The Trackless Way
One of the most valuable lessons of bicycle touring is flexibility. Letting go of ambitions for the future and taking each moment as it comes. It makes no sense to plan for tomorrow when the circumstances surrounding those plans change from hour to hour. I recently told a friend, mid day, that I wasn’t sure where I was sleeping that night and found myself completely at peace with that fact.
It’s a counterproductive and peculiarly human compulsion. We obsess about the past, which creates a sense of loss and cannot be changed, or worry about the future, which creates anxiety because it cannot be fully predicted or controlled. The result being that we never actually live in the present which is the only place that happiness exists.
What is the use of planning to be able to eat next week unless I can really enjoy the meals when they come? If I am so busy planning how to eat next week that I cannot fully enjoy what I am eating now, I will be in the same predicament when next week’s meals become ‘now’. ~ Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
Another snow squall was blowing in as I crested a rise and pushed into Mammoth Lakes, CA. Frigid winds cutting through my base layers was becoming a familiar feeling. I was too early in the year and too high in the mountains to find much comfort cycling these places, beautiful as they might be. I’d already found the Trail of 100 Giants closed and Highway 120, the only route out of Yosemite Valley, was buried under meters of snow.
I had nothing to prove and no rigid plans for the future so I stayed in Mammoth Lakes waiting for the low pressure system to move out. Some exploration into the mountains led to more closed and unrideable roads. My good friend Sanjiv came in from San Francisco and we drove (the horror!) to South Lake Tahoe where much celebrating was done. The transition from alpine camping to a posh room at a casino resort was jarring to the senses. The clanging noise, glaring lights, and shallow culture of conspicuous consumption struck me as ridiculous and infantile. I had an immediate desire to escape. I eventually landed in North Lake Tahoe waiting more days for a new mobile phone to arrive.
Leaving Lake Tahoe I had my first ever encounter with a black bear. Much closer than I could have predicted as it stuck it’s massive head into my tent. I found it suddenly prudent to buy bear spray.
In a now familiar pattern, I discovered Lassen Summit was under five metersof snow. Another adjustment of strategy was in order. I’m not entirely sure why I wanted to, but I simply followed my heart and dropped out of the mountains via a glorious descent into the central valley of California. I eventually landed near Red Bluff, CA where I would turn north toward Redding and Mt Shasta.
At this point of the tour the emotional rollercoaster is leveling out. It still happens but is inexplicably more manageable. It no longer threatens to force me to a stop, despondent and pining, packing it all in to return to a comfortable and ultimately deadening “normal” life. There are still days when I find myself alternately homesick and euphoric to be on the road. Sometimes I want nothing more than to get off the bicycle and others I cannot think of any place I’d rather be. I don’t expect that these oscillations will ever cease. I’m not entirely sure I want them to. They remind me of the jubilation to be had and the sacrifices one must make while living like this.
There is a certain joy in feeling like you are the only person in the world. Sitting in complete silence for hours in the alpine forest. No sound but the wind in the trees and the calls of Great Horned Owls to fill the emptiness.
On this tour I’ve spent days in the rain and nights in the snow. I’ve crouched under a pine tree as hail bounced off the ground cover I’d wrapped myself in, shivering in the wind and questioning my decisions. I’ve not seen another human for three and four days at a time, nor bathed for an equal period. I’ve almost died twice. I’ve dealt with mechanical failures and endured living conditions that few would willingly subject themselves to. I’ve also seen the highest peak in the lower 48 and witnessed ocean sunsets that words simply cannot describe. I’ve met kind and generous people, drank from pure snow melt streams, and shouted out with joy at the tops of mountain passes… momentary king of the world.
There is no life such as this.
- Sanjiv Lakhanpal @ Austin, TX, USA
- Henning @ Mt Shasta, CA, USA
- Marco & Heather @ Mt Shasta, CA, USA