My friends and I are constantly coming up with ‘Imagine if’s.’ For example, we finish a splendid bike ride but at the bottom are already saying, ‘Imagine if the trail crossed that road there and went up Grouse Hill and went to the end of the Peninsula.’ Or: ‘Imagine if there was a trail off Hill 60. That thing would be like seven kilometers of ridge descending.....’ We say these things even as we speed across the ocean, at sunset, having just ridden 2,000 feet of bliss, straight to a boat and a cooler full of beer.
The ideas are endless. Perhaps too many ideas are a bad thing. Novelist Ann Brashares said, ‘Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not.’ Is riding your bike down a twisting, snaking, radical trail and spitting out at its terminus already thinking about your next ride a bad thing? Is spending hours upon hours daydreaming about the possibility of new trails on different mountains, valleys and distant ridges a bad thing? No. Or is it?
Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said, ‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ Our world lacks in that attitude. Marketing, purchasing, sales, and needing more is a way of life. We buy a new truck we have lusted after; and within a month are already visualizing being behind the wheel of something we perceive as better. The same goes with bikes, clothing, houses, perhaps even in a creepy way, people. The media blazes forth on all cylinders: images of the happy and beautiful, the idealistic.
Bike trails are innately awesome. Here are a couple reasons why: One, they are just paths through the woods meant to be ridden for fun. When chocked up against pathways in other parts of the globe, perhaps used as escape routes from murderous rebels or as travel routes by child soldiers, our bike trails are the coolest thing around. We are spoiled to have them. Two: our bike trails allow us to connect to our landscape, to rip along terra firma and become blasted with endorphins, serotonin and adrenalin to bathe our senses. They allow us to understand what’s good.
However, the ‘Imagine If’ syndrome persists. One bike trail could be much better. It could continue farther, have better jumps, or better corners. There is nothing wrong with thinking this, because bike trails are meant to be fun, and improving them is a natural thing to desire.
But contentment is tough. It is hard to be 100-percent happy with what you have. Perhaps there were times when humans didn't hanker after more than what they had. Maybe Inuits in the Yukon didn't get sick of the sub-50 winters because they had no idea going south would mean warmer temperatures. Possibly, that is all they knew. Conceivably, the world stopped there.
If we could finish a bike ride, could navigate the ladder bridges, rip through the rocks, and lay into the berms, and roll to a stop feeling truly, unyieldingly satisfied - that would be a very good thing. And it happens, that perfect moment. There is no doubting it; the moment when your tires grip, then let loose, sending you into just the right drift, then catching, hooking up, and reigning you in, ejecting you out of a corner like a cannon: Just like Gee Atherton or Steve Smith. But in that instant, you are just you. You are the fastest, most graceful rider on earth.
But later, after the ride is done, your mind begins to wander again. You chastise yourself for not drifting every corner on every trail like a hero. You think perhaps, if you had a fancier bike, more carbon, better suspension, that things might work out better. Your hometown trails suddenly seem small, and photos of the Alps, or the Himalayas, pervade your psyche. Your mind creates images of trails winding downwards along pristine alpine ridges, glowing in the golden hue of twilight; thousands of berms carved among thousand year old cedar trees. Ladder bridges crafted like Dr. Suess’ artwork - flowing and gorgeous.
The reality is, your local trails probably don’t look like that. Imagining the trails that could be can be dangerous. Because the trails you have are the real thing. There is nothing wrong with having lofty ambitions, or preoccupation, but it should be reined in before you drift away into the clouds. The truth lies in what you have, what you can touch, what you can feel, what you have access to.
And the secret is so obvious, but sometimes easy to forget. Those moments when your tires drift and you are a hero, you are riding exactly like Gee Atherton would, are flawless. And the subtle thing is that you are in fact most definitely not Gee Atherton, you are yourself. When you are riding down a ridgeline, the fact that it doesn't extend thousands of feet downwards like the ones in Switzerland or Peru is meaningless. This ridgeline is yours, right now. This moment is unblemished, and nothing else matters. In the words of Maya Angelou, ‘We need much less than we think we need.’ Perhaps, if you are out in the woods riding a mountain bike, you have enough.