"This relationship hurts me. I think I'm in love, " I texted my friend from across the country.
I stood astride a full suspension demo bike only one month after I, a roadie, decided to try mountain biking. He’d persuaded me to give it a go when I lamented sharing the road with the Boston drivers, the infamous Massholes. It was 2018. I was on the Kingdom Trails, Vermont at the annual MTB festival. My eagerness combined with complete lack of skills had propelled me over the wrong side of berms, into awkward entanglements of limbs and bike frame, through jarring bar-meet-tree incidents, and provided the painful awareness that flat pedals stick to shins as well as they do Stealth Rubber. Exhausted, muddied and bloodied, I was smitten. Happy as a pig in mud.
"Get the Transition. Ride more. Come ride the PNW, " was the message back.
Motivated by daily scrolling through the Tiger/Raging/Olallie FB page, a holy land with deeply impassioned disciples using a vocabulary I needed Google to decipher, I rode our New England trails every chance I got. I started this endeavor later in life so I had a lot of catching up to do…. if I could survive my enthusiasm. I broke a helmet against a boulder. I permanently changed the topography of my tibias. I developed such impressive hematomas I was convinced I would throw a pulmonary embolism.
It would be a year before the opportunity to spend a season in Seattle arrived. I took a sabbatical from my business and my professorship at the university. My best friends knew better, the mountains were calling. They packed my new Subaru for a one way trip.
3,000 miles and seven days after getting on I-90 in Massachusetts, I crossed into Washington. Westbound, I craned my neck across the highway at exit 27, but had to keep driving. My cats were anxious to get out of their rolling prison. My bike had been shipped ahead. Riding would have to wait another day.
Within the week, before I even had a bed to sleep in, I arrived on the back side of Raging and picked up a shovel to fill buckets of soil, part of a team of volunteers shaping what was becoming Canyon Creek DH. I would eventually focus on finding a paying job in my profession, but for now, I had a serious task: ride more, ride better. Use your dropper post. Make it through the lollipop loop in one day and don’t end up in the ER. Carpe Diem.
As necessary as hours on the bike are to improving riding skills, I find being part of the evolution and upkeep of a trail is just as valuable an instructor. Understanding trail architecture guides the vision of where your tires are meant to go, explains the calculation of approaches and exits, and uncovers the puzzle of a feature. Hours spent cleaning drains, filling brake bumps, and rehabilitating tread provide the evidence that effective skills, or lack thereof, have on the success of your ride and the health of the trail. You start recognizing the patterns that improve your own riding You develop both a sense of pride and humility through sweat equity you put in alongside friends, strangers, and trail dogs. You are awed by the skilled builders who woe nature into formation, even though no one can truly control such a powerful entity. The trails belong to no one, and everyone.
We all show up here to ride. For many of us, these trails are more than just a place to get exercise. They form our wounds but heal them too. The tragedy and isolation of such events as pandemics, are eased on these trails, because out here we are together even when we ride alone or keep the proper safe distance (the diameter created by the length of your rogue hoe).
Dirt isn't just an object in places like Raging River, it's a philosophy and an emotion. Out here we are Raging against the world, and we are all the happier and healthier for it. Pigs in Mud.