On a Saturday morning, when I could have ridden with teammates I decided to set out alone instead. I had planned and intended to do this ride last week, when I should have been going to the local throwdown. The one I was going to skip until Tym asked me if I was going. I felt an obligation to say “yes”, but it also freed me from having to do the ride I had planned in the first place.
Today I am free to wander and take my time. Signe will be gone for the day, putting on a shower for the wedding she’s the maid of honour in this summer. Truthfully, I’ve been putting this ride off for well over a year. I’ve hemmed and hawed about it, then decided there was nothing there for me and that I didn’t need to go there – ever again.
At the moment I’m waiting for Signe to leave because I don’t feel like riding with a helmet. Which is something I do sometimes.There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason, but just whim. Somedays I want to ride sans protective head cover. Just a cap. Today is one of those days. A piece of the freedom I felt when I was paid to ride with a bag full of deposit slips or court papers, or whatever else people pay couriers to carry across Downtown Cleveland.
Today it’s overcast and I head down the bike path and past the people who only ride their bikes on the weekend and people walking their dogs, or out for a run. At Bell road I jump off the trail and take Johnson Creek then a right on SE 92 toward Sunnyside Rd. Which is where I start pushing it. I don’t want this to be some ride where I spin out the legs and take it easy. I have work to do so I set to it.
Twenty minutes later I’m in out of Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary and headed toward the farms near Estacada. I go up Hatton Rd, like I have so many other times this year, then hang a left on the road, whose name I can never remember, which eventually meets up with Springwater road.
Soon I’ve ridden well past the place I intend to go. The place where on a Saturday night in November four years ago I went with the plan of not coming back. That night I had a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, a puffy jacket, a bag of climbers chalk, and pair of climbing shoes. No rope, or any other safety gear, which was the intention. I didn’t need those things, because I didn’t want them. The intent to climb up and let gravity take me down.
After two hours of riding through farmland I make my way back to my old climbing spot. The driveway up to the parking lot is steep and I have to get out of the saddle as I go through the first switch back. In the lot I coast over the pavement to the gravel portion of the parking lot. “I’m here” is what I always thought once the car marked the transition from blacktop to gravel, which is what pops into my head now and everytime my bike makes a similar transition.
I lean my bike against a boulder part way up the path and gingerly start to hike my way up the trail from the parking lot to the base of the rock wall where I climbed my first years in Portland. I used to charge up this small hill, hopping up and over the rocks, this time I’m walking slow and trying not to slip. My road shoes are covered in hi-viz over socks with rubber cleat covers which I hope will provide me some purchase on the slick moss covered rocks.
I have been avoiding this place since I stopped climbing. It’s strange that I that I never had a problem coming back here when I was climbing. Lately it has felt like someplace I have to confront.
When I reach the base of the slab I sit down on the bench made of sawn in half log and two rocks and pull the two PB&J squares and my notebook from my jersey pockets. Then I sit. Drops of water fall from the trees above landing on my shorts before it gets soaked up by the fabric. Couple of minutes pass like that. My eyes follow the route I choose on that November night. I can still recall all the moves. Then I pull out my notebook and write:
You’re here, now what?
Nothing comes up so I sketch the rock in front of me reliving the moves of each route as I transfer onto the page. Drops of water fall and land on the page, turning the markings closer to memories than lines on a piece of paper. I take some notes after my sketch is finished then start re-filling my pockets.
Not every day here was bad. How could they be when even now, almost two years after climbing here I can look at the route and remember where I would always place that small yellow Metolious cam, then the # 8 stopper and lastly the small blue Black Diamond cam? There was even one that I can only describe as amazing.
On that day I came here, just like I did the night when I was going to let go, just a peaunt butter and jelly sandwich, a chalk bag, and a pair of climbing shoes. I spent hours alone, climbing every route on the slab. Up one, then down, then up the next. Always noting the presence of fear, but still in control. That is why I had to come back here. Not to relive the pain of that November night, but to remind myself that I am capable of that level of control. That it is there for me to take.
What I am looking for with all this living andracing and riding and stressing about living and riding and racing, is to live like I did that day when I took 36 solo, unprotected trips up the slab of rock where I considered taking my life. That mix of control and panache. That’s how I want to ride. More importantly that’s how I want to live.