Editor's note: Last week we heard from sponsored rider Kurt Refsnider, a professor at Prescott College in Arizona, who takes students on bikepacking trips into the nearby mountains as a part of class. What follows is an excerpt from one of his students; read more about his experience here.
To Rip, or Not to Rip--By guest blogger Daniela De Guzman
Wooo, weee! Do you know what it’s like to guide your trusty, muddy, worn in, loaded bike like a blind stallion, careening down rocky, winding, rooty, sweeping high-alpine terrain? Crossing icy mountain streams, jagged rocks, roots and logs you’d rather not, and sandy streambeds that pull your tires this way and that? Along magnificently deep sandstone cliffs and canyons in the blazing desert sun, or switchbacking through glacial valleys and alpine meadows fragrant with ripe huckleberries and currants and last year’s decaying aspen leaves? To guide your poor steed on foot (a.k.a. hike-a-bike) gently and urgently along the edges of deep, slippery mud ponds, up and over the unrideable rocky, sandy, or steep sections of trail? To have your bike shorts reek of old sweat and chamois butter, to have solid thighs and weathered skin? To bike up at elevations where you sometimes find yourself riding along harrier or red tail hawks, who happen to call the stunning valleys of the Southern Rockies home, and having swooping, swerving moments of feeling birdlike yourself, catching banks instead of thermals, and clean descent lines instead of prey? All of this happened while bikepacking for three weeks, learning about the history of a place and landscape through geology, with 10 other wild and motivated young people that also happened to receive college credit for doing so.
Looking back now, I’m not exactly sure what it was that drove me to want to join this trip. I guess I have this streak of curious insanity that wonders, "What would it be like to do that thing I don’t know if I can do, to put my will power, patience, and compassion to the test, to go to places I haven’t been before and drink deeply of mountain, desert, and canyon air, to fall in love with something I didn’t know existed before, to just adventure?" No doubt, there were plenty of obstacles in the way that could’ve easily justified me not doing it, like my total lack of technical mountain biking experience, lack of physical training, there being only one other female student on the trip, and, most importantly, my unavoidable, total lack of a bicycle and other related gear. Honestly, it’s been a whirlwind, and it’s hard to say how it all came together, and how it is that almost a month later I’m sitting here on the other side of it all writing this. I remember the day before the course began, taking my friend’s bike out for my first singletrack ride. I had no idea what to expect and was so nervous (heart pounding, hands sweaty and shaky, mind overflowing with doubts) that the first rock I encountered on the trail knocked me off balance. Off to a great start. Well, this is not the first time I’ve been humbled by the natural world, and, for better or worse, when these things happen, I just keep going.
Our first trip was just a two-day, local “warm-up trip” that gave us a chance to try out our setups and get a feel for things. I was exhausted by the end, had my first fall going over a boulder on the descent, and remember feeling totally beat, in awe, and grateful. Why grateful? Because I realized that this trip was going to kick my butt. It was giving me the opportunity to really challenge myself mentally, physically, and spiritually in a way that I couldn’t remember being challenged in a while. Because how many of us get to take a college course where you have rocks, peers, and bikes as teachers, all of which are constantly holding you accountable to your full potential, while allowing you to experiment with real risk? These continued to be themes for me on the trip as I fluctuated between exhaustion, exuberance, frustration, and awe.
Part of the blessing of being a novice in anything, I guess, is that one has no point of reference; you’re ready for anything and are in a space where you approach everything with an open mind. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was getting myself into, which probably made it all the more doable. When the terrain was steep, or technical, yes, I was probably scared, but it just was what it was, so you just do it. There’s nothing to compare it to.
Something finally clicked for me at the end of our last trip that was up in the mountains outside of Crested Butte. With all the unknowns behind me of what to expect from a trip like this, and the knowledge and experience of how to deal with whatever the trail presented me, I felt my body relax, and a focused sort of confidence take over. Having finally made it to a point on the learning curve where I could really enjoy myself and I knew what my capabilities were, the 13-mile descent from Star Pass at over 12,000 feet back to Crested Butte was one of pure, winding joy. To say this sort of a trail would’ve paralyzed me at the beginning of the trip is huge. My bicycle has always offered me a sense of liberation and a promise of fresh air and new perspective when life demands it, but we’ve always been bound to the road. However, more than having gained just the practical knowhow to now successfully execute a bikepacking trip, I leave this whole experience with the reminder of the magic of the mountains, canyons, and deserts, and the sense of possibility and new life that pushing past doubt and fear always brings.
In the coming days, we’ll share a few different stories from other Prescott College students ...
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