Twenty-five years is a long time to do any one thing. Do one thing for that duration, and there are bound to be moments of repetition. Time will coil around itself, decades will collapse on top of each other, and what should be fresh tire prints in the ground will just be another layer of tracks on top of those, on top of those, on top of those already laid onto the tracks beneath them. At some point, this may feel like a futile repetition—the 1994-typed words of the first editor of this magazine echoing to haunt the present: “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the length of the hole … .”
Those words never really held much sway with me, but they have bounced in and out of my head whenever I have looked back at the path of my life. They were in my head again as I started up a long fireroad climb a little south of Santa Cruz last week. I first rode this hill in 1992, when I moved to the base of it, and it has been an indifferent monitor of my fitness or lack thereof ever since. It has also absorbed every one of my moods, ranging from friendly to foul, and, speaking of repetition, has found its way into several of these columns over the years. It’s a couple hours of ass-kicking penitence (maybe 20 minutes fewer if I go back a couple decades and get some youthful quads and lungs), so totally familiar that going for a ride there requires no conscious thought on my part. Every inch of that hill is etched into me, the trail choices at the top occur by autopilot, and I can spend a day riding without ever once having to think about where I am.
So is this a rut? A grave? To me it feels more like a comfortable old hairshirt, a sweat-tax reminder that even in its millionfold self-indulgent moments the sport of mountain biking requires that you put yourself into it, that you pay some sort of cosmic piper, that one way or another you will have to earn those turns. It’s a familiarity completely devoid of contempt. It’s repetition faithfully borne out beyond numbers into ritual.
A few years before I first climbed this hill, I had started riding mountain bikes. I think it was 1985 when I went on my first ride, and 1986 when I became hooked. So, 32 years now. I am 53 years old. That means I have been riding bikes for 60.38 percent of my life, riding this damn hill for 49.05 percent of it, and writing about some variation of that in this column for 45.28 percent of the time I have been on this earth. Except I haven’t spent every minute of my existence since then riding, and I haven’t only ridden this hill, and it doesn’t take all of that time to write this column, but you get the gist. Like I said there at the beginning, 25 years is a spell. Since I can still turn the pedals, let’s go with ‘rut’ as a far superior destination than ‘grave.’
Repetition being the theme of the day here (that, or early onset senility), this