An Ode To The Adventure Ride

Written by Lily Krass/ Photos by Max Ritter + Zach Montes

 A good old hike-a-bike is good for the soul. 

The scorching hot August sun beat down on my back as I struggled to heave my bike up a steep hill in Wyoming’s Palisade Range. Beads of sweat poured out of my helmet as I fumbled with my footing in a loose gravelly rut, forcing my too-heavy enduro bike up what I hoped was the last hike-a-bike of the day. I couldn’t see my friends anymore, but the steady flow of grapefruit-sized rocks tumbling towards me told me they were having a similarly futile fight with the “trail.”

A few days earlier, we had scoured Trailforks to put together a 30-mile traverse through the Palisades Wilderness with the hope of exploring some lesser known trails outside of the Tetons. Knowing we’d have at least 4,500 feet of challenging climbing before a long 6,000-foot descent, we were prepared to throw some serious sweat (and eventually tears) towards the cause. It wouldn’t be easy, but the numbers still seemed like they were stacked in our favor. 

Hike a Bike

Birds chirping and spirits high, we pushed off into a crisp morning breeze, easing into our traverse with the first few miles on a familiar trail. 

An hour later, our blissful bubble popped. The trails we’d chosen, while technically open to mountain bikes, were frequented mostly by motos or horses; which we quickly learned wasn’t conducive to smooth, efficient pedaling. Loose sections of 10% grade, downed trees, deep ruts, scree chutes, and waist-deep creek crossings revealed to us why we couldn’t find any good beta on these trails. 

We trudged on for hours, making slow progress towards the ridgeline on our horizon. Short sections of rideable terrain were quickly shut down by old ruts from muddy horse traffic, and I could feel my optimistic outlook shifting towards exasperation as I dismounted my bike over and over. 

Where did the trail go?

On the first and second hike-a-bike, I good-naturedly thought: Wow, what a ridiculous sport this is. We truly are earning our turns out here! When I begrudgingly dismounted my bike for the third through sixth time, I thought: Maybe this is a once-a-summer trail... After the seventh soul-crushing bike push, I thought: How great would it be to sell my mountain bike, reunite with my trail running shoes, and spend the rest of the summer on perfectly maintained trails in the National Park? Or better yet, sell my truck, move to Thailand, and eat fresh mangoes on the beach for the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a solid dose of Type II fun (and mangoes) but this was trending more towards Type III. Or IV. Or maybe we should stop adding numbers and just say: not fun. After I stumbled off my bike for the fifteenth time and wondered if we were ever going to make it to the end of the trail, I felt a calming sense of clarity; This is hard, I told myself. But you can do it. 

Those eight words—while not especially poetic—are surprisingly grounding; a simple mantra I like to repeat in my head whenever I find myself face to face with a challenge, be it on trail, snow, or at my desk. Anything from a long interval set at the gym, rehabbing after hip surgery, a tough conversation I’ve been putting off, scary root garden, or looking ahead to a stressful week of work on a Sunday night (bad habit, I know); it will be all okay because what could be harder than pushing your bike up a vertical scree field?

Hiking up scree field

Despite the grunts, sighs, expletives, and occasional tears, rides like this are strangely what have made me truly love mountain biking. Adventure riding has a way of reminding me what I’m capable of; looking up at a mountain range and knowing I can use my skills and strength to get from Point A to Point B, even if it’s going to hurt a little bit along the way. Staring head on at a literal mountain makes climbing those metaphorical ones just a little bit easier. 

This past year has been riddled with complexity and discomfort, and I’ve found it hard to nudge myself out of the inkling of a comfort zone I’ve been clinging to. So while I’m relatively risk averse in almost every other aspect of my life, I’ve found the bike trail to be the perfect escape to step out of what feels normal, letting myself try and try again until I discover what I can accomplish. And when I’m totally over it and frustrated and hungry and have to pee and can’t get back on my bike because I forgot to lower my dropper, I remember that heaving this two-wheeled machine up a large mountain is a pretty weird thing to do in the grand scheme of what’s going on in the world. Perspective is important, and while at times mountain biking seems frivolous—queue the 'Why Am I Complaining About Something That’s Supposed to Be Fun' complex—it’s amazing what kind of lessons riding (or walking) a bicycle over uneven terrain has taught me. 

High alpine ride

Wielding my bike like a machete, I forged on, using my front wheel to battle my way through piles of nettles and sharp, tangled branches. Each time I had to dismount and acquiesce to another infuriating hike-a-bike, I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought about how many times in the last five hours I had thought I couldn’t go on, only to discover that I could. Like any challenge in life, yes, it might suck for a little while (or maybe actually like 10 more miles), but we can always do more than we think we can. 

That’s the beauty of riding a mountain bike. It’s the only activity I’ve ever discovered that can at once make me want to smile, laugh, puke, cry, whoop for joy, or fly into a fit of rage, all within the span of a three-hour ride. Coming back to frustrating sections of trail over and over again has taught me to be patient with myself even if it “totally rolls.” Staring back up at a terrifying root garden I finally rode through has taught me what it’s like to truly savor an achievement. I’ve learned that it’s still okay to say no to something that doesn’t feel right, and even if I have an off day (or three) it doesn’t mean I’m getting weaker. It’s just part of the process. 

It would be great if this story ended with the descent of a lifetime, proving that hard work and determination always pay off. In reality, our “descent” turned out to be 10 miles of an abandoned horse trail, so intensely overgrown that we had to hike our bikes back down the canyon, inching along the creek bed (featuring seven waist-high stream crossings) to navigate. In the last three miles, a torrential hail storm replaced the blue August sky, and we pedaled through four inches of standing water to finish the trail out. 

High alpine mtb scenery

Ten hours later we collapsed at the trailhead, covered in dirt, twigs, dozens of bug bites, and a few welts from alarmingly large hail pellets. My drivetrain had picked up enough foliage to prepare a large salad. Relieved and exhausted, I couldn’t help but smile as I laid down in the gravel parking lot. If I’d known how things were going to go, I might not have shown up to the trailhead, but I couldn’t be more glad to be where I was. 

The reward was still there, I just had to look a little deeper to see it. 

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3 comments

Awesome ladies, Great bikes, Cool clothes and our “INCREDIBLE” Mother Earth :) It doesnt get any better than that..Wellllll you could throw in a couple good ole dogs :) :) :)

Mary Ruth Nagle August 24, 2021

Awesome ladies, Great bikes, Cool clothes and our “INCREDIBLE” Mother Earth :) It doesnt get any better than that..Wellllll you could throw in a couple good ole dogs :) :) :)

Mary Ruth Nagle August 24, 2021

Inspiring! Thank you!

Laura July 29, 2021

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