Essay: Just take the bike; always take the bike

“Find new roads” is a car company slogan. I’m really hoping we don’t get sued for referencing it, because I have taken on that tagline as my own personal mantra for riding bikes. It means taking a set of wheels everywhere I go—particularly road trips—whether or not I’m going anywhere conventionally interesting. It also means sucking it up when packing a bike and cycling gear feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

Caprock for BT-5

Last weekend, my bicycle and I found ourselves in warm and sunny north central Texas: Caprock Canyon State Park, to be exact. In an extremely last-minute leap of faith, my husband and I decided to drive from the Denver area to Dallas to purchase a hard-sided pop-up camper with an off-road package (but no toilet) from a private seller. To break up the 13-hour return trip, we stopped in the park to test the camper and shake off our road weariness.

Caprock is small but unfathomably stunning; riding through it nearly fooled me into believing I was in Utah. The park’s deep red canyons, dramatic cliffs, purple sunsets and the official state buffalo herd appear, quite literally, at the intersection of farmland and nowhere. Driving through north Texas can be a soul-sucking experience (I’m from that state so I can say this stuff). Much of it is flat, dry, vast and smells of natural gas, fresh oil and cow farts. The sky never quite gets blue enough, always maintaining a hot-sun haze. Caprock does not at all fit in with the landscape you see from the nearest highway.

Caprock for BT-20

What I found was a small park that offered 16-percent grade roads, trails agreeable enough for 40 mm cyclocross tires, a little rocky rowdiness and an intense feeling of remoteness. After nearly two full days in the car, I also found sanity. Though my random explorations of roads and trails offered only a brief afternoon of riding, lugging my bike and associated crap around for the full, four-day trip was well worth it. I had never seen such a place, and will likely never return.

I almost missed my chance. The night before we were set to leave, when—of course—nothing for the trip had yet been packed, I found myself standing in the yard up to my knees in snow as thick and clingy as Crisco. In one hand, a shovel; in the other, a chainsaw. Through a dense fog of snow that was already working its way into my synched jacket, I despondently scanned the sprawling double lot that my tiny house sits on. All across it, branches as thick as my calves splintered off 20-foot-tall trees as easily as the brittle, ancient toothpicks awaiting patrons of small-town diners.

Caprock for BT-18

My husband, his knee battered from a recent and extensive surgery, could only stand at the window and watch. For two hours I wandered around the yard, whacking at trees to free their branches from the crushing weight of 22 inches of snow, sawing at fallen limbs and trying to yank branches away from dangerous places.

That spring blizzard nonsense put me in a bad mood. Thoughts of warm, sunny Texas were farm from my mind. All I cared about was not coming home to a crushed roof, a crushed car, an angry neighbor or a downed power line. That, and constantly having to search for whatever tool I had set down for long enough that the snow swallowed it up.

Caprock for BT-22

The first thing to get jettisoned from my evening packing plan was the bike. In that moment, I couldn’t fathom having to gather my cycling gear, swap out the car-roof ski rack for a bike tray and tend to my bike’s existing list of repair needs. Why bother for just one ride?

Later that night, beer in hand and with the clock indicating I had slipped under the five-hours-of-possible sleep mark, I heaved a sigh and reconsidered. Just take the bike. Always take the bike. I knew I would likely never again have the chance to pedal through where we were headed. I knew I’d need the break from driving. I knew I’d need to work off at least one bag of jalapeño Cheetos. “Why bother?” became, “Why not bother?”

Caprock for BT-2

Do I regret taking the bike? Of course not. That’s how these stories go: it’s always the right decision. But sometimes we need a reminder of what is worth the hassle. Consider this your reminder.



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