One of the perks of working in the bike industry is that our offices can be mobile.
We don’t take advantage of this enough, though. Often we end up sitting in some anonymous Starbucks with a vendor, letting him tell us repeatedly how much we need him and the things he has. He plies us with charts, metrics, and over-milked frappes until we’re all nodding along like dashboard bobbles.
Come the end of the product season, we decide we’ve had enough of this shit and declare a meeting in woods. There won’t be a Chelsea Wolfe soundtrack competing with the scream of scalded dairy. There won’t be any blueberry scones. And there certainly won’t be a lunch bought by a rep. Reps don’t come here, usually.
Our meeting room is a cold, gravel-filled parking lot directly next to a horse waste disposal container. We knock out the business side of things in under 20 minutes. We throw jokes around, discuss the bare minimum necessary to call it a meeting, stretch protesting muscles against frozen air. All of us are anxious to either get moving or go back to sleep.
We hit the trails as the sun starts to crest and light up the blazing fall colors of DuPont. It’s providing warmth more visual than tactile, but that’s enough to trick my brain into believing I’m not freezing as we’re scrambling across the first river ford, bike on shoulder.
At the top of the first grueling mile climb, we’re all shedding clothes as fast we can. The next mile up, we’re all down to shorts and jerseys and it’s not even above 45F. If you’re at the back of the group (which I always am), you can see the faint cloud of steam rising from the cluster of ten sweaty bodies. My brain wanders, trying to get away from the fact that we’ve been climbing for three straight miles, up multiple tight switchbacks. I keep musing over the fact that we’re a rolling micro-climate, expecting tiny peals of thunder to start sounding from the center of the salty haze at any minute. We hit another switchback, the slope increases, and I can now only focus on my breathing and keeping my heart rate down. And we climb.
We finally crest onto a wide-open vista, an unused airstrip on the top of the mountain. Even the well-seasoned climbers and roadies in the group are wiped, but any complaints die in our mouths as the view hits us.
It’s nothing but rolling gradients of brown, gold, and red. Uninterrupted, for miles and miles and miles. It’s deathly silent, except for our ragged breathing and the occasional slurp of a hydration pack hose. The day is just starting to warm, the breeze starts drying our soaked bodies, and we’re content to use this gorgeous view as a reason to stop pedaling for the moment.
I ask the guy next to me, hunched and panting on his handlebars, “worth it, yeah?”
“Views are nice,” he says, “but you know we only really climb for the downhill.”
That got everyone moving again. We immediately drop in to the flowing track to the right of the airstrip, and then begin a screaming descent.
You can’t stop to think, because if you’re thinking instead of reacting, you’re going to eat trail. The colors blur and smear, eyes and nose leaking from the speed. It’s a 30mph trust-fall over jagged rock faces, fallen logs, and a blanket of leaves. Time dilates, and it goes on for a small eternity.
We regroup at the bottom, panting, grinning like naked skulls.
Our regional waits to get his breath back, then turns to address the group.
“We need more of this, guys. It helps remind us why we do this job. It’s definitely not the money. And it’s not the hours. It’s the fact that at the end of the day, we still love riding our bicycles in the woods and on the road and want other people to come play.”
Yeah, that’s about right.
I shake out my hands, trying to get the death grip gone from the tendons. Then we climb. And drop in. And climb. And drop in.
After twenty miles or so of this, we make it back to the parking lot. Our once-clean bikes and clothes look like muddy Pollocks. We’re spent. No one’s talking. The only thing on any of our minds right now was the celebratory First Beer, shortly followed by Pescados in Brevard. Nothing mends torn muscles quite like Dos Equis and a giant fish burrito.
Later, as I’m showering off the muck and inspecting the inevitable damage, I’m quietly grateful for every new lump and scrape I find. I may not have much in the bank, but every meeting we have like that one definitely reminds me why I don’t care.