If you were plucked from your bed and suddenly stood on the precipice of the Rio Grande Gorge during a blizzard, waders on and gear in a pack, you would be nothing short of dismayed and miserable. But if you slowly replaced the comforts in your life with the things that make you the most stoked, then standing in terrible weather with a long day ahead of you would suddenly feel like the greatest gift you could imagine.
When I stood looking nearly seven hundred feet straight down at the blurry inky line in the gorge, I was ready to be at the bottom. I saw something true in the swirling snowflakes, saw the plain reality of the situation in all of its scenic splendor. The inputs came through loud and clear. This is usually not true; most days I bounce around with a ringing head and only the vaguest sense of what it is I’m supposed to be doing. We are too adept at treating the best days as an exception rather than a rule. Through all of the cold and wet, I caught a cutbow trout that I will remember for the rest of my life. And the feeling of its heft finally resting entirely in my net was so visceral that I could feel time fading away all around me.
It is impractical to choose stoke over sensible, it is imprudent to build a life around the things that make you feel alive.
But the alternative is this: long days spent doing whatever it is we are resigned to doing and long nights spent sitting on the internet, daydreaming about which toys we will buy with the money we made all day.
Getting hit by a car while riding my bicycle changed a lot of things about my life. One of them that I rarely mention is what it did to my relationship with the art of bicycles. I felt betrayed by the local culture, the way friends seemed only to be there when I could hop on group rides and not when I couldn’t hop out of my own bed. The emphasis people placed on the form of cool bikes over the function of practical ones. I went from enjoying photographing the sport and tinkering with things that were enjoyable to use and beautiful to look at to coldly buying the simplest, fastest bikes that fit my budget. Brutally functional. Don’t stop to take pictures. Definitely don’t build things that you think look cool, because others might think you’re one of those people.
This was a strange shift; even though much of my return to two wheels was spent on a ‘cool’ and impractical steel road bike and on a mountain bike deep in the woods of every trail system in North America, there were precious few times when I let myself enjoy the stoke of the intangible elements of the sport. I rode to bury my demons and to get back in shape. I hated acknowledging the side of cycling which cared more about how cool you are than how much you ride your bike. So I stopped acknowledging things that I think are cool at all.
I let this pragmatic approach creep into things that are purely passion. I tried to iron the art and feeling out of bikes so that nothing could hurt me except the self-inflicted pain of pedaling harder. I had fun with cars then pushed them away and replaced them with practicality and monthly payments. One could argue that this is growing up, that playing with cars and bikes and fly rods is the epitome of first-world inanity and over-evolution. But it is difficult to attract the company you wish to keep when you cease wearing your heart on your sleeve and replace it with a business casual button-down. Why would you want to grow up if you and everyone around you are just lying about what matters to them in hopes that you’ll all impress each other?
This past weekend, I did my first mountain bike marathon. Over forty miles of difficult trails, nearly two hundred people, no breaks from start ‘til finish. I didn’t have the right setup for carrying enough food or water. I didn’t really have the “right” bike for the job. For someone who’s ridden and raced bikes a lot, I pretty much felt like I had no idea what I was doing at all. And it was intoxicating. I couldn’t confidently suppress the jitters or logically know that my passionless tools were perfect for executing the task at-hand. All I knew was that lots of suffering was imminent.