Monday, December 5, 2011

Run to light from shadow ...

One of my all-time favorite songs is "Available Light" from Rush's "Presto".  To me, it's a celebration of genuine experience, of life lived with a sense of urgency, and the pursuit of sublime moments when we realize something significant is happening as it's occurring. My favorite lines are:

Run to light from shadow
Sun gives me no rest
Promise offered in the east
Broken in the west

As mountainbikers, we understand these themes. Notions of urgency and the pursuit of experience is a big part of what riding is all about. Most of us feel an immediate need to chase something - better fitness, a race result, an exotic destination, or even just that post-ride endorphin rush. What's more, the basic nature of riding guarantees a certain degree of existentialism on the part of the rider - the physical demands and the all-consuming focus required make "multi-tasking" a relative impossibility.

Chasing a moment ...
As the days have grown shorter, the opportunities to ride have themselves diminished, and many of us feel a greater sense of urgency now to get out on the trail while the weather still allows us a few unseasonably nice days.

Perhaps it's that dwindling opportunity for the experience that's led me to think a little more about what it is I am chasing. I spend a lot of my free time out on the trail. I ride pretty much year round. Even in these cruel winter days, I regularly dress up in my warmest winter gear, throw some lights on my bars and helmet and hit the trail a couple of nights a week. My race season may be over, but that hasn't dulled my desire to get out and ride every chance I get. One might wonder ... what light am I chasing?

This weekend, I had the opportunity to ride four days in a row. I have some vacation time to burn before the end of the year, so I took Friday off from work. I kicked off my long weekend Thursday night with a 15 mile ride in Valley Green, and followed this up with back-to-back 30 mile rides on Friday and Saturday in Middle Run in Delaware and Blue Marsh Lake near Reading, PA. Then Sunday morning, I was up bright and early to ride in Valley Green once again with a group of friends. This time we rode about 18 miles. That may seem like a lot of miles for an off-season weekend, but it wasn't about training. It was just a chance to ride. And it gave me some saddle time to think about why I spend so much time out there.

I can't say for sure I've got a definitive answer. But ...

Chase the sun around the world 
I want to look at life
In the available light

I think that's as good an explanation as I could ask for.

Riding is an available light. It gives me a view of the world I can't find anywhere else. The view from behind eyes squinting against the pain of burning muscles when I am at full throttle, the view of the world from some remote section of singletrack deep in a silent forest, and the view from that "racer" part of me that chases a notion of perfection even though I know I'll never reach it. It's a chance to suffer by choice, a chance to explore, a chance to be simply focused on just the few feet in front of you when almost every other moment you're awake seems to demand you juggle half a dozen things at once.

Most importantly, it's a light that has illuminated the very best things in my life - were it not for riding, I wouldn't know most of the people I now consider friends.  I probably wouldn't be fit and healthy. And I'd certainly feel the effects of daily stresses much more than I do now. Most of all, without riding, I'd have probably never met my wife. And after any long ride, when I'm just about running on empty, my focus sharpens on these best parts of my life to the exclusion of everything else. And for a moment, once again, the chase is done.

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