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.