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You know your ride has gone sideways when…

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

The secret to getting lost–and having fun doing it–is to get lost wisely. By that I mean, I’m rarely ever truly lost in the sense that I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how I got to where I am, and I don’t know how to get back to where I started.

Instead, most often I get to a place I’m not anticipating, or the route I hope exists doesn’t exist. I know where I’m currently located, I know how I got there, but the way that I got there is so insanely miserable that I just can’t make myself turn around and go back the way that I came.

It all started off so well…

So inevitably I soldier on, and the ride devolves into walking my bike through the woods for a significant amount of time, and generally, it ends up being about 10 times worse than going back to where I started. It never fails: it’s just always worse hiking your bike cross country, pulling it through the undergrowth and slinging it over downed trees as you crawl over behind it.

But sometimes I think you need that–or at least, I do. The feeling of true adventure. The feeling of, “Oh shit, maybe I don’t know where I’m going!” or “Oh shit, I’m going to fall off that next cliff!”

I think that’s healthy.

As I try to solve problems and determine what my next move should be to get myself out of this royal mess I’ve created, everything within me comes alive. I find my mind working in overdrive, reading topo maps, looking at satellite imagery (if I’m lucky enough to have a signal), reading the mountains, looking for cross-country routes, following deer trails which dead end at steep chasms.

And sometimes, despite the hardship and the feeling of being lost, I end up connecting my intended route together, and everything is hunky-dory! And other times, I have to pull the plug and get out any way I can–and that’s ok.

Somehow I needed to make it down to that dirt road far, far below… without accidentally riding off a cliff.

Just last week, I was trying to follow one trail to connect between a road and another singletrack… and I ran out of trail. I was relegated to pedaling through wild meadows, dodging flowering cacti, bushwhacking along deer trails, before eventually determining that it would be highly unlikely that I could complete my intended route. I ended up pulling the plug by half-walking, half-riding down a drainage on a stupid-steep, loose mountainside, all the way down to a road many hundreds of vertical feet below me.

One thing I gained from this ride: a perspective of this valley that I’d never seen before!

Despite my intended route not working out, I loved every minute of it. The mountains were beautiful, but intimidating. The views were stunning. The riding was frustrating yet rewarding.

And through every moment of it, I felt completely and utterly alive!

So go out there and try getting lost. It might just be the most fun you’ve ever had.

I finally managed to make it to the goods!

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for anyone who takes my advice and gets injured, truly lost, or dies in the process. Mountain biking is a dangerous sport and it can turn deadly. In fact, I take no responsibility for anything that anyone else does at any time for any reason whatsoever–you are on your own. Accept the risks and be self-sufficient, or don’t mountain bike.

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# Comments

    • Greg Heil

      Hey Kevin, thanks for joining the conversation! While this ride was just a few hours and didn’t break 20 miles, I think that this ethos of getting lost while exploring can happen on some very short rides, or on some very long ones. In this case, I don’t think the specific length of the ride is the important part–I think venturing beyond where you’re comfortable is.

  • triton189

    “Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for anyone who takes my advice and gets injured, truly lost, or dies in the process. Mountain biking is a dangerous sport and it can turn deadly. In fact, I take no responsibility for anything that anyone else does at any time for any reason whatsoever–you are on your own. Accept the risks and be self-sufficient, or don’t mountain bike.”

    Sorry, disclaimer or no disclaimer I’m blaming you! Actually I don’t need anybody to tell me to get lost, I do it quite well all by myself.

  • mongwolf

    Ahhhhh Greg, with your mighty pen you have captured the joy of my favorite — and I’m soooo fortunate to say — common riding experience in Mongolia. Nearly every trail posted on the Singletracks database for Mongolia has been an adventure in discovering it. I always start by looking on Google Earth trying to identify and follow a small single track or two track that appears to be headed towards a certain desirable destination in the mountain forests. It never fails though that a clear and certain route cannot be determined on the sat image, and thus, the adventure begins. So I print a whole bunch of GE sat images and the local topo map on the Singletracks database; grab my compass, flagging, a whole bunch of extra water, food and emergency gear; and off I go not knowing if I will ever reach my destination. But I always know one thing. On that day I will have lived and lived like few others will live on that very day. Of course I have those days where I ride old familiar and beloved trails that I have discovered in the past, but even the re-ride of those trails brings back some fond memory of that first adventurous day. Ride on !!!!! And live the adventure !!!!! Life on this old earth is faaaar too short.

    • Greg Heil

      One of these years I’ll join you in Mongolia for an adventure!! Love the mental images you paint!

    • mongwolf

      That would be all time Greg. And speaking of pictures, that second picture in your article could be right out of the mountains surrounding the capital. A faint, sparsely used trail, seemingly quietly meandering into the forest, leaving one uncertain as to how far and where it might lead … … PERFECT. =)

      Where was the ride/trail you described in the article? BTW, all the photos were awesome.

    • Greg Heil

      Up near Bear Creek / Rainbow Trail. Not too far from town, but far enough to feel lost 🙂

  • Scott Cotter

    Ha, it’s as if you channeled my experiences exactly in this. I am notoriously incapable of reading maps (though Diane, my wife) disagrees wholeheartedly. So many times I’m riding and end up putting in many extra miles because of it.

    Just last week I took a wrong turn while riding the Pinhoti and what was supposed to be a 20 mile ride turned into a 32 mile slog with more climbing than my legs were interested in. It was totally awesome and only one of many I’ve experienced.

    I think our biggest growth comes when we get in over our heads. Not to the point of drowning, but far enough out of our comfort zones that we have to work harder, sharpen our thinking, get focused, and rely on that deep well of ability and strength that exists in all of us (that we forgot a long time ago). Use those to bring yourself back and you’ll be a better person because of it.

    I can’t stress this enough, however. Don’t go out and get lost unless you can: A) deal with the consequences and find your way back B) Have enough conditioning to handle the extra work that could result C) Have supplies to keep you moving along D) Stay clear of danger in a meaningful way.

    • mongwolf

      Great advice Scott. At 54 and having just started riding a few years ago, I find that B) is the number one concern for me mountain biking in the back country. Due to my work and just life as a kid growing up, I have years of experience in the forests and in the mountains and being off trail. Most of my life and time in the forests/mountains has been off trail. So A, C and D are not a problem for me and second nature. But as Greg has mentioned more than once, mountain biking is strenuous and much harder than many people think. Though I have hiked in the mountains for work for years and have run most of my life, neither prepared me well physically for the demands of mountain biking, especially in the mountains. I see points B and C a little related. If the extra work is going to require more than one might be able to handle, then you have to have the supplies with you to extend your time in the mountains as needed for recovery. For most of my new explorations in Mongolia, I come prepared to stay overnight. No sleeping bag or anything, just minimal stuff for an emergency over night.

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