Often times what happens early on ends up setting the trajectory of our lives or at least influencing us in some way. That first time you picked up a basketball and you were hooked. That first time you borrowed your neighbor's hockey stick and it somehow just felt right. That first time you listened to someone masterfully play the piano and you immediately begged your Mom to sign you up for lessons. That first time you remember riding a bike (banana seat and baseball cards in the spokes). As they say, first impressions are everything.
We can think of a lot of "firsts" in our lives. After I had been mountain biking for a few years I remember the first time I really dove deep into it. This was before machine-groomed trails in the time of small travel bikes and bar ends. Most of the trails I rode were actually cattle and horse trails that eventually mountain bikers began using. There were no circuitous loops, no berms, no smoothed out trails, and no wide trails unless we were on a jeep trail. Just raw trails with lots of rocks, roots, and deep ruts from erosion that would swallow your front tire if you weren't paying attention.
But it didn't matter (and I didn't know any different). The trails and experiences took me on journeys to the blank spaces on the map. The blank spaces were always a mystery. I'd sit with topo maps poring over them. I'd study the contour lines and the nuances of the changing topography. The blank places would show me new possibilities and it was venturing into this unknown that compelled me. To get out. To explore. And my bike was the vehicle to deliver me to those places.
I think about those times a lot now. In some ways I miss those days. Now I ride on designated trails built and maintained by local trail alliances (which I'm all for and behind). There's also the fear of wandering off on those "wildcat" trails because you don't want to blow it by riding on undesignated trails and land which would negatively impact the growth and support of mountain biking. I get that and I'm on board. I certainly don't want to cast a stick into the front spokes of momentum for mountain biking in my region. But I miss those days of cattle trails, heading out into the unknown, and those blank spaces on the map.
What was or is it about those raw trails and blank spaces on the map? Trails that were accidentally so technical that you were forced to progress in your skills. They weren't technical because someone built them that way. Instead because of cattle, horses, and erosion it created crazy trails that are void of berms, smooth table tops, and even flow. Just raw. Along with that was anticipation in wondering what was over the next ridge. Where is this trail taking us? Is it rideable?
Who cares. We're having fun following our front tire to the blank spaces on the map.
Words by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager. Photo by Ben Wurmser and Tina Gerber.