In this series of posts, some of our sponsored riders share some of things they are grateful for from 2016. -Kid
2016 Gratitude: Kurt Refsnider
Among Stone Giants
It’s a rare occurrence when a place has such an impact on me that my ability to process my emotions is lost to the wind. But such an experience created perhaps the starkest single memory from this past year.
For two days, I had been riding and pushing my bike along a relic pack trail from more than a century ago. It has vanished from many maps, but this land has a longer memory. For long stretches, this trail has been mostly lost to innumerable flash floods spawned by desert storms, but it can still be followed. I knew this route would be slow going – I packed three day’s worth of food for just 50 miles.
Through the first afternoon, I patiently worked my way across seemingly impassible canyons and cliffs before abruptly plunging several thousand feet down and tens of millions of years back in geologic time. My route entered a maze of red-walled slot canyons and progress slowed to a crawl. But I was lost in this place of flowing water, petroglyphs, hogan ruins. Despite the ironic lack of trees, tree frogs sang out with what sounded to me like absolute delight. And at the end of a tiring day, I stopped atop a narrow saddle between two canyons and was lulled to sleep by a warm breeze and the sense of being entirely isolated from the outside world.
Much of the second morning was spent pushing my bike along a boulder field of a streambed. Under the baking afternoon sun, I worked my way out of one canyon system and was stopped at the narrow entrance to an unimaginable world of white fins, golden towers, and red domes. Piñon pines nestled among stone giants, and I stood motionless, struggling to take everything in. Then I grinned widely and continued on the faint singletrack as it dropped into the narrow, walled basin below.
At the bottom, I leaned my bike on a gnarly pine, cooked up a quick dinner, and then scaled one of the domes. The nearest rock walls fell away as I climbed higher, revealing what laid beyond in all directions – the summit of Naa’tsis’aan towered just to the south, and naked, sliced sandstone extended to the opposite horizon.
The initial awe and disbelief mixed with sense of surprise at the veil of modesty of this corner of canyon country. There was so much hidden here, hidden in plain view. I felt small and insecure standing below the mountain that held such great spiritual significance to the Navajo people. The absolute silence enveloped me as I stared at the glowing fins of sandstone and wondered if my desire to try to ride my bike here had been overly selfish. Unexpectedly overwhelmed, I sat down atop the dome at my feet. And I remained there, transfixed and shocked by the power of this place until I was overtaken by the long shadows cast by a distant cliff line. I scampered back down to my bike, pulled out my sleeping bag and ground sheet, and laid down in the loose dirt. My heart was restless, and the dreams that followed seemed lost between one dream world and another.
Six months later, the emotions I felt on that evening still return with the same vividness and rawness. I am eternally grateful that there remain sacred and wild places to explore, experience, and learn from.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com