Monthly Archives: September 2012

Pedaling For Gold

Staying with thoughts from my last post, I’ve quite enjoyed this process of disconnecting myself from the information overload that’s become so common anymore. I won’t lie and tell you honestly that for a few days I sort of had withdrawal symptoms from it, but I’m the kind of person who when they make up their mind to do something I don’t do it half assed. I read somewhere where giving up Facebook, an iPhone or any other such information source or gadget of convenience is equivalent to quitting smoking for a long time smoker. Ironies in that particular comparison? I’m happy  I never got to that point. That’s just sad to think about.

I can’t even begin to tell you how irritating and insulting it is to me to go to dinner, a concert or whatever with people who instead of investing in the face-to-face time with the people around them, they cannot, and will not cease from constantly checking their mobile devices. What that tells me is that our time together simply isn’t as important as all the Facebook posts or texts from the hundreds of other contacts they may have. I truly find it hurtful and disrespectful.

I actually have a few friends who don’t do this despite having the latest in mobile technology. Conversely, a few of my friends are just like me in that they are still rockin’ totally ghetto cell phones without the ability to download apps or access the internet in any way. But yes, I have some friends with pretty fancy, ultra thin phones which are high speed gadgets likely more powerful than this three year old MacBook I’m typing on. These friends rarely use them when we’re talking, enjoying beers, riding, skiing or having dinner. If they do, it’s usually to access Google to settle a friendly argument, search for the name of a song we’ve spent an hour trying to think of or track weather or maybe GPS data when we’re in the backcountry. If you’re reading this and you’re one of these people, thank you.

This past weekend I went up to Summit County to ride with my friend Lu. Lu is one of my best friends and when we have the chance, we try to get out and hit the trails around Breckenridge on our mountain bikes or in the winter, get in an early morning skin and ski. With a now 5-year old daughter (who is so cute it’s ridiculous), she and Todd naturally have their time filled with lots and lots of stuff and because that time is a little more precious these days, they truly appreciate their time spent with friends in the backcountry. Awesome, awesome friends, period.

Anyhow, Lu’s birthday was a few weeks back and as much as we tried to plan a ride for that day, or at least close to the actual day, it just didn’t work out. Disappointed, we agreed that before the snow started flying  this autumn we’d find a day and do this ride she’d been thinking about for a couple of years. Well, this past Sunday was the day. Let me say right here that Lu is a strong rider (and tele skier, etc, etc) so I knew going in this was going to be a big day. It was after all, The Birthday Ride. The ride she’d planned out was actually a combination of five high altitude classics in and around Breckenridge. All in all the ride would be approximately 45 kilometers (~28 miles) in distance and close to 2,000 meters (~6,000 feet) of climbing, none of which was below 2,800 meters (9,300 feet) in elevation.

I’ll spare you all the grim details of the ride, but suffice it to say that Todd dropped us off mid morning and we we immediately started climbing up and over several steep ridges only to plunge down to the next high meadow or valley where we’d start climbing once again. Repeat that scenario for a little more than five hours and you’ll get the picture.

The riding was amazingly beautiful, crushingly exhausting at times and always deliciously fun. The views were unparalleled anywhere in the Rockies and likely North America. The best part of the day however was simply spending it with a good friend doing what we love to do and being totally disconnected from all the distractions that have become so common they don’t even seem like distractions anymore. Lu and I weren’t always close enough while riding to talk and sometimes when we were climbing up steep, rocky singletrack and actually were close enough to talk, we simply couldn’t spare the oxygen to share words. But when we’d top out on a climb, or catch up with each other after a long, fast descent, we’d bump fist and invariably say something prophetic like “strong work my friend“. We’d chat for just a few about life, about the views or maybe about how much our quads were getting smashed.  Never did we once check text messages or even think about updating a status on Facebook (Lu doesn’t even have a Facebook page!).

As we clicked off mile after mile and vertical meter of climbing after vertical meter of climbing, our smiles grew at a correspondingly increasing rate. That’s the measure of  wealth and success in my little world. It’s not the kilometers ridden or the vertical meters skied, it’s the number of smiles shared with the people you love doing the things you love. There’s no app for that.

As we stood at the base of our last climb of the day, another steep, 600-meter painfest up a rocky ridge, we danced around the thought of bagging it and just riding the easy valley path back their house and calling it a day. After all, we’d already put in a huge day of climbing and there was nothing to be ashamed of in ending it there. As much as we tried to convince ourselves it was okay to take that option, we both knew what the answer would be. A sip of water and a little nibble on a energy bar and we began climbing again.

There were four tired legs hammering at those pedals and it didn’t take long before we verbally started discussing the stupidity of climbing that ridge. Despite the swearing and grunting, we could still always find a laugh at the lunacy of our exhaustion. At one point, to break the monotony during a long section of smoother climbing, we talked about how after all the miles we’d already ridden, we hadn’t actually ridden through an aspen grove. We’d seen lots of colourful groves, but strangely not one trail we rode actually went through one. Disappointing.

Near the top of this climb, the trail tuned rocky, rooty and generally just shitty. Had we not had legs that were almost rigid from lactic acid, this section may not have seemed so difficult, but we had those legs and it was difficult. Just as we hit the top of the ridge, all the pain from the overworked legs vanished. Not because the climbing was over, but for the first time in almost five hours of riding we emerged in an aspen grove. We both stopped and simply took it in for a few minutes. The ground was gold, the air was gold and as weird as it sounds, it even smelled gold. Again, we managed to say something acutely oracular like, “wow“.

