There is a moment called “go/no-go”. Fifteen minutes from home, in a cold pouring rain, I analyze the incoming weather data: 60% chance of rain Wednesday (tomorrow) with a high of 60. We could choose to view this forecast pessimistically and wait another day. Or we could ignore how wet clothing and gear feels with a high temperature of 60. We opted for wet, cold, and wind.
This journey requires a level of effort that verges on suffering. But it doesn’t require suffering that seeps into foolishness. After a jittery night of cold rain, followed by a dour forecast, options are reviewed. And it is Vermont, the land of options.
This journey started in Vermont because it is as much state of mind as state of place. There is a reassuring continuity. I am always struck by the unchanging village centers and the impossible pastoral green. Disheveled farm buildings represent a timeless utility. Even the cows speak to stubborn allegiances. Holstein or Guernsey? (The fancy breeds like Belted Herefords speak of newcomers. The easygoing tension between the locals and natives is also part of the allure) And the names are local. It is hard to find a Target, an Olive Garden, a CVS. Each village has a general store. You buy gas at a place where they will fix your car. The cafes are small, usually announced by signage in need of some paint. Still damp and chilled, we found such a place In Wardsboro. Breakfast was fine, pancakes loaded with wild berries and a pint of Vt. maple. While getting to know the owner and other diners, we fork-feed our leftovers to a strapping Chocolate Lab. Definitely a Vermont scene.
We set our new course for the Northeast Kingdom. If Vermont is a state of mind, the kingdom is a place of myth. It is also home to the Kingdom Trails. This is a mountain bike destination where over fifty land-owners found some common ground and opened their land to an extraordinary set of trail builders. The result is called “flow” by the cognoscenti. I called it “too easy,” until I first rode it. The rocks, roots, ledgy drops, and bog tracts of NH are absent. You just ride, swoop, climb, laugh. I get it, you flow. It is a dance with the land.
The village of East Burke is built on Mountain Biking. Like a tribe, we gather, feeding a well-adapted economy. And the locals are focused and organized. They support the businesses of others and plan continually to expand the offering. There is a sense of welcome, you are part of a shared experience. On our trip north, we managed to gather some cellular signal and called ahead for lodging at the…. It was the off-season and we were the only guests. We settled in on the front patio, staring off to Burke Mt. Instead of dinner out we snacked on lunch leftovers from the Warren General Store and sipped Heady Toppers. The Inn Manager let us know that she was going home, telling us to “just text if you need anything”. This magnificent place was all ours. No concerns, no worries. Yeah, this is Vermont. And I certainly have no regrets. But I do have to hit some single track in the morning. It has been a while.
“It’s just like riding a bike” – There lives a concept that something ingrained in our neuro system becomes impossible to forget. This idea is buttressed by human biology. A physical act, done repeatedly, encourages a thickening of the Maylene Sheath surrounding our nerves. The act becomes repeatable without conscious thought. Motor Neuron disease is an auto-immune condition where the Maylene Sheath is under attack. The disease works against strength-building and skill retention. The nerve and muscle enter an uneasy stand-off. I imagine a bad relationship. Messages sent with collaborative intent, but gone horribly awry.
With uncertainty, I throw my leg over my bike and I’m eight again. It is the same make or break moment, unsure whether I’m heading down the lane or down to earth. Once underway, there is the intramural battle between the right leg, doing most of the work, and the left leg along for the ride. It is like a kid’s squabble: “Hey you’re not doing any of the work”; “Yeah, you’re lucky I’m even here…” But riding is still a relative strength. Guile offsets weakness, a bit of grit faces down instability, a lifetime of stored memory keep the pedals turning.
Out on the trail the brain sends messages in reaction to every ledge, root, hanging limb, too-narrow bridge, and sharp rise. The messaging takes an erratic course. To accommodate, I slow down. This leads to loss of stability and crashes. The concept of flow disappears. Speeding up means loss of control. And more crashes. I’ve always found the Black Diamond ratings to be inflated. Now I find them scary. I consult the map and choose easier trails. And I am flowing. It might be like the maple syrup on yesterday’s pancake. But fuck it, I am laughing my ass off up in the Kingdom, rolling single-track. Bruised, but no regrets. June 6, 017