I’m getting really good at fitting all of my belongings into my car. It’s true that I’ve jettisoned many of my belongings in order to do this, but to me there’s something calming in the fact that I can fit every object that’s important to me into a box with wheels. I’d make a great tortoise if I could just fit all my bikes on my back.
This latest solo road trip included all the usual levels of insanity. For the first few hours I felt adventurous and optimistic and still enjoyed my music. Then I hit Wyoming and began to make up goals. One of these was to “learn to sing really well by practicing for eleven hours straight” Outcome: Failure. After a few state lines I began to alternate between sinking apathy and intense reflection (i.e. how impressed will people be when I tell them how many miles I drove this year? Answer: not at all.)
Then things got weird. I rolled the windows down so that my hair became one giant dredlock, then I rolled them up again, combed it out, and repeated. I began to loathe every song I heard. I turned the volume off. I turned it up as high as it could go. I started taking pictures of my dashboard. I thought about food a lot and debated knocking down occasional strings of traffic cones. My sunglasses began to hurt my ears. My car became covered with bugs and I wondered constantly if it was breaking, burning or had one flat tire or three. I wondered what was happening in other peoples’ cars. I attempted to drive with my left foot or steer with my elbows, and for a while sat cross legged so I could pretend I was on a couch. It was in the depths of this phase that I became aware of another of a relatively new road trip habit; searching for singletrack.
I think it started after an episode on another road trip this year when I pulled over mid-drive in Oakland and got on my bike. After weaving through a neighborhood and talking to a local or two, I hooked up with a network of cool trails twisting between graffitied walls and thick NorCal greenery- it was a just a little system on a small island of city land, but people with bikes had obviously been playing on it and giving it some love. I had an awesome time, and it made me wonder how many trails are quietly growing out there without IMBA or spandex or standardized drainage features. After all- the only things you really need to build a trail are dirt, motivation and maybe a pulaski.
Once my concept of “trail” expanded past sanctioned trailheads and known wilderness areas, I began to see more of the telltale signs- a pile of tracked gravel on a shoulder, a break in the grass along a ridgeline, a dent in the bushes- singletrack is everywhere. Whether or not it’s actually been built or used by mountain bikers is almost beside the point- what strikes me most is that it’s almost always there if you just look.
So from the depths of driving insanity in the forgotten parts of this country, these trails are what keep me going. And it’s not just the knowledge that I could pull over and ride almost anywhere I go, but that other people could too. That even in the most downtrodden town in the most barren plain, there will be a line in the grass where someone on two wheels could, and maybe already has, found their bliss.