My mountain bike rides usually begin with an early morning.
I tell myself (and others) that I like to ride before the heat of the full sun can beat me down. Heck, I even say that in the wintertime. But in reality, my nerves are an alarm that wakes me up early as if to say, “If you’re going to get maimed, lose your way, or have a blast, you might as well get a move on.”
And so I start my rides with an early morning … and this guy.
Phillip and I were introduced to mountain biking on a not-so-lazy day in the Scottish highlands. During a family trip to Ireland, my wife and I convinced a few of my in-laws, including brother-in-law Phillip, to hop a cheap flight over to neighboring Scotland to spend two days in the highlands. We had booked a hundred-year-old cottage on an old estate in the sleepy community of Laggan. We didn’t quite know what to expect, though we had heard tell of a mountain bike park just a few miles from our cottage. “Why not?”, we figured.
Phillip and I ponied up our pounds, rented a couple of bikes, and hopped aboard an old Land Rover that drove us to the top of a hill above Strathmashie Forest (I love those Scottish names). As our wheels began to cautiously rumble and jolt over the granite slabs, a new addiction was born.
A year later and an ocean away, the two of us were back in the United States with bikes of our own. We bought the bikes online and did a bit of assembly ourselves. Not a problem for my mechanically-inclined bro-in-law, and a considerable challenge for me. It was worth the time, because we were becoming riders and these were our trusty steeds. Before long, we even looked the part with the backpacks, helmets and shin scrapes. Admittedly, those gouges in my shins gave away the fact that I was still just a rookie rider. Come to think of it, I don’t know that Phillip ever had those wounds.
In the season to come, the two of us added children to our families and dealt with all sorts of other growing up, but that didn’t stop us from carving out time for riding and making awesome memories. Every few weekends, we’ve escaped to trails in the Northern California foothills in Auburn, the Sierra Nevada mountains in Truckee, the forested green of Scotland, the doomsday descent in Downieville, rain-soaked ridges in Kauai, the snowless summer ski slopes of Lake Tahoe, and plenty of great single track trail right here in Sacramento.
On these trails, we’ve learned to move at the speed of each other. When one of us falls off the bike, the other races in to make sure all is well (no defibrillators have been necessary yet). When one sets the pace, the other works to keep up the speed. When I get winded after a ridiculously ambitious climb and have to lay down in dizziness for 15 minutes, Phillip is the guy who waits patiently for me to climb back on my bike. When Phillip’s tire pops, I stop my ride to get him rolling again. Part of all this is staying safe, but plenty of it is just watching out for your brother.
Speaking of moving at the speed of each other, that was the case during our most recent ride at Doton’s Cove Trail at Folsom Lake, pictured here.
That Sunday morning, we loaded our bikes on the back of a car that wasn’t a Subaru (gasp!) and drove out to Folsom Lake for an easy ride. Most mountain bike trails take an hour or so to reach, and this was a morning where we wanted a shorter commute to our adventure destination. We wanted an easy ride because we were both out of shape. Car rides like this allow us to breathe, by catching up on life while scarfing a bit of high-calorie breakfast (me) or downing coffee that isn’t from Starbucks (Phillip). Before long, we were strapping helmets on our head and launching off into the brush.
Oh, and for the first time ever, I tucked a secret weapon in my riding pack: my smallest DSLR camera.
Most folks probably would whacked me upside the head for my camera antics. But each time I signaled to Phillip that I wanted to stop and snap some photos, he was game. He would drop his bike, take a seat and just soak up the scenery as I climbed up/over/around/but not under rocks to get my landscape photography fix. He didn’t rush me, or quietly bottle up any resentment. He knew that our ride was about filling our sails in the midst of crazy lives of work and daddyhood, and he was content to let me get recharged. This is a grace-filled guy.
He’s also a closet mountain man — fully alive when he’s in nature. I snapped the photo at the top of this post while Phillip waited out one of my photo sessions. He wasn’t paying attention to me. He was busy surveying Doton’s Cove and drinking in the quiet of the spot. The man was in his element and I got to capture him in that quiet moment. Then we picked up our bikes and set off again.
Our ride continued on for another hour, winding through the trails of the park. We burned plenty of calories and stopped plenty more times to take photos or just explore the beauty of this spot. We joked around, talked life and faith, and rode along easy trails when we got tired. I was grateful for the freedom to just take it at our own pace.
More than that, I was just grateful for the gift of my brother-in-law — my friend.
Who helps you to escape from everyday life and fill your sails? Tell us in the comments below.