For the most part Oregonians never allow weather to derail adventure. But every now and then, Mother Nature spits out a bit too much rain with the temperature just a pinch too cold, and I snuggle in for a day at home like the endless Wisconsin winters of my youth.
I’ll daydream of better days prompting my screensaver slideshow into action. Then it catches me off guard. There it is. In digital color. A memory so wonderful that the chances of matching it someday appear to be futile.
Everyone has one, right?
I suppose if my treasured recollection unfolded at another time in my life, it wouldn’t live forever as a singularity. Life, however, forges a trail you must follow to be true to yourself. I call that destiny.
In our case, Debbie and I were married 14 years before we had children. We lived through and exhausted all the me years. From that point on, our daughters were our focus. So, sure, I passed plenty of opportunities in deference to my commitment to my girls. Even more so during my years as Mr. Mom, aka, stay-at-home-Dad.
Not long after dropping anchor in Eugene, Oregon, I managed to talk the local newspaper into allowing me to write a weekly outdoor column. My concept was simple: I’m new to Oregon, so readers, please share with me your favorite outdoor adventures.
The locals did not disappoint. From climbing a 400-year-old Douglas Fir, to whitewater rafting the McKenzie River, to scaling a rocky face at iconic Smith Rock State Park, readers enhanced my outdoor life. But none like the gang of mountain bikers known as the Disciples of Dirt. They didn’t save their best for last. Oh, no, they smacked me with perfection from the outset.
Well aware of my history in cycling — primarily that stint at VeloNews — they went for the jugular.
Hey Raz, they pitched, come out for some night mountain biking.
Mountain biking at night? Is that even a thing?
They gave me secret directions to the rock pile, where they led me to their private trails. Back then they had carved 14 miles of single track into the Coastal Mountains over the 10 years prior, and aptly labeled each section with descriptive names like The Intestinal Track, Bloody Stump, Redline and Stumps Don’t Win. Lord knows how many miles of trails the Disciples have forged since, this gang always busy as beavers, honoring the Oregon state animal.
I showed up with the relatively lame lighting system I relied on to commute to and from the newspaper before and after my 8-to-midnight part-time copyediting shifts. Everyone else sported lights that would make Dodger Stadium proud.
This winter ride would unfold in a relentless, cold rain that covered the best parts of the trail with an inch or more of sloppy, slick mud. Someone lent me a spare spotlight. I strapped it to my helmet and immediately learned Night Bike Riding Rule No. 1: Your field of vision isn’t just limited to your light, but your ability to aim that beam of light where you need it to be.
We headed out into the darkness of the forest, a line of brightly colored coal miners lighting up each other’s backside. The beauty of this bunch of guys and gals is that they could all ride off and leave me for dead if they wanted.
How do I know?
Oh, they told me so as we pulled away from the gravel pile, reviewing their security plan: Rip a section. Chill. Count bodies. Rip. Chill. Count.
I opted for clear glasses at the start to keep my eyes dry. Five minutes in, the condensation from my huffing and puffing rendered them useless. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of the rippin’, not chillin’. So I shoved the glasses in my mouth and realized the intricate web of mountain biking gear in the dark in the rain.
My glasses were apparently holding my helmet squarely into place. With no glasses, the helmet slid about 45 degrees to the right and slipped about an eighth of a turn around my head when we bounced over a tree limb I didn’t see until a millisecond before my front tire blasted over it.
Shortly after getting the knack of aiming my light on the trail, I now had to cock my head and tilt down to the left as I looked up out the corner of my eye, right where rain now drained off my hemet.
Picture Joe Cocker signing “You Are So Beautiful” riding a mountain bike.
In the rain.
In the dark.
After the first chillin’ a new challenge emerged. Without the industrial strength spotlights of my partners, I’d lose my laser lock on the trail as soon as my shadow, cast from the spotlight following me, blacked it out. Total eclipse. Over and over. Pure terror.
I drifted to the back of the group. I got dialed in. Davey Hallock, one of the group’s founders, rode in front of me, blurting out an occasional Yahoo! or Whippie! I came to understand Davey’s coded warnings from the layers of mud collecting on every inch of my body after we hit a Yahoo or Whippie.
Eventually we headed downhill on Redline, almost home. I was totally in the moment.
One with the night.
You know what they say about getting too comfortable, right? Davey yelled something that wasn’t Yahoo! or Whippie! The trail took a sharp dive.
Hmm. Did he just say … Br…???
A short wooden bridge no wider than a surfboard, transversed a rocky runoff. No time to think. Just time to, ah, crash. I pulled off one of my patented slow motion, easy-going mountain bike crashes that you live to laugh about it. Slowly losing balance, reaching down with my foot only to see that the nearest terra firma for said foot was about another eight feet down the ravine. Good night now.
Overall, an unforgettable experience. Frankly, the best bike adventure of my life.
In the months to follow I managed to make it out to one of their All Comers rides, more than 100 folks from all around the Northwest together for a day nearly as enjoyable as night riding.
I hit trail maintenance with them, too.
We met up at the Trailhead Cafe in Oakridge. My imagination ran rampant. Work boots replaced bicycle cleats. Jeans and overalls replace lycra. Baseball caps instead of bike helmets. A bizarre mix of Bruce Willis’ posse in Armageddon and John Wayne’s Hellfighters rolled through my mind. Getting organized was somewhat like watching cells divide in a microscope. Some action splitting off here, some there.
I overheard two of the certified chainsaw operators discussing some cutting scenarios. One pointed out the need to accurately think ahead, having run across a downed limb with a bend in it that snapped back about 10 feet as he cut. Had he been on the other side of the cut, the limb would have flicked him into the woods like a hiker dispatches a tick from his forearm.
We managed to disperse into the woods in two different directions — with both chainsaws headed down the same path for some strange reason — and spent a healthy four hours or so cleaning up the trails, eventually lugging the chainsaws both directions.
We cut some major trees with no major injuries, no tourniquets. In the end, it was nothing more than a long day of hard work on a great day in woods. In another period of my life, I could have — I would have — found more time for the Disciples. They represent the best of mountain biking.
No matter. They graced me with my greatest cycling memory, and when you’ve got a list of adventures like mine that flash through my screensaver, that’s saying something.
Time to ride.
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