Finding Adventure

Issue 14 of Bike Hugger Magazine

As a Bike Hugger contributor, Patrick Brady and I ride together at media events, trade stories, and share a zeal for a life lived on two wheels. He wrote this essay for the Medium Bicycles Collection and to introduce Issue 14 of our Magazine.

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The promise of the bicycle is freedom, the ability to roll out of your driveway and down the road to destinations both known and unknown. It’s a recipe for adventure. But adventure isn't as easily found as a can of Coca-Cola. It’s a bit like enlightenment, unless you're totally foolhardy. After all, walk into a police station waving a gun and you are guaranteed an adventure, though perhaps one you won’t much enjoy.

The trick is that no matter how hard-wired we are to seek out novel experiences, jobs, bills, family and other obligations force us into lives of repetition. Stability can be a great thing, but monotony is adventure’s Kryptonite.

So how do you find adventure when you’re riding from your front door? That’s the trick, isn’t it?

Adventure is found in the unknown, so when I’m looking for a new flavor, I start by taking roads I don’t ordinarily ride. I do more than just break my routine, I toss it in the dumpster.

In the foreground, to the left, is the entrance to the singletrack, Byron took this Grade on.

I live near the beach in Southern California. To the south of me is the Palos Verdes Peninsula, home to money both old and new—and imported—and a favorite playground of local cyclists. To the north are the Santa Monica Mountains and some of my favorite roads on Planet Earth. Heading west isn’t an option, unless you’re okay with a brine soak for your bicycle. East … east is an interesting option. Some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in California lie to my east—Compton, Long Beach, Florence and more. Taken as a whole, people just refer to it as “South Central.”

It’s not the sort of place people pick for a leisurely bike ride.

For more than a year now, I’ve been making regular passage through some of these areas, usually on sleepy Sunday mornings while on my way to downtown Los Angeles. I like to spy the public art and there’s no better way than from the seat of a bicycle.

Riding the “mean streets of LA” is not as much of an adventure as one might think. While I’ve had adventures that, like the volume knob on the amp in “This Is Spinal Tap” went to 11, riding down streets through some of LA’s poorer neighborhoods early on Sunday morning is a bit like walking through an airport after it’s been evacuated. Not much drama.

My latest adventure, a ride that I can actually call an adventure because it contained sufficient measures of unknowns, began with me heading up a fire road on my ‘cross bike. I had some idea what I would link together and I had some idea it was all rideable on that bike and I figured I had sufficient water and food for the trip, but really, these beliefs were based on old-fashioned guestimates, not the terra firma of actual experience. I’d need more water at some point and I wasn’t really sure how long the water I had would last.

I rode by a cougar’s kill, picked clean by scavengers and I probably rode by a dozen rattlesnakes, but I never saw nor heard any hint they were close. Was that more or less dangerous than when I heard three gunshots coming from a house within 200 yards of me? Doesn’t matter. The gunshots did more to goose my pace than anything I’ve seen riding off-road.

Eventually, I found myself on a rutted descent steep enough to make me wish for a dropper post. I locked up the rear wheel and drug it behind me like my son does his blanket on the way to bed.

Control was becoming elusive, adventure was no further than my bar tape. There were prickly plants, rocks with sharp edges both exposed and hidden. A fall would send me in an unknowable trajectory to an unknown outcome.

While this is anathema for a mountain biker in Southern California to state, I need to be honest and say I hate sand in my shoes. I genuinely loathe that feeling.

I realized that if I could get out of the experience with a shoeful of sand, I’d be not exactly joyful, but grateful spiked with mild happiness. It’s not as delicious a cocktail as, say, a Bahama Mama, but it’s so much better than O-negative shaken with sand and decomposed granite.

I got to the bottom with a dusty glove, a slightly scraped calf, black socks that looked brown and that sense of relief that only comes as the adrenalin subsides.

I’d wanted an adventure. Was that what I’d been looking for? I hadn’t noticed it on the menu. Probably wouldn’t have chosen it, though I did select that drop.

As we like to tell each other, be careful what you wish for.

Adventure arrives by a mystery train, cars painted colors we’ve never seen, dispatching passengers we might never have met through other means. Oh, the stories they tell.

Also find Patrick on Twitter, at Red Kite Prayer, riding with me, and his collection of stories in Why We Ride.