I’ve written before about how mountain biking or long distance road cycling appeals to me in that I can cover a large amount of ground for the least return on investment in energy. The mechanical advantage and structural support the bike provides allows you to maximize the potential of the human body.
I guess I’ve spoiled myself from an endurance activity standpoint. No, not “spoiled” but set myself up for a huge fall. Lemme ‘splain.
I was out on some long training run for the Rugged Red. I was miles from anywhere. Alone. I had enough food and water to just get me through the run. I had no other survival gear, no light, no first aid gear. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Nien.
It was a happy-go-lucky run until I got turned around a little bit and lost some time. Then when I started feeling the first hints of cramps I realized I might be effed. At that point I was about three miles from a trailhead that was still another three from my car. Now, I can probably crawl three miles and beg for help if I have to, but I don’t ever wanna.
|It's a long way to crawl from here|
Something hit me, and it wasn’t just another spider web in the face though there were plenty that day. I didn’t have the bike to support me. I was on my own: 100% human powered with no mechanical advantage. That led me to begin thinking more of the bike as a participant propelled SAG vehicle. That’s what it is. That’s why Leadville was possible for me (or anyone). I had the bike to lash additional gear to, to keep me upright when I was lightheaded and wrung out, to provide the occasional opportunity for coasting, and ultimately to prolong my
suffering performance using less energy.
I haven’t truly articulated all of this in my mind until now, but I’ve been chewing on it all summer and into the fall. But now I think I realize why trail running went from something I was dabbling in to something I gave the normal level of Chainring obsess. I mean, it’s right up there with coffee and mountain biking.
I’ve been in some remote places all alone. I enjoy finding myself sitting on some spire of rock with nothing but acres of empty sky surrounding me. I like being able to look back upon miles and miles of land below me and know it will be hours before I am both literally and figuratively out of the woods. That’s my drug of choice. That is where I find my heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love mountain biking. The proprioceptive benefits alone make it like crack-cocaine for me. If my kids didn’t whine so much about eating I would just quit my job and mountain bike all the time. I can relate; I whine when I’m hungry too.
Anyway, I don’t dismiss the inherent risks of solo adventuring; especially on foot in remote places. And I hold no illusions that being on the bike is any less committing or more “safe” than hiking, mountaineering, or trail running. There have been times I’ve been out on the bike and been cognizant of how truly screwed I would be if I were to have a crash, or an unfixable flat, or a major mechanical. It’s why thinking about the Tour Divide gives me a little flutter in my belly before the grin spreads across my face.
Commitment and remoteness are relative to a point. Beyond a certain threshold on any adventure you can find yourself committed to your marrow and effectively isolated from comfort and security. That can happen on a ten mile bike commute in sub-zero temperatures. That can happen on a family hike in a state park. That can happen on a midweek six mile trail run in rural Appalachia. It doesn't have to be getting socked in by a nor'easter in the Rocky Mountains during the apocalypse. The combinations of conditions that can lead to disaster on any adventure are infinite and hard to completely mitigate. But that's why adventure is fun.
My natural progression has gone from obsessive hiking, to a brief hiccup as a rock climber, to organized century rides, to endurance mountain bike racing, and now to long distance (eventually ultra?) trail running. After the past couple of years I find myself growing tired of the event scene. It’s been too much money (and not that much!), too much time, and not enough return on investment.
To me it seems like running should be more like climbing was. I saw a line I wanted to do and did it. I didn’t have to pay someone to give me snacks along the way. So I didn’t get medals for my accomplishments... I wasn’t after medals then. I don’t think I want to be after medals now.
On the ultra side of things I think I might still be in it for events and medals for a time. There is the Cloudsplitter, which is in my backyard, and Leadville, which is kind of ingrained in my psyche for the time being. But I can come up with plenty of schemes for 50k and less that don’t involve a bib number and aid stations.
Adventure isn’t found between ribbons on a course. While it can be rewarding and challenging, relying on race organizers for your experience leaves you with something less than perfect. At least in my mind…