I normally ride alone. Usually my outings are spontaneous and are times to disengage, reflect, and unwind. That's why out on the trail I have time to think about post-ride burritos, ponder new single origin coffees we want to introduce, and more. Yesterday was no exception. By lunch with my bike loaded along my sons and their skateboards we took off for Hood River. Actually, our destination was right across the Columbia River from Hood River in Bingen, Washington.
I dropped my teenage sons off at the skatepark and I continued on over to ride Syncline. It was a picture perfect day ... blue skies, warm but slightly cool temps, and pristine trail conditions. I was glad I decided to go to this special place. The challenge though, is that a few hundred people (at least it felt like it) were also at this special place. There were so many cars, trucks, Sprinter vans, and SUVs that I had to park a ways away. By the time I got to the trail I had already zipped by a score of hikers. Once on the trail and climbing I passed cluster after cluster of hikers. All of the sudden my day out and away felt like I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 in Los Angeles.
No, this is not a diatribe against sharing the trail nor some beef with hikers or anything like that. In fact, I enjoyed all of the conversations, hellos, and so on. I always make it a point to pause for hikers and be courteous. Nor is this some rant against overcrowded trails or anything like that. The reality is I could've picked some more obscure place and lost myself in the woods. However, what it did stir in my brain was this notion of "wild places." You see, if something were to happen to me out on trail ... a fall, a broken collar bone or ankle, or even running out of water there would be dozens of nearby helpers to assist. There's actually comfort in that. But what it did remind me of were places where I've ridden where a fall could very well be fatal.
It dawned on me that this wasn't a "wild place." It felt more like riding in a bike park. Again, absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, it did cause me to reflect on times and places where there was actual risk of riding. I vividly remember all of those mid-summer rides in the Sonoran Desert on the backside of nowhere ... alone. Things can go awry fast with temps soaring over 100 degrees (even though I rode early in the morning) and you're out on a 30 mile ride on the shoulder of a mountain range where you're hard-pressed to see anyone else. Every time I rode I had to mentally prepare for things going south like leaving my exact route with my wife, my expected time home, making sure I carry way too much water, and planning for any kind of mechanical that would end my ride.
But yesterday was more like strolling through a city park with people around. In an ironic twist I actually enjoyed it. Sure, there's always time to break away from humanity and go off the grid when you ride. At the same time there's always a place to ride where the wild places are not.
Words by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager. Photo by Jayme Hunter (@sanseajayme). Rider: @austentanney.