Chapters

Have Dirt, Will Travel


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Have Dirt, Will Travel Written By Mark Sirek, Photos By Scott Haraldson

The Pilgrimage

Mountain biking. For more than 22 years now, it’s been one of the knights of my inner round table. It’s as high up on my hierarchy of needs as finding a meal or a bed.

And while mixing dirt into my ride to work or spending weekends in the local forests with friends can tide me over in the short term, my long-term wellbeing depends upon one thing: having that lengthy trip to look forward to.

Anticipation doesn’t just build excitement. It builds character.

You can always tell how consumed by the knobby-tired life another rider is by how often they mention their upcoming MTB vacation. Like an endorphin-powered tractor beam, the approaching trip prevails over all, dominating every conscious and subconscious hour.

And this time around, that lucky rider is you.

For you, life is now a picture-in-picture TV screen where the small picture in the corner is your immediate reality, but the big picture is high-def footage of you, authoritatively riding previously unknown, glorious singletrack.

Your preoccupation with the upcoming journey isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Emails, phone calls, texts, and beers in the basement workshops of your riding buddies fan the flames. The back and forth banter before the first day of the trip forces double takes of the countdown clock. Surely that thing must be broken.

You have to make the time pass somehow, so you go way deep into planning mode. If you’re heading back to a favorite set of trails, you formulate your gear list based off of an internal topographical scan that Google Earth can’t even touch. You don’t even remember details of your wedding day with such accuracy. If you’re heading somewhere new, preparations are made for scenarios that may or may not even be possible there. But therein lies the lure of what makes explorers explore. No one is as ready as you.

The first day of the trip arrives and your group assembles around a vehicle that’s worth far less than any one of the bikes. No worries. The combined desire of everyone involved is going to will that car to your destination. Time to focus on the game of Tetris ahead of you—cramming all the bikes in always takes longer than you’d like. Soon enough, though, everything fits and the 5 x 7” square you get to sit on for the next eight hours or more is revealed.

At this point, you can convince yourself of anything. Like sitting in that one position for hours on end will be not only be no problem, it will have no effect on your ability to comfortably ride later on. In the meantime, you’ll just anesthetize yourself with the combination of smells coming from everyone’s specific and scientifically-tested-for-mountain-biking road trip snacks.

For you, life is now a picture-in-picture TV screen where the small picture in the corner is your immediate reality, but the big picture is high-def footage of you, authoritatively riding previously unknown, glorious singletrack.

And still, still — you can’t wait to arrive. The anticipation makes the smell, the frustration, and the discomfort irrelevant.

Because here’s the thing: Despite the fact that your jittery anticipation makes an Australian cattle dog with a Frisbee look chill, you wouldn’t have it any other way. Once you arrive at your destination, once the first bike is unloaded, you know the ritual is about to yield its priceless reward. The joy is epic. Now get out there and make King Arthur proud.