When I was a child, I reg­u­larly had dreams that I could fly, only to re­al­ize mid-flight that I didn’t know how to land, and would wake up with a stom­ach-knot­ting jolt as things un­rav­eled and I be­gan to plum­met. This was reg­u­lar, along with dreams of run­ning but feel­ing glued to the ground, so that no mat­ter how hard I pi­s­toned my legs, I could barely inch for­ward.

As I grew older and got into mo­tor­cy­cles, the dreams mor­phed, and I would find my­self launch­ing off jumps only to just keep soar­ing up and away from the ground un­til panic set in, and the in­evitable lurch­ing awake pre­vented me from re­solv­ing what­ever land­ing might be about to go wrong. In­stead of run­ning and go­ing nowhere, I would be twist­ing the throt­tle and hav­ing the en­gine bog hor­ri­bly, or the wheel would spin use­lessly in end­less mud, and I would be re­peat­ing the same path of burn­ing ef­fort but go­ing nowhere.

Cue moun­tain bikes, and my sub­con­scious in­cor­po­rated them seam­lessly into the stuck parts of my dream life. The harder I trained, the more I rode in real life, the more fre­quently the dreams came, the same old tropes played out on bikes—launch­ing into the air only to get trapped hun­dreds of feet above the ground in a ris­ing state of panic, or stuck to the ground ped­al­ing as hard as I could, drag­ging cin­der blocks as peo­ple rode and walked past with ease.

Once, I wrecked in a race back when bikes were rigid and brakes were for all in­tents and pur­poses non-ex­is­tent. The dude who I rag-dolled past said he was go­ing some­where up­ward of 40 miles an hour ac­cord­ing to his Avo­cet com­puter, and I crawled from the dust cloud with my Bell Im­age Pro hel­met bro­ken into sev­eral pieces and my left eye bruised closed. For the next few weeks I had re­cur­ring dreams about los­ing sight in that eye. In one, a tall, skinny man with in­cred­i­bly long fin­gers would chase me down and, with a strength that I was pow­er­less to over­come, would de­lib­er­ately scoop out my eye­ball with those long fin­gers. In an­other, I was driv­ing a mon­ster truck, some­thing like Grave Dig­ger, and I was a sev­eral hun­dred-pound man har­nessed into the tightly con­fined cab of the truck. I had a huge beard. I would stage the truck in front of a long line of cars to be crushed, rev that hogged-out, big-block V8 to the moon and dump the clutch. As I did that, there would be a scream­ing ex­plo­sion of me­tal, the cab would fill with smoke, and hot oil would jet straight into my eye.

It is worth not­ing as well here that the sky in my dreams, ev­ery sin­gle one for as far back as I can re­mem­ber, has al­ways been black. Even in broad day­light when the sun is shin­ing. The sky is al­ways black.

Safe to say, my dreams have not been gen­er­ally as­pi­ra­tional in na­ture. Maybe my in­abil­ity to sur­mount these ob­sta­cles in my sub­con­scious played a hand in my in­abil­ity to as­cend to moun­tain biking great­ness. I sus­pect that lazi­ness, ge­netic re­al­ity and a gen­uine dis­taste for bro­ken bones had more to do with it, but pon­der­ing things like that decades after the fact is time wasted. At some point, I grew used to the dreams, and they reached the point where they didn’t feel so much like night­mares, but in­stead felt like reg­u­lar re­minders to pay at­ten­tion to my own self-im­posed lim­i­ta­tions. So maybe it makes sense that about the time I stopped try­ing to push so hard against my phys­i­cal bound­aries, that my dreams changed fo­cus. Over the past decade and a half, the na­ture of my dreams has def­i­nitely moved … else­where.

My dreams now of­ten in­volve long con­ver­sa­tions with my neigh­bor Fen­wick. He’s an old cow­boy who says ‘warshed’ in­stead of ‘washed’ and ‘acrosst’ in­stead of ‘across,’ and he smells like gun oil and horses. In my dreams, he usu­ally ap­pears as I am about to do some­thing stupid, of­fers me a can of beer and asks if I re­ally think that try­ing to run that rapid in a raft made from Zi­ploc bags is such a good idea. He seems to be the only re­cur­ring char­ac­ter in my dreams who isn’t in the least bit fazed by the reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance of my old dog, Lena Toast. Lena has been dead since some­time late in 2006, but she showed back up the day after my fa­ther died in 2012, and has been trot­ting through reg­u­larly ever since. Her pres­ence in my dreams is so tan­gi­ble that I wake up some­times think­ing she is still there. Ex­cept, in my dreams, she is very ev­i­dently dead, and even though she is hang­ing tough on group rides just like she al­ways did, I have to cau­tion peo­ple not to pet her or smell her breath. Fen­wick doesn’t care, and feeds her jerky treats.

Along with my zom­bie dog and my cow­boy neigh­bor, I go on lots of rides in my dreams. Noth­ing re­ally spec­tac­u­lar hap­pens—it’s mostly fire-road— but I of­ten find my­self rid­ing with friends from high school, longdead rel­a­tives and one time even Henry Kissinger showed up (dude could rip down­hill, too!). We have re­ally good con­ver­sa­tions on these rides, but usu­ally I can’t re­mem­ber what we talked about. I wake up feel­ing like we fig­ured some­thing out, though, and that life is good. Just the other night, Bill Chris­tensen and John Pavlat both had me laugh­ing so hard in my dream that my girl­friend shook me awake to ask me what was so funny.

Damn, I miss Bill, and John, and Lena Toast and so many oth­ers. I am glad I still get to ride with them from time to time. No jumps without land­ings. No strain­ing and go­ing nowhere. Just a string of calm rides un­der a sunny black sky with all my re­mem­bered friends, here and gone.


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