I Ride Alone: The Origin, Evolution, and Devolution of a Solitary Mountain Biker

Without being willing to go it alone, I would have missed out on literally hundreds of great scenes like this one in Montana's rarely visited Tobacco Root Mountains.
Without being willing to go it alone, I would have missed out on literally hundreds of great scenes, like this one in Montana’s rarely-visited Tobacco Root Mountains.

I RIDE ALONE
I am new to mountain biking.  I am neither fit nor skilled.  I am slow.  I walk many obstacles.  I crash.  It seems I spend more time off the bike than on it.  I am proud;  I don’t want to be seen failing.  I don’t like seeing only the backsides of other riders.  And so . . . I ride alone.

I RIDE ALONE
My skills have improved, my fitness has improved, my confidence has improved.  I have now discovered the epic mountain bike ride; the mind-clearing, soul-cleansing, exhausting but exhilarating and rejuvenating catharsis that comes from six or eight hours of turning cranks in remote areas.  My cycling friends are all content to do quick, one or two hour sprints, but I want more.  The wilderness teaches me how well mountain biking is suited to alone time.  So I ride alone.

I RIDE ALONE
I have been transferred.  I now live in a place with one second-rate local trail, a three-hour drive to the nearest great trail, and understandably no mountain biking culture.  Why would anyone want to spend their weekend riding a second-rate trail, or spending six hours round trip in a car, when there’s world class walleye fishing in the immediate area?  And so, I continue to ride alone.

TODAY, I WILL NOT RIDE ALONE
I have found a mountain bike race 2 1/2 hours from home.  I have not, nor will I ever have, great aerobic capacity.  I am built for sprints and one time shows of strength, not long forays into aerobic training zones.  When I think about it, it seems silly I have become obsessed with cycling, a very aerobic sport.  But obsessed I am, and I will ride, despite my natural limitations.  This time I will not only ride, but I will race.  I will meet others who are obsessed and as I ride against them, I will ride with them.  Amazingly I will find the podium (barely), thanks largely to a small field and the lack of a mountain biking culture.   But most of all, it was nice to not ride alone.

#31 trying to establish position on the pavement sprint before entering the singletrack. (photo: Lisa Fisch)
#31 trying to establish position on the pavement sprint before entering the singletrack. (photo: Lisa Fisch)

I RIDE ALONE
I have moved back to an area rich in quantity, quality, and variety of mountain biking trails.   I have met other cyclists.  We are well matched.  I still lag a bit aerobically, but compensate with a new explosion in technical skills.  But the togetherness is short-lived.  As I seek out more and more technical challenge, my riding partners prefer “buff” to “rad.”  A few rocks here and there are okay, but nonstop rock fests are not to their liking. But I am now obsessed with rocks.  Big rocks, small rocks, rollers, huckers, step ups, extended rock gardens.  I seek them like a drug sniffing dog working customs at a port of entry.  And so, once again I ride alone.

Why don't my friends want to ride this with me?
Why don’t my friends want to ride this with me?

TONIGHT, I WILL NOT RIDE ALONE
I have found a group of riders much to my liking.  They share my mountain biking aesthetic.  While they are all fit and can pound out miles by the dozens, they’d rather head for the rocks, even stopping to session the best features, egging each other on to try new things and reveling in the shared joy of each others’ accomplishments.  Tonight we will hit our favorite features at night for an entirely new experience.  After sessioning a challenging rock garden, we pause at the top of a knife edge ridge overlooking the city to commune and . . . light up?  At once, the crisp, clean mountain air is annihilated by the stench of burning weed.  Off to the side, I sit alone . . . and tomorrow, I shall ride alone once more.

