Why I go Outside

This was written while on a mountain biking trip in Moab. It was the fall of my second rafting season. A about four months after the first break up with my fellow musher turned girlfriend and one-time fiance, Emily. We were in sporadic communication throughout the fall and during this trip. While I was physically exhausting myself in Moab, my mind was clamoring for a foothold from which to make a decision over whether or not to try another relationship with her. Writing this essay brought to light a pattern within my sub-conscious: whenever a life event encouraged me to Grow—read: force me to accept my emotions and learn from them—I opted to push my body beyond known limits to distract myself from the emotions. There was also part of me that hoped I would know what to do afterwards, as if the trip would put me into a mind-space that would uncover the best path. In this case however, I did not listen to my intuition, but that is another story!

October 2016
Moab, Utah

                Sometimes life teaches me quietly, just under the surface, and it may be days before I realize the change. Moab is not one of those experiences. But then I did not come to find myself here, deep in the red deserts, for slow and steady, rather I came searching for hard and fast. Moab is home to slick rock: Massive petrified sand dunes jutting up and out of the Colorado Plateau. The slick rock is known by its smooth shapes, steep slopes, and sandpaper surface, that when combined, present a unique challenge and experience for people traveling on rubber wheels. Moab Valley is legendary for its rock. I wanted to see why.

                This trip had been planned for a year. Twice I canceled, just not the right time, but now, quite arbitrarily and without reason, my yearning to do something won out. I guess you could also refer to yearning as anxiety. Besides, what do I have this fancy mountain bike for if not to drive thousands of miles by car over man-made rock so I can pedal it over more rocks?

                You couldn’t ask for better weather. Blue skies, breezy, zero humidity, daytime temperature in the 70’s, and hardly anyone riding the trails. For three days I’ve pedaled till my legs fail. Up throughout the night with fits of Charlie horses knotting up my calves. Pursuing those precious minutes where my mind is clear from the clutter of student loans, bills, and the haunting insecurity of outdoor guide seasonal employment. The moment where society and stress melt away to be replaced with clarity forced upon me by the absolute specter of rock kissing flesh and bone. I want to be in the flow. Sure, I could meditate for an hour, and may do just that tonight in my tent, when I realize I can’t walk without muscles cramping, but right now I’m angling for quick and dirty.

                By most standards, taking a bicycle up, over, and down the boulders, ledges, ridges, and slopes of the red rock is… dangerous. It is. Yet, the rock is inviting in its own way. The rock is warm under the sun, its harsh lines soften with shadows like the face of an old friend; the sandstone’s sublime, wind-polished surface, beckons you near and nearer still, almost teasing you to explore its secrets. I increase gears and pedal harder. On the trail, it is easy to miss the beauty surrounding me when the approaching landscape demands complete focus, lest I wake up with dirt up my nose, tangled up in bicycle parts, my legs sticking through wheel spokes like the wicked witch. Up and over rocks, across sugar sand, it’s all effortless now as the world around the single track blurs into one brushstroke. I’m grinning wildly. Without warning, a jack rabbit, desert skinny and silent as only a rabbit can be, darts across the ancient sand dune. And without thinking, eight fingers grab two handfuls of brake lever—too much lever—my tires grab the slick rock, smudging the rock’s surface, and nearly throws me over. A quick head shake reorients me and I see the trail is now along the edge of the canyon. The Colorado River, snaking its way below, appears motionless from this elevation, and gives the impression that I’m standing at the top of the world. The wind whispers across my skin, I feel every hair on my arms and legs dance to its breath. An intense sadness floods through me, but before I can focus inward it disappears. I feel chastised, reprimanded even, like a child told to pay attention to an old woman’s story. Perhaps the wind was telling me to slow down? That just because I’m biking here, doesn’t mean that I am here. There must always be a balance. Did I drive a thousand miles into the heart of Utah to escape? Escape what even? Or am I searching? The answer is probably both. Black and white seldom bests gray. Standing here, overlooking Utah’s grand canyon, at the top of Dead Horse Point, no buildings in sight, at least not when I’m looking this direction, I feel at home. The best word I can think of is comfortable. Not the type of comfort associated with fluffy pillows and centrally heated brick houses. Instead, it’s the absence of those luxury amenities that relax and soothe my mind. I’m reminded why outdoor guiding is the longest running career I’ve had: the honor to share this feeling with people who likewise seek it out. By sharing, by safely guiding folk out of the city and into nature, they become more connected to Mother Earth, and when the time comes, they’ll help protect her.

                There have been other times I’ve felt this way. Like whenever I’m back home on the Chattooga’s clear waters, hiking through the cypress swamps of Florida, and among the mountains of Jackson Hole. All woven with the same threads: a need to be outside and a willingness to live without constraint; in other words, to live beyond my imagination. Maybe, the wind is just telling me to take a breather, that way, I can keep on living. So right now I’ll rest, enjoy the view, even breath a bit, and tonight plan my next trip.