TDM was recently tossed unceremoniously from his home for a four day stretch during what should have been the heart of winter. Pinky had casually brought the idea of a home-style mid-winter girls weekend up to him during the optimistic month of September, when good weather seems a permanent fact, and TDM’s enthusiasm for a free weekend was sure to override his ability to recall the horror that is January in the back of a pickup. TDM (being dumb and blind) remained enthusiastic about the idea until November, December, and much of January planted a firm reminder in his small, poorly connected brain that the watching of vampire shows and the willing ingestion of kale are not the only things one will do for love.
As said dates approached it initially appeared that TDM had beaten the odds, as a miraculous pattern of 68 degrees and sunny suddenly flowed over the state. The optimism returned, and that Friday the truck was packed, and TDM, his bike, about five sleeping bags and a burrito to-go made the drive over the pass to one of his favorite places in the region: Smith Rock. The burrito was delicious on the way down, and initially only added to TDM’s sense of well-being, but about 20 minutes later it suddenly turned against him, ultimately forcing a tortured night of camping in a latrine conveniently located between a highway and a busy RR line. Under normal conditions TDM would have limped home at this point to the comforts of a couch and an endless supply of toiletries, but for love he had agreed to clear the f%$k out, so in the morning our now grumpy champion wanted nothing more than a quiet place to sip some restorative tea and yogurt, and perhaps quietly read a book in the sun. Arriving early at Smith Rock, he selected a quiet parking spot with excellent solar exposure, took a few photos, and then set to the work of regaining his humanity through food, sun and literature.
The stoners struck when TDM was on the third sentence of page one of his book. I will spare the (non-existent) reader the details, but following the stoners and their car beached on a curb (and a need for a lighter to “cook some stuff”) were an ensemble of four additional saboteurs of TDM’s morning restorations. These were (in order) a pair of dueling Pomeranians (eating my breakfast in my truck as their owners looked on lovingly), a biker gang on holiday (friendly but solidly indecorous), a cocky, pimpled cyclist (suggesting TDM’s bike is too aggressive for one his age) and a Californian in a Porsche(demanding that TDM relinquish his parking space so she could park closer to the trail upon which she hoped to run). Sensing that these players were merely the welcoming committee (and also that the bikers had more backup on the way), TDM at that time decided that perhaps one could find more serenity a bit farther afield, and so put aside concerns of death due to premature activity después-malo-burrito, and prepared his bag, bike and snacks for an escape from Smith Rock.
Outside of false altruism, TDM’s principle objective for his period of exile was to combine the finer traits of the Gray Butte/Smith Rock loop with an unknown section of horse trail rumored to be worthwhile, but suspected to be heinous. Alone this plan might not be worthy of the grand tradition of TDM solo days, but of course there is more… this 30 mile loop was to be supplemented with couple of easy rock climbs found along the way, thus fulfilling a sense of adventure, while also indulging in more nostalgic Smith Rock activities. The pace was to be mild, and rays were the primary metric for success. In addition I had the whole day, and intended to use it to these ends.
Riding along the base of Smith Rock TDM’s humanity returned as he was captured by the spirit of the day. The dirt was damp, packed and tacky, the sun was out, birds were chirping…good shit was generally going down. He weaved his way through a crowd of climbers heading out to the Marsupials to savor some of that area’s charm, as well as a few slower cyclists and a birder or two. After snapping a few photos the way was made up the abrupt slope that marks the beginning of the committing Burma Road climb. Churning up the worst of the switchbacks he caught a large group of young undergraduates who graciously extended amazement that one could bike up something that was difficult to walk; aging types need reassurances, and TDM was appreciative of these fine reactions to his presence. Soon after the bike was ditched in some boulders, he ate a quick snack, and then scrambled up to the base of a favorite climb.
About one year ago TDM’s recreational life was roughly one part climbing, one part cycling, one part other stuff. A shoulder injury initially seemed a minor setback at a time when, for the first time in some number of years, he was feeling capable of climbing something personally meaningful. For those not inflicted with rock lust, let me translate: climbing hard, as with most other forms of excellence, requires a habit of practice, and an ever-increasing accumulation of physical and mental strengths. To move to the next level, no matter what level you are at, one must climb more, and then more, and then some more. Our boy had been doing this, and was now at levels of physical and mental power that had not reached in several years, and about this he was very happy, and very determined. TDM was in the process of picking a project…a serious and yet enjoyable venture wherein our hero samples various climbs of (for him) high but theoretically possible difficulty, then finally selecting one as target, and setting siege on this route for days/weeks/months/years. These epics sometimes inspire blogs devoted solely to the bittersweet love born of one climb and climber. Meaningless, except to the sieging ape, these efforts become a kind of personal saga, and upon completion momentarily render all other life details weightless and limp. This lasts for…like…two seconds. Anyway, a year ago he was pumped to be back in the saddle and playing this game. The shoulder, however, was not a minor injury, and one part climbing gradually became two parts bike, and thus, that other passion was left warming the bench (and the TDM persona was born).
One hundred and fifty feet off the ground and ropeless on simple terrain dude suddenly remembered how much he loved climbing. The reader will be spared the usual paragraphs of gaudy pouring that TDM and other 40-something blogists are prone to spew, suffice it to say that …he had a moment, and it lasted for the duration of the methodically solved puzzle of his ascent with birds gliding past ears in a warm winter sun. Having selfied the shit out of the summit, TDM took a moment to reflect on the past few, and then walked off the backside of the cliff with a vast inner-smile, and a bead on the remaining ride at-hand.
