“See, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughing at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it….” – Man With No Name (from A Fistful of Dollars)
High desert landscapes allow plenty of space for thoughts to roam, sometimes too much space. No wonder Spaghetti Westerns are so popular, just looking at the landscape sets a tone. I should know by now that introspection comes with the territory during my own Carbo-loaded Westerns, but it once again sucker punched me on a fat bike excursion this past weekend up in some familiar riding grounds: the sandy trails near the Mt Santa Rosa National Monument. As usual, the damn surroundings got me thinking about things (see here and here for past posts about rides in this area to see what I’m talking about). Introspection is truly the curse of the high desert.
I’ve been fighting a cold for the past 10 days so I was a little hesitant and unsure of my fitness as I saddled up the fat bike mule for this ride. The high temps were forecasted to be in the 90’s, but out here in the high desert the morning was cool and crisp. I slung my frame bag over the top tube, dumped in my water bag and filled it with enough food to get me through the ride I had planned. While spinning down the trail I reached a gate.
I’ve ridden out here a lot over the years and I’ve never encountered this gate. Maybe it was the head cold speaking, but I felt a twinge of something when I stopped at this new barrier. The minor act of stopping and unhooking the latch seemed symbolic: something new was standing in my way. As the opportunity to second-guess myself presented itself I wondered if maybe I didn’t have what it takes to finish this ride today. Sure the gate was a minor inconvenience but it made me hold back for some reason, as I have been this entire summer.
Lately I’ve been preoccupied with other important things (job prospects, buying a home etc.) and something’s changed in my mindset. I’ve taken a few steps forward but have also stumbled off hesitantly in other directions. Maybe it’s part of getting older or maybe it’s because I’ve been burned a few times in the past, but whatever the root cause I just haven’t been “out there” much these past few months. My rides mirror my prevailing mindset; they have been kind of tame.
There was a time when I’d get crazy ride ideas then throw myself at them with all the confidence of a gunslinger. Like Clint Eastwood’s character in “A Fistful of Dollars” I could look up from the bottom of a mountain and confidently tell the coffin maker how many boxes he’d need to fill after kicking this ride’s ass in the impending shootout. Then I’d go fill one more for fun. If you’ve ever been at the top of your game and able to push your own personal boundaries (doing whatever it is that you do for fun) you know what I’m talking about. My guess is this is how a virtuoso feels while rippin’ it on a violin, or how Michael Jordan felt while dropping 62 points on the Boston Celtics back in the 1986 Playoffs. But even if it’s only something completely mundane like finishing a tough, daylong ride in fine style, it’s still a great feeling. One that you never forget once you’ve experienced it.
Back out on the trail at least my shadow was still confident, so we hopped back on our mule and rode off into the gathering day. We (shadows, dust, mule and I) finished the ride. My legs are still there, I just need to start pushing myself a little harder. Boundaries ebb and flow with the tide throughout life and one must fight to keep pushing them back…
Returning to the trailhead at the end of the ride I encountered a group of hikers who had just parked their SUV and were getting ready to head off into the desert. Usually I’m friendly to everyone I meet but today the introspection had overwhelmed my psyche and I avoided making eye contact with them from across the parking lot. While I attempted to block them out, a few snippets of their conversation entered my head as they laced up their boots and got ready to hike.
“wow look at the tires on that thing”
“funny looking bike huh?”
I shot them a sideways glance from beneath the visor of my helmet and said quietly to no one in particular.
“I don’t think it’s nice, you laughing….”