Bound by Dirt
Welcome to my world. People tend to say that with a pinch of sarcasm and a hint of “quit your complainin’.” It comes off like a challenge or perhaps an invitation to notice just how wonderfully full of martyrdom a person is. While there’s plenty of sarcasm to come, I say it like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving says “I love you.” He does, and you believe him, but still… he’s crazy. So when I say “Welcome to my world,” trust me that I mean it.
Riding mountain bikes and eating cookies
My world? It’s crazy, but you’re welcome to join. In fact, I’d love you to join. We’re going to ride mountain bikes, explore the woods, build trails, find friends, piss each other off, shake it off, get dirty and hopefully eat some chocolate chip cookies along the way. Who am I? I am a dad, a husband, a son, a homie, a confidant, an asshole, a trail builder, an advocate, a steward and a little bit crazy. I’m a mountain biker. I am Brock.
This new mountain biking thing
When I started mountain biking it wasn’t to see new parts of western Colorado where I lived, or see how far I could ride in an hour. I was invited by some buddies to try this “new” thing. We went to the trails I knew well; I had hiked them all. I saw things I had already seen, but something was different – better. I noticed rocks in the trail I’d never seen, but they’d been there for eons.
We relied on each other
On these trails we did things unheard of in my previous pedestrian world: we “sessioned” sections of trails that gave us trouble. We fell over… a lot. We relied on and pushed each other to try and succeed at new things. We cheered each other on, picked each other up and became more than simply friends from school, work or the neighborhood. Standing in a parking lot outsiders just saw us as a couple students, some Hispanic guy, a thug and a vet. But we became something larger than the sum of our parts. We had features pedestrians and goat herders thought peculiar; the tan lines on our arms and neck were as normal as Ropers having a Skoal can bleached out ring on their back pockets. But tan lines on hands, those brown rectangles from mesh-backed half-finger gloves…. These marks certainly gave cause for pause and questioning at the deli or bar, but they were brands of pride for us. We had our own language too. Things were rad or gnarly. Lips, trannies and hopped bunnies carried drastically new meaning. We became our own community, forged in heat of the sun, hardened by the rocks and desert, bound by dirt.
Spreading the stoke, fueling the fire
Fast forward 20-whatever years and pan west a thousand or so miles and there’s definitely still dirt under my fingernails and a quiver in the garage. The bikes have changed, the speeds and jumps increased, and while my identity has broadened to husband, father and more, I am still a mountain biker. I am at home in the woods, on dirt, rocks, roots – seeing what the ride has for me today. Done well, to me being a mountain biker means we not only think about, talk about and ride mountain bikes (a lot) but also build, fix, protect and expand our resources, our ability to ride them, through trail work and advocacy. We spread the gospel, infecting others with the bug that only trails and shared thrills can cure. We spread the stoke, fuel the fire and build the community. I say “done well” because anyone can grab their bike, go ride, get smelly and have a private experience out on trail. Those moments can be valuable, but we don’t exist in a vacuum and (I at least) don’t live in a fairyland where unicorns poop Skittles, trails build themselves and land managers treat everyone the same.
A joy shared is a joy tripled
Stoke. Perhaps it’s overused like most catchy phrases, but it fits what I’m looking to do. I desire to build a fire to ride mountain bikes, dig trails and strengthen the MTB community of those around me, hell those anywhere near my sphere of influence (which is, thankfully, larger than my cookie augmented gut). I want everyone to know the joy of a well-earned stink and to revel in that crusty smile, mud spattered legs and tired thighs – that connection to something much more than just an elevation profile or heart rate. Those are individual experiences and can be fun, but a joy shared is a joy doubled or tripled. I have a great passion for being in the woods on a bike. It has given me great joy and created some of my strongest bonds with my homies. I am stoked on mountain biking. Yes, stoke is the right word, for just as a fire can gain in intensity, size and beauty so it can weaken, shrink and fizzle. All that’s needed is a spark and some air flow – spark and air, flowing.
The good word of narrow ribbons of dirt
Like the young men in white short sleeves and skinny black ties who knock on your door, I want to spread the good word of narrow ribbons of dirt, wind in your hair, pounding hearts and a spark. As much as I love scaring my non-skilled ass on some feature jump or pinballing off a tree, these thrills cannot compare to listening to new riders giggle as they roll through a trail, squeal as they make it over a root, curse and get blue when they fall. It’s somewhere between watching your kids take their first steps and realizing you just buttered that super hairy jump line that has eluded you for so long. We all wobbled, swerved and hit the ground when we first took the training wheels off. Someone picked you up, wiped your face and dusted you off. I love cheering on a newb when they’re unsure. Telling a joke when they’re positive the granola is coming back up. High-fiving when they roll that creek crossing. Picking them up after they’ve wobbled, swerved and stacked.
Build, fix, maintain – not just the trails
In the same way we build, fix and maintain our trails in order to have killer, sustainable places to ride, I believe it is our duty to build new mountain bikers, “fix” old buddies when they’re in a slump and maintain that fire, stoke it, feed it. Trails don’t heal themselves, fires don’t rage in a vacuum and passionate mountain bikers rarely happen out of nowhere. We can all think back on that guy who egged us on, remember those words, can see the smiles that helped us turn the cranks one… more… time. Like the billows of a blacksmith they stoked the fire. Brought an intensity to a moment and connection to each other. A bond was made – no – forged.
Snow covered peaks through salt crusted eyes
Many have said they owe their lives to mountain biking. A handful have meant it. Some want to make their livelihood through mountain biking. Few realize it. I don’t owe my life to mountain biking; it didn’t save me. But those dudes who dragged me out on that first ride on a borrowed bike – the guys who waited on me, picked me up and cheered me on – they stoked a fire that burns brightly and most definitely has made my quality of life (and sanity) much better. Without them I’d likely spend my free time chasing a little white ball around manicured landscapes rather than following ribbons of dirt through old growth. I wouldn’t know the joy of seeing snow covered peaks through salt crusted eyes after thousands of rotations of cranks. I would have never felt the terror of rolling into a line of drops, stepups and gaps measured more accurately in apartment buildings than feet. Nor would I have known the pride and sheer unadulterated love in a hug from my daughter after her first successful lap under her own two pedals.
Speak to me about passion
The bike didn’t save me and neither did the trails. They could have just been be more things, stuff I didn’t understand, if a community of mountain bikers had not set a spark inside me then fueled it, fanned it and eventually set it alight. So what that you’re KOM how many times on Strava. How many podiums have you bagged? That carbon sled weighs what? So what, I don’t give a crap. Talk to me about how many fires you’ve sparked. Tell me how you geek out on waiting for newbs and how you shepherd lesser riders through their ride first. Don’t talk to me about your vo2 max or cadence. Hip me to how we keep our community growing, healthy and vibrant. Speak to me about passion. Stand with your bros (of all genders) and be a community.