Back on the bike with a spring in his kick TDM closed on two lycras sporting race bikes and heart monitors, helmits bobbing with their effort. He passed them casually, saying hi, and asking how they were. They scowled, grunted, then got on his wheel and tried to hang tough as he listened to the sounds of their increasingly beating hearts. Near the top they dropped off the pace, finally disappearing from auditory range as we got to the crux of the whole endeavor. Sometime later TDM stopped at a grand ridgeline to take in the sights. When they passed some moments later they looked surprised to see him, gasping “the strava segment ends in fifty yards” as they rushed past. This got our TDM to thinking a bit…I suppose in the excitement post- birds-on-a-rock there had been a little bit of hammering going down…not all out, but definitely stepping on the pedals, but not once had TDM considered if this was actually improving his life in any way (though it is hard not to appreciate the accidental demolition of two Darth Vader types on their training ride). Does the ride improve if it is over sooner? What would happen if TDM actually stuck with the plan and rode slowly and with love for the day, rather than to live for the speedy lines? Is this constant escalation actually Improving TDM’s day, or is it just a thoughtless march toward some unnamed goal in the name of pointless skillset development? Or,…fuck…maybe it is a sign of what our boy is running from…tucking feelings deep down under a wall of crushing bunnies. As TDM watched the racers hammer away from him headed off in the direction of Gray Butte he had a rare decisive moment, and the rest of the day was declared an impulsive hammer-free zone. Indeed, he declared right then that suffering is for fools, and TDM will rise above it’s oppression. Screw the fucked up horse trail…let TDM enjoy his day without the weight of a dragon around his neck.
For the next few hours he simply rode his bike. Vistas were observed with a snack, and sometimes photographed. Dude performed a light strafing of one descent, but concentrated mostly on playfulness, and worked to keep speed for the sake of what he might do with it, as opposed to being fast for fast’s sake. In this way TDM actually caught the racers on one descent, but then let them go on the climb. It felt good to let them go, and he watched two crows bicker as they talked about how fast they had me dropped; everybody was content, and TDM felt he had done the world some small favor. After a leisurely snack in an old Orchard TDM slowly wound up the last of the mandatory climbs, watching a hawk work the hillside as he advanced. Below the hawk was a long descent into several enticing valleys, ultimately ending up on the farmlands of central Oregon. This country had so many attractive nooks and crannies, ridges and streams falling away at his feet. A feeling of endless potential adventure flooded him as the landscape was scoped from a rocky precipice at the top of the climb. There are trails down there he’d not seen, and the thought of them had him feverish with curiosity and anticipation.
But now TDM was a little confused; admittedly a feeling he experiences more frequently than most, but still not a comfortable thing. Sitting under a juniper on the ridge he recalled his earlier admittance that his unthinking tendency toward escalation and epic may very well be the tip of an iceberg bent on oppressing the very enjoyment that riding his bike was originally intended to provide. For this reason he had slowed the pace, smelled the roses, and vowed not to become a slave to his compulsions. And it had worked; the perfect day was behind him, but now a complicating desire had risen…the dragon had appeared, and he wanted it dead. Why deny himself that in the name of some fear of being yet another 40 something racing the eye of strava, training for some future ride, or the purchase of a shiny red porsche.
So, let us now picture our beloved TDM at a juncture in his trail. He is tired, comfortable and happy, but there is a small matter of a dragon which may be a route to freedom, or a hallucination in the tradition of Spanish windmills. Behind him is the majority of his perfect day. Around him is the Oregon high desert, which he observes happily from his place in a pass among juniper and sage. To the left, a quality descent spreading several miles to some of the best scenery in the west, and the inevitable ice-cream cone that will follow. To the right, an intimate and secretive valley with an unknown ribbon of trail showing itself here and there as it falls away 1500 feet to the base of Gray butte. The choice is his; slave to his compulsion, or slave to his fear of it?
TDM turns away from what he already knows, and begins the path down.
The descent was, of course, delightful, but this diversion had a flaw that in hind-site gives reason to why none of TDM’s contacts could verify the quality of this loop; it descended into a sandy hole whose escape was the kind of hell uniquely reserved for morons who fail to be satisfied with their own vision of perfection. With legs giving out under the weight of 6000 feet of climbing, the last 1200 of which were in horse-chopped sand and mud, TDM encountered two women on horseback, one of whom took one perceptive look at his face and declared (laughing), “Oh love, you shouldn’t hate yourself this much!” TDM could only laugh, because he was physically miserable…but also having the time of his life, and in his euphoric delusion all dude could think to do was laugh maniacally and mutter that “I’ve got some issues…” The girls laughed, and left him to his exquisite agony.
Back at the rocky outcrop on the main trail TDM took a moment to ponder the secretive valleys he’d just ridden through for the first time. A woman riding with her dog pulled up and asked if him if he had ever ridden the trail falling away into the valley, and he replied that, yes, he actually had done it just now. She asked if he’d would bother doing it again, and TDM had to answer with a giggle that, truthfully, probably not, but in his mind it was plain to see that he’d loved it all the same.
The roosting of the pines on the final three descents healed most of the psychological damage exacted by the results of TDM’s ambitions, and by the time he rolled past Monkey face, and then soon after into the parking lot, TDM had to admit that the lazy loop and the easy rock climb were by far the more fun part of the day, but that a pinch of stupid ambition was the spice that made it worthy of remembrance. The ills of the burrito hangover were long gone, and by the time TDM sucked down his well-earned huckleberry ice-cream he was already thinking of what adventure he might, in the name of love, pursue next.
Is it me, or do all of TDM’s stories end the same way…sheesh.