If I was in a band … I wouldn’t be. I’d be a solo artist. I’d be Justin Timberlake instead of *NSYNC or Beyoncé rather than Destiny’s Child. It’s not that I don’t want to be in a band, it’s just that my schedule doesn’t always work out. But we’re talking about mountain biking and not singing. (BTW, I can’t sing … or dance).
Here’s how many of my mountain biking adventures and outings take place. (This is actually based on a true story … the name has been changed to protect the identity of the main character.) This morning as I was in the checkout line at the grocery and mindlessly bagging my own groceries it hit me … I want to go for a ride today. Sure enough, after I got home and put the groceries away I was changing into my mountain biking clothes and gathering together my gear and bike. However, there was a problem … I just wore my favorite kit yesterday so it was still in the laundry. This was no time for any fashion nonsense. I threw on a pair of jorts (you read correctly) and my favorite Vans hoodie and headed out … (I at least had the presence of mind to pack my Five Tens, knee pads, helmet, and gloves).
That’s how a lot of my trips are. Spontaneous. What that also means is I end up riding alone. Sure, I could call someone, but by that time I’m ready to head out the door to drive to the trailhead. Also, my schedule is usually tight so I have a narrow window of time to drive, ride, and drive home. My wife was working tonight so no dilly-dallying around. I had a 5 hour window. No time to call a friend to convince him he doesn’t need to mow his lawn and instead to go for a ride … and NOW.
So I headed out. Coffee mug in hand (I will always have time for making a pourover for the road) and a bag of my favorite sunflower seeds I was set. It was an hour drive into the Gorge to ride Whoopdee in Hood River. I was on a mission. No pit stops … not even to pee. I arrived at the trailhead, finished my coffee, geared up, hoped no one noticed my jorts and Vans hoodie, and began pedaling.
When I’m going out on a solo ride I usually pick a place where if things go south at least someone will find me … hopefully still alive. In my earlier days I had spent countless hours hiking and mountain biking in remote desert mountains in Arizona all alone. Looking back I now see how foolish and even reckless I was. If anything happened I would’ve been done for. So today I choose one of my favorite trails: Whoopdee. Since it is a one-way loop and there are always people riding I knew in the worst case scenario someone would be riding by soon if I went down. That’s another thing to think through when going out on solo adventures. Is it tame? Yeah, for sure. But since I had a 5 hour window I also wasn’t looking for anything hardcore like riding the Divide trail unaccompanied.
Surprisingly most solo rides turn out to be a community event. There definitely is a community among mountain bikers. Conversations with other riders was and is the normal part of trailhead etiquette. I ran into two guides from Idaho who came West to ride for the weekend. We talked about guiding as I used to be a mountain biking guide, where to access Whoopdee, the route, the climb out, and then of course comparing Banshee bikes.
While I set off on a solo ride it ended up being punctuated not only with friendly conversations, but the realization of how special the mountain biking community is. Whether it is conversations at the trailhead or out on the trail, at trail building days, or on social media it is a special community. Why is that? It’s obviously more than simply a sport like lawn darts or running (which no one really enjoys), but more like a family and lifestyle. Both are actually shaping influences in our lives if we’re honest. When we say we’re “mountain bikers” we’re not talking about some mode of exercise. Instead, we’re talking about a family … a community … and a way to self-identify. It’s pretty special.
I end up carrying way too much gear in my bag. Part of that is from years as a guide needing to be prepared for anything, but now I like to carry stuff other people may need. Not only have I come across numerous medical emergencies (and even fatalities), but I’ve given away tubes, maps, helped fix a bike to help a dude who broke his collarbone to pedal back to the trailhead, and more. I’ve also been the recipient of much help on the trail as well. The community is there and present.
I finished my ride with no mechanicals. Back at the parking lot I loaded up my bike, opened up my bag of sunflower seeds, turned on my Spotify playlist, and started driving home. Sure enough, I made it home and the whole trip took 4.5 hours. While it was quick and spontaneous I came away with a deeper appreciation for the mountain biking community. Even my solo trips end up being about riding with others. I have much to be grateful for.
Words and photos by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager.