Curiosity has an edge. Sometimes, when we indulge our curiosity and stretch ourselves to the boundary of our comfort zone, we get nicked by the fine line that separates the actual from the possible. And curiosity is not limited to intellectual pursuits. Sometimes it involves a mountain bike.
It was a flawlessly-executed double jump on a serene and well-groomed singletrack. Clipped into the pedals of a state-of-the-art, carbon fiber, full suspension 29er appropriately named Superfly 100, I was enjoying the temperate early morning air beneath my wings, loosed from the earthly chains of gravity and reveling in a freedom perhaps more appropriately afforded a much younger person. Though I’ve ridden mountain bikes for the last 15 of my 47 years, defying gravity was a fairly new phenomenon, a stretching of sorts, an old man curious about the limits of new technology. But I landed the second jump a little long, leaned out to miss a tree, and plowed into a ditch shoulder first, clipped in the whole way. While the adrenaline was flowing, I ran my hand across my clavicle to confirm what the giant snap through my jaw had suggested, finding first one raw edge and then the other of skeletal structure that had, for almost a half century, been connected. Having sent my riding partners on to finish the loop, I strapped my arm up, collected my gear, and pushed my bike out of the woods.
It has now been about six months, the time prescribed by my orthopedist for leaving the bike alone, allowing old bones to mend and frozen shoulders to thaw. It has been a trying interval of time, what with all the weight to be gained and other, less compelling tasks at hand like work. All the while, the bike has commanded a place of prominence in the garage, as if Gary Fisher himself were reminding me of the philosophical components bolted alongside the mechanical. The climbs teach us Epicurean introspection, where the wonders of science meet sheer human determination to carry an old man to new heights. The downhill runs extol pure hedonism when the practiced eyes follow a well-worn line and the bike and rider follow seamlessly at a speed somewhere between perceived and actual.
It is time, says the bike, to once again engage nature and machine in palpable conflict, a contest void of victory or defeat, offering all takers a path, a pedal, and a unique perspective on the time and space we travel through. It is a perspective that rewards curiosity, often with breathtaking abstraction, sometimes with painful precision. It’s a perspective I try to share with my kids as they begin to embrace the changing world they see on the horizon. Sometimes you have to fly to find the solid ground beneath you.