I RIDE ALONE
I have a new obsession: new trails!  I have always been a short attention span kind of guy and I am easily  bored with repetition and routine.  I must ride a new trail every chance I get.  My biking friends are happy to ride the same few trails over and over and over again.  I cannot abide this; I must seek out the new, even if the new may be a less impressive trail overall.  My riding buddies demand a guarantee that they will be able to complete their anticipated loop, while I am willing to take a chance a trail may dead end, prove unrideable, or otherwise fail to justify the effort required to get there.   And so I ride alone, often far from home.

An early father son ride on Spencer Mountain, Whitefish MT (photo: Lisa Fisch)
An early father son ride on Spencer Mountain, Whitefish MT (photo: Lisa Fisch)

I RIDE ALONE
I am teaching my son to ride, and he is really taking to the sport.  We ride together, but it will be years before he is able to keep up with me either physically or technically.  So, technically, we are riding “together,” but this is not riding time for me.  It is genuine-quality father and son time, which I cherish greatly, but not really riding time.  So for true riding time, I ride alone.

THIS YEAR, I WILL NOT RIDE ALONE
Junior has proven to be a chip off the ol’ block.  He loves to ride the rocks.  Climbs are accepted as a means to get to the downhill.  He wants to hit bigger rollers, as much chunk as possible, and he is quite literally starting to fly.  We are well-matched.  For a couple glorious seasons, we take biking vacations together to Moab, Sedona, St. George/Hurricane, Fruita and more.  We ride together.

It didn't take Junior long to start seeking out bigger challenges, and leave his old man behind.
It didn’t take Junior long to start seeking out bigger challenges, and leave his old man behind.

I RIDE ALONE
Well, that was quick.  In a brief period, Junior has surpassed me.  While I expected his teen years to show a rapid acceleration in aerobic power, blowing by me like a Porsche dropping a Renault on the autobahn, what has shocked me is an equally-impressive explosion in his technical skills.  I can no longer keep up with him, even on technical climbs, my forte.  And when the trail turns downhill?  It’s only a matter of seconds before his butt disappears, not to be seen again until the trail bottoms out and he waits, sometimes thousands of vertical feet below.  He waits for me . . . a lot.  Once again, even as we ride together, I ride alone.

A group ride with the Colorado Springs Mountain Bike Club was always a good time, whether hammering out singletrack or sitting around on a trailside viewpoint exchanging tall tales of great riding conquests.
A group ride with the Colorado Springs Mountain Bike Club was always a good time, whether hammering out singletrack or sitting around on a trailside viewpoint exchanging tall tales of great riding conquests.

THIS YEAR, I WILL NOT RIDE ALONE (part 2)
Thanks to the Colorado Springs Mountain Biking Club, I will not always ride alone this year.  I still have my days of seeking new and obscure trials, but for after work and and some of my weekend rides, this meetup group has proven to be just the ticket.  Fitness and skills vary widely, age and experience is anything but constant, as are individual desires for fast and buff vs. rocky and technical, but there is one constant: everybody loves to turn cranks and everybody draws additional pleasure in sharing that joy, even if it is with someone who rides far better, worse, or different.  No matter the ride, even if it’s one not of my choosing, these riders always add nothing but positives to a shared ride.

vince-lombardi

I RIDE ALONE
My fitness has plummeted.  I am now on the high side of the half century mark, but the precipitous drop in my ability seems far beyond the mere ravages of middle age, especially as my equally (or more) mature riding buddies are suffering no such decrease in capacity.  Fatigue sets in within minutes of starting a ride.  Even when down aerobically, I could always count on exceptional leg strength to get me out of tight spots; even my once world-class leg power fails me.  The fatigue in turn kills confidence and renders my technical skills almost nonexistent.  The harder I train, the weaker I get.  Doctors have theories but no answers; treatments but no cure.  I have come full circle, so to speak, with regard to inability preventing me from group riding.  My riding buddies are exceptional in their understanding, but I cannot bring myself be comfortable for them waiting for me, no matter how genuine they are in their support and acceptance.  I will never stop pushing to find a way to break through my current malaise, but until I do, I will ride alone.

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