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The Common Ground: An Amateur’s Guide to Adventure

How to barely survive a big day on the bike

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All you aspiring Bear Gryllses out there? Please, step aside.

This isn’t a guide on how to turn your chamois into a makeshift tent deep in the Alaskan wilderness. There almost certainly won’t be instructions on starting a fire with only a shoelace and whichever toe is the most expendable. I won’t be sharing any expert advice, mostly because I’m no expert. I’m someone who went camping exactly once as a kid, and may or may not have accidentally peed in the sleeping bag I borrowed from a neighbor..

Instead, what you’ll find below are four simple rules to enjoy the bejesus out of a good, big day on the bike. We’re talking about the kind of day that starts with pre-dawn alarms and ends with post-sunset tailgate stories and a new perception of what you can do. Whether it’s a dozen hard miles or a hundred even harder miles, the rules are always the same:

Rule #1: Choose your characters wisely.

Everyone doesn’t have to be good at everything, but everyone has to be damn good at something. For optimum big-day-on-the-bike success, I recommend covering the following roles. I know many of us haven’t had more than three friends since kindergarten (or since we peed in that sleeping bag we borrowed from them), so yes, one person can cover multiple roles.

The Instigator: The stupid idea always starts with someone. This is that person.

The Seconder: This role is equally, if not more important, than that of The Instigator. There’s no shortage of stupid ideas in this world, but what transforms those ideas into reality is a second person hearing the stupid idea and going, “That’s brilliant!”

Recon: This is the group’s north star, mostly because they’re the only one who can tell which way is north without looking at a phone. They pass their time Strava-stalking high-alpine trails to see what’s rideable and are often found crouched over their phone at the dinner table comparing beta from three different trail apps. At times, they’re even willing to talk to actual people about the best way to spend a day on a bike.

Craft Services: Scratch-a-ritas? A sixer of luke-warm Coors Banquet? Ice-cold purple sodas? Face it, at the end of big day on the bike, even the finest swill tastes like liquid gold. When you’re splayed out next to a car with quads made of lactic-acid pudding and hear someone say, “Guacamole, anyone?”, you realize who the real MVP of the ride is.


MacGuyver: We knew things were going to go awry the moment we put yesterday’s coffee in the microwave and called it good enough. Adventures go haywire, which is half the reason we sign up for them. Having someone on the scene who doesn’t flinch when bikes make sounds they’re definitely not supposed to make or bodies bend the way they’re definitely not supposed to bend is crucial. 

The Puppy: Adventures are hard and demanding and make us confront our desire to quit. This is simply the reality of life, like Cheeto dust being the adult-equivalent of Fun Dip. Having someone on your team with boundless enthusiasm for whatever is currently happening can mean the difference between bailing and persevering. Rain? This is going to be epic. Hike-a-bike as far as the eye can see? You don’t get to experience that every day!

Rule #2: No complaining.

The only difference between a glorious sufferfest and a stupid, regrettable idea is whether you’re asked to define it during the middle or at the finish line. We know it hurts, it’s why we agreed to this absolutely moronic plan in the first place. We know (now) that deciding to just “see where that trail goes” was not a good life choice. Please note that sarcastic quips about how much fun you’re having are permitted on a case-by-case basis.

Rule #3: Fit. Skilled. Determined. Choose exactly two.

Under no circumstances should any participants in The Big Day be all three of these things. It only makes matters worse when they’re also outrageously nice and great human beings, because you’re guaranteed to see their bright, cheery, rested face cheering you on while you slog it up the climb.

Nobody needs that shit.

Rule #4: Throw all the rules away.

The best days aren’t guided by other people’s expectations and advice. They’re defined only by getting to the end of the journey. Is your journey 15 miles weaved through trails hidden behind a stripmall? Fantastic. Are you a one-rider wolfpack? Then carve out the solo ride of your life. This day isn’t measured in mileage or elevation gained, but by a realization that you can go a little harder and a little farther than you thought you could.

My expert advice is to go find your adventure and create your own rules. And try not to pee in anyone else’s sleeping bag.

Photos: Anthony Smith