I’m feeling old today. I’m riding this damned bike up this damned hill, and I’m feeling old. My old knees hurt, my half-healed rotator cuff hurts, hell even my butt hurts. I’m feeling like a battered old man with a battered old body, and I’m climbing up this hill for no good reason that I can discern. I was up ’til nearly 4am after too much coffee yesterday. So now I’m riding on 4 hours of sleep, and I’m tired, and I hurt.
I planned to leave by 8 or 9, but ended up with morning grandpa duties instead. So now it’s past noon, and it’s hot and muggy as a rainforest. I struggle up the climbs, unsure of where I am. Switchback 12? 10? Is this climb ever gonna end? Finally, I reach the crest, head up the red leg, and top out on the ridge. And I realize I’m done. Spent. No más.
I hang my head in shame; I’ve made this climb dozens of times before. Hell, maybe I am getting too old for this. Maybe it’s time to shelve my knobby tires. But then the breeze picks up, and I raise my head and take a look around. No one here at the top but me and the trees. Nobody else out here, busting their hump and climbing the mountain on a sticky July afternoon. 15 switchbacks and I didn’t push a lick of it, I think. Guess that’s not too shabby for an old guy charging past the double-nickel.
Some perspective filters in, like sunbeams through the leaves, and I see instead that this isn’t a fail. I rode my bike up to the top of this friggin’ ridgeline without so much as someone to holler “Attaboy!” And if I want to skip the rest of the loop, and just roll back down the mountain, then I’ve damn well earned it. So I turn my bike around, grab a quick drink, and point the wheels downhill. I get two cranks into it, and the wind washes away all my doubts. I catch some air, and my soul starts to fly. I dodge the big dead oak without even tapping my brakes, with just a little side hop and a wiggle. And I realize once more, that I belong here, that I deserve to be here: on my bike, in the woods, riding like a crazy old geezer.
I feel like a kid again. I’m flying back down the mountain, and I feel 30 or 20 or maybe 12 years old. My bike’s bucking and bouncing like a pissed-off mule, and nothing hurts except the grin on my face. I feel strong and alive, without a pain or a worry. I hit a string of four hops in a row, and laugh like a fool for no good reason. I drop through the last pack of switchbacks, then roll to the end of the trail, feeling blessed, like I’m king of the mountain. Blessed to be in the woods. Blessed to still have a healthy body. Blessed to have the time and the energy and wherewithal to be out riding. And the truest blessing of all? A little perspective.