What if I told you
you had to touch it
to make it real?
Trace a finger across
or lower a bare foot into an eddy
nudging a leaf with your toe.
If I told you it was there
could you believe me?
Have you ever felt a cool bed of polished granite?
Can you know what you’ve missed?
I don’t believe myself sometimes,
second-guessing hazy memories
of alpenglow in the peaks
and sheet after sheet of waves
whipped by gusts across a lake.
Compelled to return, time and time again
to inspect the flow of creeks
and the decay of boulders
-to confirm that it is all as I have left it
that it is all still real.
When recalling the cold indifference
of midnight air
stinging the lungs
-I can see it, feel it so clearly in my mind
and yet I’m shocked upon return.
Recollection is untrustworthy.
I have come to trust rain,
the loneliness of stars.
Abandon the idolatry of memory.
Press your feet into the soil and trust their weight.
Trust the mule deer
slowly edging a hillside
-stopping, nostrils flared and ears erect
winding me, locking eyes
a nonhuman witness confirming the present:
I have arrived.
(Images and prose from a 4 night/5 day solo hike in the Upper Kern Basin just before the summer fires of 2020).
The cranks turn, over and over, and my mind wanders as I pick a line through ruts and rocks and drifts.
Picking a line.
Perhaps this is the crux of the issue, of why I am never quite certain that cycling or bikepacking is as therapeutic as walking. The background energy needed to operate a machine at speed seems to dictate a different sort of thought, a different mental pace.
Not better, not worse. Different.
On the climbs I am certainly drawn into a smaller sphere; attention is required to watch the line, getting lost in breath, watching sweat drip on the top tube. But it doesn’t seem to allow for watching the birds or scanning a treeline or wondering about cloud formations. Walking is slow enough that attention to foot placement requires less conscious attention. Walking thoughts are expansive, with space for the external world should you allow it to enter. The bike tends to draw me into an inward space, an experiential sphere existing in a small radius extending from my front wheel, all else a relative blur.
And then there is the descent, often with little time for thought at all; maintaining the line reigns supreme. To think is to hesitate, to hesitate is to find oneself laid out in the rocks. A flow takes hold, very akin to the experience of surfing a wave, an everflowing present uncoiling beneath the wheels. While there is something to be said for 8 miles of downhill and being home for coffee by 9AM, a side of me always feels that the speed has robbed me of playing witness to the gray fox hidden in the chaparral or the tanager perched in the crook of an oak’s arm.
That we evolved on foot no doubt plays a role in the syncing of pace and thought, the bike a technological and comparatively obnoxious intrusion.
This weekend I’ll be walking overnight. But don’t get me wrong; there is something to be said, time and time again, for being home for coffee beside my wife by 9AM. Sometimes we simply have to cheat to fit it all in.