When the first bead of sweat cascaded down the amber lenses of my sunglasses, I smiled. Despite the crisp November air washing over me as I floated over the damp landscape of morning, the effort to do so still warmed me considerably. After an hour of pedaling, my legs were finally getting into a rhythm with my heart and lungs; they pumped blood and oxygen to produce an easy movement through space and time. When it gets like this after the first hour, I know I’m going the Long way.
Legs previously stiff and dead on the cold start were now warmed and ready. A two day rest after a hard effort this weekend, made harder by poor hydration choices left me disappointed in my results. This was not to be a punitive ride since it would do nothing to prepare me for my next one. Quiet contemplation over ones mistakes, followed by determined acceptance of the need to change, is the only path towards improvement. This ride was merely a return to the saddle, but it was already turning into something much different; something I talk about with reverence because of its rarity.
The Long way is something I seek, yet is never found by me. The Long way tends to elude my every desire and attempt to find it. Rather, the Long way is the thing that finds me. It’s most common towards the end of a planned ride where I previously assigned myself a finite increment of time. It presents itself as I look at my odometer and realize that what I’d chosen to do is almost over and yet, my acceptance of this fact is incomplete. The feelings I have in my body of power and rejuvenation are greater than some arbitrary number on my cycle computer. The desires of my mind outweigh the need to conform to a formula I’d committed to prior to even clipping into my pedals. In this manner, the Long way finds me.
Letting go, I reach the intersection where I would turn home…and choose any way but home, which commits me to more. I don’t want it to stop; the immense feeling of freedom around me takes every weight off of my body. The worries and bad visions of night that consume me beyond the present are no longer, my mind is clear in an uncertain path. It’s when my reality catches up to my path that I realize that my path is certain, and in the short term; this path is not good. The Long way takes me beyond the certainty of the short term and places me into the uncertainty of the far future…in this I find peace.
Stopping at a wash cut into a rock band, I dismount amid the silence of the desert; sun streaming down warmth from above. Gravel beneath my feet crunch pleasantly against the brass of my cleats as I sit down in the soft sand, back against the red rock, absorbing the heat from its mass. Looking around, the squeak-cluck alarm of Gambel’s quail scurrying around to my right draw my eyes to the ironwood tree on the other side of the arroyo. Before I can find the noisy birds, I notice quick, irregular movement on the edge of the bank of sand across from me; a black lizard moving to and fro on a boulder, ostensibly looking for something to eat.
As I play with my camelback, sipping in the cool water; I play with the tan and silver flecked granite pebbles around me, tossing some here and others there. As I close my eyes, the sun above me casts a warm red glow in my eyelids as I absorb the symphony of calm of the Sonoran desert. Above me, I hear the sound a Saguaro makes in the wind as the air passes through its spines. Clinging to the arroyo’s fractured mass with outstretched roots bound in granite, the Saguaro conducts the performance. Gentle squeaks are heard, coming from the Palo Verde tree off to my left whose limbs rub against each other in the breeze; leaving their verdant namesake skin rubbed raw. The sharp report of a Gila Woodpecker is heard far in the distance, too far to locate yet close enough to contribute.
Interrupting this movement of sound, the hollow man made echo of jet engines throttling down upon approach to PHX tear me away from the sanctity of the arroyo. A thought creeps into the space beyond my eyes; my mind begins to churn on it…and I feel the Long way slipping away; my eyes open. I immediately stand up, startling the lizard who shared the arroyo with me; it taking cover beneath some limber bush.
I turn around and stare up at the Saguaro, appreciating the glowing white spines which offer a stark texture to the featureless blue sky above. As I walk over to my bike up stream; I find the Palo Verde tree with the rubbing limbs. I feel the limbs verdant smooth skin as I reach up above my head to observe the raw limb, tattered and dry. The quail start to cluck again with my movement, scurrying among the brittle brush ever farther upstream.
Mounting my bike reluctantly, I’m both saddened and happy to resume… As quickly as the Long way can come to me, it too can escape. I hope that the Long way will return before I reach the next intersection. Failure to escape the short term has recently translated into my inability to find peace. Even sleep, a time reserved for rejuvenation, has become another stressful component to my life, failing to offer up the respite of the past. I’m consumed by fears, darkness and doom. Failing to escape it, I am bound to its existence.
As I ride out of the wash on steep loose singletrack, my legs stamp out a strained rhythm, seeking a more effortless tempo that once was. I turn again at an intersection towards a route that takes me farther; still annoyed at the thoughts roiling the waters of my mind. Focusing on the loose and winding climb in front of me, thoughts disappear as I lift my front wheel over a rock, shove my handlebars and body forward while standing to crank my rear wheel over. This motion repeats itself several times on the climb, taking only a second, yet leaving my heart pounding within my head. Each lift move bringing me closer to the top of my climb, where before me; the ridgeline opens up an expansive skyline; river below, mountains 60 miles distant, almost close enough to touch.
Descending once again, the feelings of flow surprise me as a sense of wonderment returns. The Long way is back, driving me onwards and down. I continue on like this for hours: riding, stoping, listening, looking, thinking, climbing & descending. Only when my water is nearly gone am I forced to make the decision to return. Taking the final turn towards home at the last intersection; I leave the Long way behind and ride back to the present. The Long way still remains out there, elusively existing as a sound too faint to hear, a sight unseen and a feeling too weak to touch. I am assuaged only through graceful acceptance that it will find me once again, somewhere Out There.