Pine and The Pony Express

The smell of pine is what gets me every time. In that moment, I realize that it’s safe to breathe here in the mountains. I fill my lungs with cool mountain air and as I exhale, there is a smile on my face.

I decided to tackle a mountain bike trail that was once known as The Pony Express. The trail has many other names, but that one is my favorite. The Pony Express was a mail system that could deliver mail from Missouri to California in only 10 days. That was a big deal back in 1860. Riders apparently rode their horses at full gallop along the trail and only ever lost one piece of mail. Here I was attempting the trail with my mountain bike. Will I loose any items on this trip?

The trail curved up and around the mountain, giving just a taste of what was around the corner. I thought about men on horseback, carrying saddlebags filled with important correspondence between the east and west. This was the Pony Express. I started up the trail, focusing on my breath and reminding myself to relax. I’m not a fan of climbing. It works for a while and I make my way up the trail.

Then, suddenly my lungs can’t get enough oxygen and the trail wont plateau. The climb keeps going and shows no signs of evening out.

“Stop! stop!” says the voice in my head. My legs burn as I make my way up the trail. I wonder why I haven’t kept my cardio up. This was not going to be my stopping point. I have to make it past those rocks. As each set of rocks get closer, I move my eyes to the next section to conquer. Just. Keep. Pedaling.

Then, I hear a crunch of leaves in the distance. I have to stop climbing. I get off my bike and stand quietly in the wilderness. I look through the leaves, trying to get a sight on whatever creature made that noise. I silently hope that this is not the beginning of a horror film.

“It’s a moose!” My friend yells and points in the distance. All I can see is what looks like shadows, but she insists that a moose is there. I keep looking in disbelief and ask if it’s a bear. I look at the bushes and trees around us, trying to find a difference like I used to as a kid, reading “Can you spot the difference?” challenges in my Highlights for Children magazine.

But then I see the moose. It’s huge! I’ve never seen a moose in person before, and it’s breathtaking. We stare at each other, both trying to keep quiet and unseen. I don’t want the moose to disappear. Does it see me? How many more are out there?

My friend and I stare at the moose for a few minutes while trying to take pictures with our camera phone (to no avail). A long range zoom lens was needed. The awe from our moose sighting is beginning to lessen. My legs are no longer burning, so I suggest that we keep climbing. And climb on we do.

Earn your ride. That’s what seasoned mountain bike climbers say. Well, I’m not a climber. Reaching the summit of a climb should feel amazing. Like those inspirational posters you used to see in school. Not for me. I’m always the last one in my group to arrive at the summit. When I finally do arrive, everyone else in my mtb group is relaxed and ready to go. I don’t have time to catch my breath and engage in chit chat. At the top of a climb I’m frustrated, annoyed and sweaty. Not ladylike. Not cool. Just sweaty.

Once my snacks are gone and my breathing feels normal, it’s time for the best part of mountain biking. Going downhill! This moment is where I smile and come alive. I unlock my fork and prepare for the decent. I let go of the brakes and begin to feel the cool mountain air on my face. The smell of fresh pine hits my nose. My brain stops racing. My legs aren’t burning like they did on the way up here. My only focus is the trail in front of me. I’m alive in the present moment. I breeze past trees and around corners, flying through the trees like an eagle in the sky. When I reach the bottom, I’m grinning from ear to ear.

“That’s the end? But I just started biking.” Every bike ride ends that way. Climbing the trail feels like it takes hours. Flowing down the trail to our parked cars takes seconds. My friend and I are grinning and happy. I guess you could say that we earned our ride.