The waning light of the crisp autumn day is beginning to sink beyond the horizon. I’m undeterred. My pulse quickens as I scurry to change from khakis to spandex while tucked in a corner of the trailhead parking lot. Mentally astute, I run the checklist of essentials, as I do the bib short dance and click into my carbon tap shoes. There’s no time for a preflight check today; pressures, chain lube, loose bolts will be assessed tomorrow. My window of opportunity is small, and every minute counts.
Dropping into the first piece of single, I scan the trail, evaluating conditions. Looks promising, I think, as a squirrel narrowly escapes peril and darts up a black oak. Gaining momentum and shifting into the big ring, my breath becomes more labored and rhythmic. I begin to roll. Laid out before my tubeless rubber, the path ahead dips and dives, clear of organic matter and packed tight from a summer of use. Hero dirt, I think, as I hammer through the apex of a particular shifty off camber on the edge of control.
The first bead of sweat shakes loose and grazes the temple of my Oakleys. Fully warmed, I click up a few cogs and begin to crank. Sight lines are narrowing, as tree trunks in my peripheral start to buzz. Compress the fork, pump a flat rock to the left, and settle just beyond the root of a cedar, a full bike length away to the right. I pull up, come back to earth on a wooden bridge just out of a corner and immediately release from gravity again, only to flat land into a perfectly timed pedal stroke. It’s on.
My window is beginning to close. With only 15 minutes left in my hour of bliss, the available rays are scarce. Pushing on, I feel the stresses of the day release, work deadlines fade, and my vision sharpen. I know I’m alive, because I can hear my heart beating. I’m in the zone every rider seeks: a singular focus with shrewd attention. My movements are fluid, purposeful, and precise. Man and machine working in harmony. Pure heaven.
I roll into the parking lot just as the last glimpse of the sun disappears, and I reflect for a few breaths. In a hundred hours of saddle time, you average just one this gratifying. A moment where all the variables of the situation come together in a perfect equation—where trail conditions, bike setup, and physical ability gel to create a masterpiece that clears the mind and returns a balanced self. This is how I stay balanced. How do you?