Same clay, different place

This ride offered an opportunity to take a few out-of-towners out to explore the “good stuff”, found in the hills outside the city.  These are roads I’ve ridden regularly over the past several years.  Secret routes and stretches, whose familiarity are a product of repeat rides, of escaping from the city to get a glimpse of something a little more raw.

My intimacy with these roads has worn itself deep into my experience. Oftentimes, my rides are like hanging out with an old friend: My motivation to spend time in the hills isn’t so much out of the novelty and excitement of what may happen, but more so for cozy familiarity.  I know I’ll achieve a needed sense of “return to nature”.

All the the broken concrete, gravel, and mud are but an inside joke.  Most of my ride companions over the years have learned to read me, and any suggestion of rough roads has taught others to turn heel and ride the other way.  No bueno.  So it’s more often than not, I seek out these stretches in solitude, and don’t often have the opportunity to share the experience.

It’s different when you take someone new to the area.  It’s fresh in a way that I’ve forgotten.  It’s easier to dupe someone into a dirty hike-a-bike.  Most importantly I get a glimpse of what it was like for me to ride it for the first time.  The whole experience is more visceral. I hear this excitement from others.  For instance, hiking the 2 km stretch of dirt soup, a conversation got started about how the mud was just like Oklahoma’s.  Having grown up in OK and played in the rust red dirt, it brings for me a different sense of familiarity: bright green vegetation set against orange-red earth, an unusual juxtaposition of color, the environment caricatured in Christmas tones.  It’s so unique, and not.

I’ve seen this same red clay earth, the world over.  I saw it in the remote hills of northern Thailand.  I saw it in the frozen flats of Inner Mongolia.  I shaped it into shoddy red pottery in the front yard of my childhood home. The earth’s the same, but the place is not.  For me, this is part of what riding bikes is about.

There’s the famous Mark Twain (in my opinion, overused) quote, which in summary states that riding a bike is the best way to get a feel for the world [because you’re forced to ride up all those god damn hills].  I don’t think he’s wrong.  But he’s a bit shy of hitting the mark.  The increased sense of familiarity you develop, with a place you ride, is accented by your ability to differentiate it from where you’ve ridden.  You see the dirt as a representation of a singular fact: You’re still on Earth.  The vegetation, the terrain, the people, the architecture, the history, the smells, and sounds, and taste of the air, all may feel a little foreign.

This forces you to peek inward and think about what’s not changed. The sensation of riding a bike.  The excitement.  The joy of being able to share the experience with others, who you know will pay it respect and bask in the beauty of the experience. It’s the addictive bit of exploring by bike. For familiarity breeds indifference.  The more you ride a road, the easier it is to overlook the importance of that moment, when you’re spinning along and everything’s just right because you’re on a bike.  You got yourself there and you may not know where you’re going, but that’s not a thing because, in that instance, you only recognize the exhilaration of movement.

This is what I enjoy most about riding bikes with others, old friends and new acquaintances.  No two people are alike, but it’s hard to find someone, who values this sensation, that I find tough to get along with.  Like the red dirt, it’s a distinct commonality, but in this case, between two or more seeming strangers.  We’re all out to ride and get stoked on riding.  In my book, that’s bound to make for fast friends.


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