We spent a few minutes taking in the views from the ridge top, taking a couple of photos of the leaves with a real camera, not an iPhone, then mounted up for the rocky descent down to the last section of trail that would lead to their house. Much to our delight, a large part of the remaining ride was laced with aspen groves in full autumn colour. We didn’t need to share it on Facebook, or Tweet about it or even talk about it. It meant more to just share it with a friend and not wreck it with words.

Five hours  and ten minutes after starting, we rolled into Lu’s driveway, bumped fists again, gave each other a little congratulatory hug and thanked each other for a good day. No more words to ruin it. A simple thanks said it all.

I spent a whole day doing something I consider one of my best days on a mountain bike without one time being connected to the outside world. Yet, I had never felt so connected…with a friend. There’s not a 5G network on earth that can match the power of that.

Thanks Lu.

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I Just Want to Live a Real Life (in more than 140 words)

Photo by Eleanor Moseman

My good friend, Eleanor Moseman (www.wandercyclist.com and www.eleanormoseman.com), and I recently had an interesting conversation about her current project of solo cycling around the borderlands of China and this other dude’s project who rode a motorbike along all those same border countries as part of a television series.

Both he and Ellen have covered more than 20,000 km, she on a bicycle him on a powerful BMW moto, have seen some amazing sights, had interesting adventures and explored incredibly diverse cultures throughout their travels. However, as correlated as these two projects may seem on the surface, I find one far more meaningful than the other. Yes, I’m naturally biased since Ellen is a friend, but I also have some valid arguments for my thinking.

Ellen is an amazing photographer (this is the biased part I referred to above) who has been cycling solo, as in completely by herself, for the better part of two years exploring the vanishing cultures of remote areas of Asia. She’ll hopefully take her photos of these vanishing cultures and her associated adventures and use them as an invaluable educational tool to people who are truly interested in learning more about the region and peoples of where she’s lived and traveled. Seriously, check out her work. It’s honestly pretty amazing.

The guy on the motorbike, who obviously had an entourage of cameramen, fixers and producers, completed his journey in a blisteringly fast 65 days. His journey will now be edited down into six 30-minutes episodes of which 10-12 minutes of the half hour programme will undoubtedly will be festooned with his sponsor’s commercials.  Yep, I’ve watched the trailers from his show and yep, they’re pretty darn cool and have sooo  much promise. However, and this is my opinion only, these are going to be nothing more than shows geared toward our increasingly ADD-prone society who can only take adventures crammed into an amount of space which won’t overly detract from the other 100,000 things coming at us at mach speed. 

A few weeks ago I decided to divorce myself from Facebook and every other form of social media or “connectedness”. Basically I got to that point where it felt like life, as I mentioned above, is being lived in sound bites or collapsed into 140 words or less. And furthermore, Facebook has become not much more than a platform for people to spew their ignorant and irrellevant political opinions, cast out to the masses for reaffirmation of their religious views or a tool to keep us all abreast of their latest riveting trip to the toilet, what they ate for breakfast or what music they’re listening to via Spotify…or whatever else the “app de jour” is.

One of the things Ellen and I talked about (okay, mostly me) was how it seems that people do things now based solely on how cool it will sound in a post on Facebook or twitted or tweeted or whatever the hell a person does with that thing…maybe twatted? I’ve never followed anyone on that and never will. Part of my point was that I believe there is a monumental shift in the motivations people have to live the way they do. With Facebook or Twitter or whatever, everyone now has a megaphone and the race is on to see who can shout the loudest or be the “coolest” amongst their peer group. Pathetic. Remember, being cool on Facebook is like sitting at the cool table in the cafeteria at a mental institute.

It wasn’t too many years ago when I could go climbing, road tripping, mountain biking or skiing and my friends and I would spend a whole day hanging out, talking and doing the things we loved just for the sake of doing it. I have a core love of telemark skiing, mountain biking, ice climbing, long distance running, world travel and road tripping in my increasingly used 10-year old Toyota truck. The love of these things existed long before everyone was handed their cyber megaphone and they’ll exist long after the next app falls from favour. I do these things because I love to do them, period, not because it’d be cool to post something about it Facebook.

True story. I went hiking recently and literally before I could get back home, my friends on Facebook already knew I was out and about and had commented on it because the person(s) I was with had posted a picture on my page using their cell phone app. I’m going to be honest here and say I don’t want the world knowing what I’m doing every second of the day. I don’t put personal things on Facebook and for the most part I don’t want other people “outing me” regarding my whereabouts without me knowing about it first. That said, I was then forced to wade through the ocean of crap on Facebook and figure out how to make my settings such that I will now have to approve what my friends say about me or tag me in. Stupid.

Anyhow, my point or argument to Ellen about the documentary series was that society as a whole will undoubtedly eat it up because it doesn’t require much in the way of long commitment or require much in-depth thought. They can sit down in front of the tele, get 20-minutes of awe-inspiring footage with enough commercial time for them to check and update their Facebook status during the show, then move on to the next part of life that can be reduced to 140 words or less.

The other side of my point to Ellen was that her project will most likely appeal to people like me, who value the mortar holding all the trials and tribulations of solo expedition travel and the corresponding striking images together. I’m equally as interested in what it was like to be there as I am in what came out of it. In our conversation I actually posed this question to her, though I already knew her answer. “When you roll into a remote village, do you look first for the photo ops, things that will “sell”, or do you immerse your soul in the moment and let the photos come to you organically?”. Take one look at her work and you’ll see she’s actually living her life first and foremost. Her work is from the heart and it shows.

I’m glad the few people I ride, ski, climb, philosophise and roam around this planet with see the importance of just letting the moment be what it is and living life on boundless terms… not in 140 words or less.