THE CALL­ING

Bike (USA) - - Grimy Handshake -

a lux­ury, a lucky act of stren­u­ous leisure that we in­dulge in be­cause we can af­ford the time and ex­pense.

But there I was, look­ing the gift horse in the mouth. Not only was I fully in­dulging in the lux­ury of moun­tain bik­ing, but I had the au­dac­ity to be com­plain­ing about the con­di­tions. The story of the Amer­i­can West, from the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide all the way to within about 20 miles of the coast, up into Canada and down into Mex­ico, is one of deserts. Na­tive cul­tures had deities and rit­u­als based entirely around the fickle na­ture of wa­ter in this parched land. Mas­sive and reg­u­lar cy­cles of drought are punc­tu­ated by brief and vi­o­lent phases of flood. Na­tive veg­e­ta­tion clings to life with deep roots and thorns, draws wa­ter when it can and grips into rocks and dust the rest of the time, wait­ing. If I don’t like sun­burn and hang­ing dust, there’s plenty of rain-soaked good­ness on the rest of the planet. Love it or leave it, can­dyass.

Thing is, most of the time, I do love it. It took a long time, com­ing from the rain-lashed and muddy par­adise of New Zealand, to get com­fort­able with deserts. By a long time, I mean a cou­ple decades. But even­tu­ally, I fell in love with the astringent empti­ness, the song of wind, the un­for­giv­ing pre­ci­sion with which a desert pun­ishes the fool­ish. Deserts keep it real. Mean­while, I live in a buffer zone be­tween coast and desert, where one year it may rain 50 inches, and the next it may rain less than 10. One year it may be green for half the year, the dirt soft, the trails easy to build and easy to ride. The next year the ground may be bone-white and hard as stone for eight months, noth­ing grow­ing but stick­le­burrs and this­tles, and even those only make it a few months be­fore turn­ing into ghostly skele­tons with tiny teeth. And I strug­gle with that un­pre­dictabil­ity. In the dry years, I itch for soft dirt to dig, I pine for cold weather and I fall ever so slightly less in love with rid­ing bikes.

In Eng­land, they have a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. The abun­dance of wet and mis­er­able weather there is tes­ta­ment to the for­ti­tude and pas­sion of Bri­tish moun­tain bik­ers that they ever both­ered to start rid­ing in the first place. Sum­mer be­fore last, my friend Chipps tells me that they went a solid three months when it rained ev­ery sin­gle day. En­tire val­leys flooded, the rain­fall amounts so stag­ger­ing that even now the ground re­mains sat­u­rated and un­able to ab­sorb mois­ture the way it used to. Still, in spite of the rain-soaked re­al­ity of his sit­u­a­tion, I look at his muddy ride pic­tures on In­sta­gram, and I envy him.

As I type this, the first rain of Jan­uary is ham­mer­ing the tin roof of the barn. The ground is suck­ing the wa­ter in like a drunk­ard. It is the first rain in two months here, clos­ing out the dri­est De­cem­ber on record, and I am hop­ing that by the time these words get read, the soil will be dark and loamy, the grass green and lush. It is said, with re­gard to sit­u­a­tional envy, that the grass is al­ways greener on the other side of the fence. Ex­actly. Ain’t that the truth.

THE ASTRINGENT EMPTI­NESS, THE SONG OF WIND, THE UN­FOR­GIV­ING PRE­CI­SION WITH

WHICH A DESERT PUN­ISHES THE

FOOL­ISH

SEE THE ALL NEW CALL­ING AND JOIN THE MOVE­MENT AT EVIL-BIKES.COM

PHOTO:JOHN GIB­SON

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