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Riders In The Storm

Snaking and Sliding

Words by Riley McIntosh. Photos by John Gibson.
January 25th, 2011

For us there isn’t much of anything to say at the moment. We are stopped on a small rise in the trail, the rain falling down on us. There is so much water in the air that the forest is obscured. Around us dark tree trunks stand like towers in the mist.

The trail beneath us, and leading away from us down into the sodden forest, is a strip of dark chocolate dirt framed by bright neon green salmon berry leaves. They capture rivulets of water that pool before pouring down like small waterfalls onto the trail. Every protruding root and stone shines as if polished, smiling up from the ground. Water descends from the heavens to the earth all around us.

riley mcintosh, rilor wilderness, john gibson, nelson, mountain biking
  Photo ~ John Gibson

Our breath rises in steaming clouds, and there is water pouring from our hair down onto our chins, into our mouths, running down our necks and down our backs. We are sitting on our bikes, one foot on the ground, the other on the pedal. Our bikes are covered in globs of mucky dirt, nomadic chunks of soil that have come along for the ride.

There is a small river of water running down the trail ahead of us. Mist shrouds the woods, the atmosphere is otherworldly. Far below I can see the cozy glimmer of town. I can imagine the warmth inside the houses, folk making dinner or sitting around the fire.

Our tires have been exploring the fine line between tracking and traction, snaking and sliding over twisting roots and slippery boulders, our grip to the earth dictated by this rough and off-camber trail. Our bikes with us upon them have been moving downwards at a rate of speed that feels as fast as we’ve ever gone. It is as if we are racing the raindrops. They are falling and we are flying; downwards through this wet and wild forest as dusk descends. We ride down the trail like chased animals and our hoots and hollers must sound primeval amongst the shadows and fading light. Tree branches absorb the sound of our passage and even as we ride it is hard to tell if the rushing in our ears is our tires impacting against the earth, or the patter of the rain; or perhaps there is silence. Our senses are both heightened and dulled at once, like riding in a tunnel.

We have stopped for this moment but we both know there is no good reason to stop. When the familiar act of riding becomes extraordinary, stopping could break the spell.

Earlier in the day, before the ride, I had begun to feel apprehensive when thick black rain clouds stormed into the sky and began depositing rain with a furious intensity. I waited for the call, almost hoping to pick up and hear excuses. However, it was the opposite, our friend Newman was ready to drive us up the mountain, the day was getting on, and a reference to our manhood was tossed into the slightly static airspace of our phone connection.

riley mcintosh, rilor wilderness, john gibson, nelson, mountain biking
   Photo ~ John Gibson

For us, paused here amidst this torrent, with night coming on, we are doing something that makes us feel unique. For some reason we are not all that cold, and our riding has not been hampered by these conditions; our bikes are flying, and we upon them are carving and diving like charging men of battle. We are dashing through thick mud and uneven terrain, our speed through this sodden land almost mythical, impossible. We are hot objects in this storming afternoon, and are halfway down the trail.

My riding partner, without a word, breaks this rainstorm reverie. Instantly riding in battle stance, solid on his bike, ready to absorb obscured impacts. I follow closely and we are again storming down this trail on this strange evening. Immediately we are faced with a slick rock strewn steep section that leads into a tight, root-infested corner, but we skip like thrown rocks downwards, at high speed, with no problem. In front of me my riding partner takes an absurd leap, airing upwards and outwards, his tires at first skimming over wet gnarly surfaces and then spanning a gap between the solid earth as the land falls away. Without thinking I pull off from that same point; flying into the air, raindrops stealing my vision. I feel as though I am in the air forever, slippery things grinning up at me from beneath. Ahead, my comrade has already landed and is sliding into the next corner. I land with no hindrance, in a tumult of spraying puddles and soft earth that gives way beneath my tires. I slide into the corner going fast, and dirt and water is flying everywhere. It feels as though there are people lining the edge of the trail hurling buckets of sopping organic material at us. 

riley mcintosh, rilor wilderness, john gibson, nelson, mountain biking
  Photo ~ John Gibson

It is like there is a band of energy holding us together. It is getting dark, it is raining so hard we can barely see. We are riding our bikes in a reckless fashion down a slick trail riddled with obstacles. But for some reason we are not slowing down, we are not taking the danger into consideration. It feels as though we have crossed the barrier of gravity and become unified with the trail.

Too soon we reach the bottom and while I am soaked to the skin I feel a sharp pang of disappointment. At the same time I am euphoric. We approach the waiting truck parked like a glowing beacon, coasting, our suspension absorbing the final small bumps, the night sky a black frown scarred by lightning.

Few words are exchanged as we load the mud soaked bikes.

But for a moment, I catch my riding partner’s eye, and we exchange a glance that is communicative in the way the lightning in the sky tells us there is a storm tonight. Obvious. Like rain, like our downward passage this evening. It is natural for us to be out here, experiencing this. It is natural for us to pause for only a brief moment on the entire descent, to talk little, to ride hard and fast. For us, we have simply reaffirmed something that we already know.


Thanks Riley.  Thoughts here…