    1. John Rezell says

      Good eye. Got no photos of my Appalachian riding days. That’s outside Twisp, WA looking at the east side of the North Cascades

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More