Boise, Idaho -- My heart is pounding and my leg muscles are burning, but I'm on a mission. I alternate between pedaling and walking up a monstrously steep trail in the Camel's Back/Hull's Gulch Reserve in the mountains rising above this little town. Experience tells me something good is waiting for me if I don't give up.
A vivacious young woman and an old white dog come up from behind me. "Just keep going," she says, sweeping her hand to the left. "I think you'll find what you're looking for when you get to that ridge over there."
I propel myself forward, foot by foot, then lean left. I finally lift my head, my eyes going from the dirt ahead, to my handlebars, to ...
I see snow-capped mountains off to the right and blue sky stretching out for a million miles. A bush and grass-filled valley unfolds to my left. One bird darts in front of me, while a flock I can't locate puts on a choral performance. The first sun rays of spring kiss me smack on the mouth. I grin like a schoolboy.
The sensory overload is so powerful I don't even feel guilty about picking Father Time's pocket. I think he sensed my crime but chose not to object. He knew how badly I needed those frozen moments -- the first great moments in a three-hour ride that I snuck in after a taxing work-related conference. I hopped in a taxi as soon as it ended, raced out to the Bikes 2 Boards rental shop, and hit the trail head knowing I had but a few precious hours to take in some vistas and find my way back before the shop closed. That would leave me just enough time to make it back to the hotel, pack, crash, and get ready for pre-dawn dash to the airport.
I try to push the clock crunch out of my mind and shove off again. The trail twists and turns, a new National Geographic video awaiting me at every corner. It's just me and a bike and all of God's majesty and I feel like I'm 19 again. Something inside me bursts and I start laughing out loud.
A gurgling sound pulls me around the next bend, a crystal clear creek there waiting for me. I ditch the bike and scoop what moments before was snow on to my face and arms. My skin tingles. I scoop up a few rocks and put them in my backpack, snapping a picture with the Nikon I store between my ears.
A pair of rude interruptions break my trance: I fall flat on my ass while stepping away from the stream; it's an inexplicably hard fall that cakes me in mud. "You dork," I chide myself.
The ego bruising that comes next, though, is worse. I choose to start walking down the trail as the route back is more of a descent than I've tackled in years ... only to be nearly run over by a couple of co-eds that swerve around the old man. It could have been worse -- they could have called me "sir."
I quickly realize I'm not willing to take the mountain biking risks I once used to enjoy. Not on a trail in the middle of nowhere the day before a long pair of flights home. Not when I have to be at work on Monday. I go back and forth between calling myself a coward and a man who has lost his edge and a man with memories of some mountain bike trips gone awry -- a wiser guy whose life now includes the once alien concept of calculated risks.
I think I meet the entire populace of Boise the rest of the way down. Everyone -- from 20-somethings to retirees, asks me if I'm OK. Do I have a flat? Is something wrong? They don't say the words but I know what they're thinking ... why is someone walking down the trail?
"I'm just an Idaho rookie," I decide to start telling people. Got the inquiries over faster.
Almost done, the state of Idaho gives me one more gift: The 15th Street trail clears another ridge and I take in the Boise city sky line. The brownish capitol building looks like it's made of the mountain I'm riding on. I disembark one last time, let the view linger just a little longer, and thank the heavens for letting me rob 'ol Father Time.