My friend Scott’s dad is an oenophile, and sends Scott an assortment of very good wine every month or so. Scott enjoys it, but rarely thinks about which cheese or fruit would go well with whatever has arrived. This father-son wine of the month club has given Scott a taste for good wine, but no knowledge of how to acquire it on his own. He has become, in his words, an ignorant snob.
And so it has been with me and the mountains. I spent many July 4ths at a large estate in the Adirondacks, where my friend’s dad’s encyclopedic knowledge of local hikes made guidebooks unnecessary. It was all so easy: the best hikes were minutes away from their home, and from running, no hike was too hard for me. Afterward, we got onion rings and milkshakes, and back at the house, the view rivaled whatever we had seen on top of the mountain.
In my first six months in Colorado, I barely left Denver. I looked at the Rockies through my bedroom window. I found some comfort in their existence, as if this landmass was proof of something bigger, or more personal, than shifting tectonic plates or melting glaciers. But I didn’t know where to start, and I had no one to guide me. Once the snow melted, I began going on disappointing trail runs based on google searches, and continued to know effectively nothing about the geography of Colorado.
I’ve been luckier with mountain biking. I have a friend who knows the trails, and more importantly, has access to loaner bikes for me. The first time we went, I got a concussion trying to get the bikes out of the car, but I loved the ride. Mountain biking has everything I like about hiking—the lack of cellphone service, the way food tastes on breaks—but is faster. That first ride, we went out long enough for me to think I could have gone longer. The terrain was just the right amount of difficult to hide the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to keep up on the climbs, and the bike I rode took all the shocks on the way down.
Yesterday, we went on a faster, longer course. The casual arrogance I’ve acquired toward the physical turned into some embarrassment as I struggled on the uphill. Where my usual indifference to bodily harm went as we cruised downhill, I don’t know, but I spent most of the last five miles afraid of crashing into a tree.
My previous understanding of the physicality of biking was always based on the existence of the bike seat, and that at any time, a rider can sit down and cruise. But that’s a trick. Since my body wasn’t being worn down at the same rate as my electrolyte balance, when the crash came, it came as a surprise. And so I realized with some disappointment how little I knew about mountain biking, and also, that it would take a bit longer than immediately to get any good at it.
Riding back from the trail on the fire service road, drinking beers we had hidden in the creek, a herd of deer ran by us. There were mountains in the distance and the sky was blue, and I felt a million miles away from everything except for that moment. It is easy and lucky to be an ignorant snob, but to get to a feeling like that is worth any effort.