My friend Steve has given up. Not something inconsequential like beer of cigarettes. No, he has given up “ insert gasp of horror here “ Mountain Biking.
Now this is important. No really, it is “ Steve was one of the first guys which the Internet biking revolution washed up on our local trails He was, in no particular order laconic, amusing, smooth, fast and quite old. But what I remember most was that Steve embodied the manic catalyst for trips away from here, to far distant places steeped in proper hills, adrenal danger and forever memories burned in from happy retinas.
And it was Steve who waxed, with almost fundamental eulogy, over a pilgrimage to the undisputed Mecca of Mountain Biking “ we are, of course, describing the complete fat tyred experience that is Moab in the Utah desert. This is a place in which beats the pulse of every mountain biker, it drums to the heartbeat of fast moving wheels and taps out a melody that will make you dance until you are too old, too scared or just plain dead.
He was right of course, but it was five long years which passed between youthful planning and somewhat more grizzled bike portage at the airport. This mini epoch traced the delta which transformed Steve from enthusiastic evangelist to grudging passenger decayed by one huge crash, perennial illness and a slide into middle aged apathy.
But still when he did ride, he rode like the old pro we fondly remembered. Forgoing the marketing fetish for body encasing armour and serials hits on the jumpy adrenalin gland, he just got on his bike and plotted a fast route down, in tune with the mountain while we were busy fighting it.
Moab is not simply defined; it’s an unworldly fusion of mesas, buttes, arches and canyons “ the leftover desertscape created by cyclical ages of cataclysmic upthrusts and slow, patient erosion by water, ice and wind. And it can be an unforgiving place with sharp rocks and spiky vegetation poking through otherwise perfect trail dirt. Steve’s short travel bike wasn’t quite enough to compensate for too little riding and too much square edged geography, so pitching him “ often – over the bars deep into the bleeding zone.
And while Moab can break your body and “ as if you still care “ your bike as well, it absolutely is the one place that you must ride like the champ you are before you die. If there is one trail which combines epiphany, ecstasy, blind terror, bucolic beauty and just the insane bloody love of riding mountain bikes, Porcupine Rim is that trail. Pass me my will “ I have found the final resting place for my ashes,.
So “ knowing this “ we guilted a grumpy and uninterested Steve into riding it one final time. His friends knew he was ready to quit and if that were to be his fate, then the creed of our silent brotherhood was that he was going out with a bang. Possibly with an air ambulance as well but it’s important to focus on the positives.
And ride it he did, speeding off with race face in place leaving us standing slack jawed, teetering with vertigo at the cliff edge. It wasn’t until, some six kilometres of heaven sent trail later, that any of us caught up with Steve as was happily dipping his feet in the Colorado river. By which time it was clear he had ridden it firmly in the old school style; wheels on the ground, eyes on the prize, crafting sympathetic lines and carving perfect apexes.
Much later in the pub, still with shit eating grin still firmly in place, it was obvious that he had quit proper mountain biking. Oh sure, we’d still see him out occasionally but not like this “ you can only reach nirvana once, after which you are just kidding yourself. Steve wasn’t kidding, he knew that it was never going to be this good again so why risk death by a thousand cuts when you can go out, flat out with your tail on fire?
If this reads like an obituary, then I guess that is because is sort of feels like one. Steve and I go out for a beers every few weeks and we talk of things we’ve done rather than stuff we’re planning to do. And while that is still a fine way to spend an evening, it dings the mental bell that only about five more years can pass before age dulls reactions, replaces bravery with cowardice and refuses to have anything to do with bloody minded pain and suffering.
And because I want to finish on the same high as Steve, I don’t intend to waste a single minute between now and then. So pass me a bike and point me towards the trails, I’m going riding.