I love mountain biking. It’s an inexplicable love, given the tears, bruises, and soreness that it sometimes (…ok, usually) entails. I have tried explaining to many confused friends the reasons why mountain biking is fun while one of my legs displays a blue and green bruise surrounding a still-moist cut that is a direct result of this love. I imagine that someone viewing one of these conversations from across the room might guess based on the other person’s reactions that I’m explaining my love for a chain-smoking boyfriend who can’t hold down a job. It always leaves the other person fairly confused and with very little to say other than “Well it’s not really my thing, but it sounds like it makes you happy.”
After leaving many of these conversations feeling disappointed with my inability to translate my affection for mountain biking into words, I think I can finally articulate my reasons for loving such demanding sport. In my mind, it’s impossible to untangle the physical act of mountain biking from the short road trip to the North Georgia Mountains that precedes some of my favorite rides. I live in Atlanta, which is known for its sprawl and its traffic, two elements that combine to create this extended mass of a city that has its own gravitational pull, making it hard to escape. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Atlanta, but that doesn’t diminish the excitement of escaping from it and all of the pieces of my life that takes place inside of it. As the car and the bikes mounted above it pass under the circular highway that demarcates Atlanta’s perimeter, I can feel the city’s pull diminish and I breathe a little easier.
Once the car finds that day’s trailhead, I have completely escaped the city’s inertia. My ride begins and everything disappears. I pedal away from the city, from work, from normalcy. For a couple hours (or if I’m lucky an entire day or a whole weekend) I get to pretend that all of existence is the woods and creatures immediately surrounding the trail and that my sole purpose is to fill my daylight hours with climbs and descents. It doesn’t matter that I have 87 emails in my inbox because I need to find the best line through this network of tree roots in front of my wheel. It doesn’t matter that my family is stressing me out about Christmas plans even though it’s June because I have 50 more yards of rocky, baby-head uphill to climb before descending the amazingness that I know is just on the other side of this peak. It doesn’t even matter that I’m so overworked that I have nightmares about my job because the shade feels nice and I finally found the perfect rhythm over those water breaks. In the back of my head, I know that eventually the ride will end and I will have to return to all of life’s normal stressors, but it doesn’t matter in those wheeled moments. My first priority is my front wheel and my second is the back.
Even if life won’t allow me to escape the city and I have to settle for an hour long in a nearby in-town trail, I still leave my phone at home, pedal off quietly on my own, descend into some hidden patch of woods, block out the city’s traffic noise, and give myself a short recess, a momentary vacation from life. Mountain biking is an escape, if only temporary, from the constant tweets, status updates, and other busy-ness that we normally prioritize.
Given the other forms of escapism in today’s world (reality TV, alcohol, drugs, most of the internet) I think I’ll stick with mountain biking.