The Land

The Land

For those of us who grew up in a flat place, learning to ride a bike meant developing a relationship with a machine. It was the device and us. Turns were just the way you looped from one street to another. Hills were just something to avoid because they required the ride up little interest on the way down considering the straight roads most of us live with.

Cycling has shown me the world. Introduced me to it in a way that nothing else possibly could. I know places flat and straight. I know places mountainous and thrilling. I know places hilly and intimate. When I was in my 20s, I was wowed by big mountains and the expanses they displayed. Today, those views, impressive as they are, can be overwhelming, a crowded party where I know few people.

I never understood agoraphobia until I had a chance to look out on a broad plain from up on the shoulder of a mountain. All that land. So much to explore. Too much. And in that, I became overwhelmed. It wasn’t a fear; it was the anxiety of too much.

Today, I find refuge in the hidden valleys of Northern California. Like the hollers of Appalachia, there are remote folds that may contain watchspring singletrack, a water fall, an exposed shoulder that looks upon a river below. Each view carries the reward of the unique, where sameness seems as impossible a concept as exploring each of those undulations could take a lifetime, getting to know just one, yet another.

Stir in the whimsy of weather and suddenly each microvalley wraps itself in the shroud of mood. Not only can a clear July day differ from one soaked in rain during the winter, but fog sweeping in from the ocean can render the most familiar place foreign as family to an amnesiac.

That I should prefer a landscape rife with quirks, says something of how I love, that I want surprises, that the stalwart’s schedule should strike me as a personal desert, as devoid of the need to variation as the straight road running past pasture. I’ve a need to explore, to encounter the unknown and to coax its secrets into view.

The self that reveled in the way a road changed the faster I went on it surrendered. Surrendered to the tick of time. Surrendered to a need for fresh interaction. I didn’t exactly know what I sought at first. What I realize now is that I hunger for land that refects my own heart, a place untamed, where the wrinkles inform the route and where getting lost is how I find myself.

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4 comments

  1. Neil Winkelmann

    Lovely piece. My own preference is to simply walk into the wilderness. I like the sense of land and of place without the distraction of an activity. It is perhaps one reason why I am not a passionate mountain biker.

  2. TomInAlbany

    It’s funny, Patrick. I definitely remember going well out of my way to avoid hills when I was a kid. My bike had three speeds (internal gearing) but still, it was about getting around for low cost! I lived in a small city that was fairly flat right near me but, as my perimeter began to grow – with or without parental consent/knowledge – I had to either cross the river (to more flat!) or go up the hill. A few years ago, I took my old self and my 2×9 Serotta back to the old neighborhood. How small it seemed. And the hills didn’t seem that big either. But, I still found my fun.

    Nowadays, I find myself on the bike. Even when I’m not looking for me…

    Another great, thoughtful piece!

  3. Thomas Oates

    Nice.
    This is how I feel about the NW. It is where I feel at home on that “elemental level.” I wither without it.

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