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The Common Ground – Dream a Little Dream

Where fantasies and dirt collide.

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The following story first appeared in the fall 2021 print issue of Beta. To get print, sign up to be a Beta Pass or Outside+ member. Membership details HERE.

There was a time in my life when late nights were defined by the type of drunken revelry best reserved for an age before social media. These days, raucous celebrations have (mostly) given way to the type of low-key affairs you have when going to bed at 9 p.m. sounds downright luxurious. These quiet scenes, which may or may not feature a kale salad and someone’s kid running around, are the last place I expected the seeds of adventure to be planted. And yet, here we are, gardening gloves and all.
 Someone’s running the grill and my hound dog is camped out next to the person he deems weakest in the bratwurst-defense department (me). Everyone crammed themselves into the tiny galley kitchen, just like they always do.

A few plates of burgers later and stories that were anything but funny at the time have been rehashed until the laughter hurts. “Do you remember the ride where ‘one more hill’ meant ‘four more false summits until the climbing really starts?’” That story is immediately topped by the one about the guy who, in a moment of complete brain-fartage, put his bike on the roof rack and then drove out of his garage. “Can you believe he has kids now?”

“Yeah, but does he have a hitch rack?” Someone asks.

At some point between the good beer and the cheap beer, conversations quietly change from reminiscing about the past to fantasizing about the future. By dark, a chill breeze reminds us that fall is coming sooner than later. We shuffle inside and an hour later, the kitchen table is covered with trail maps, dog-eared magazines, and more than a few empty pint glasses.

Discussion about riding a new trail not-so-far-away inspires talk of a weekend campout. Someone points out that if you’re going to camp for a weekend, you may as well rent an RV and make it a week. And if you’re going to make it a week, you may as well quit your job, sell your non-essential organs, and travel the world by bike.

What started with a few suggestions evolves into a staccato of ideas. We give equal weight to practical destinations as we do to the ridiculously implausible. This isn’t the time to undermine brilliant plans by pointing out silly things like ‘reality.’ At this moment, everything and anything is possible.

Bikes and dogs
(Photo: Mary McIntyre)

Committing to achieving peak fitness while eating enough pork to induce meat sweats isn’t just accepted—it’s adamantly encouraged. Tonight, we pretend bank accounts are full, vacation days are flush, and fantasies churn until we are swept away in a tempest of possibility. Reality idles patiently on the other side of morning.

Should we unplug from it all and head into the woods with just a tarp and enough energy bars to ensure we’ll never poop the same again? Or should we live it up and zip through time zones on a plane while sipping drinks with those little swords that feel so suave until they stab you in the nostril?

We’re no longer huddled around a too-small table covered in topo lines. We’re riding through places where “above tree line” is both a location and a weather report. We’ve already created a mental list of necessary gear: high-capacity hydration packs, bear spray, faux-denim Lycra—you know, the essentials.

Someone mentions reading about mountain bike tours where the guides wear elephant guns. The friend who wigs out when they see a snake on the trail vehemently supports this venture. Anything is possible.

The Saharan fantasy backdrop is replaced by a tent city of bikes when someone tosses out the idea of heading to that bike festival a few states over. Long rides during the day, spirited rides at night, and a bevy of food and music in between. Aside from the nighttime run-ins with clotheslines filled with disturbingly moist chamois, what’s not to love?

As the evening goes on, we dream of dirt different colors than our own: hard-packed clay just a hair more crimson than the spires piercing the distant sky. Singletrack so black it slithers between pelts of green lichen. Miles of white, sandy berms that grip like Velcro in the warm rain.

A lingering silence is interrupted with a yawn that be- comes contagious. We make promises to get working on one trip or another, and it’s not long before the house clears out.

 

At some point between the good beer and the cheap beer, conversations quietly change from reminiscing about the past to fantasizing about the future.

The truth is that most of these plans will dissipate into the detritus of life, the same way that dreams feel so plausible until you try to explain them to someone else.

But the value of these plans isn’t relegated to whether they’re ever executed. The inspiration to reach a little further is immediate and the effects are priceless. We really do resolve to ride a little more. To eat a little better. To develop legs capable of more than a fast sputter. To do whatever it takes to answer “yes” when the opportunity for adventure presents itself.

That adventure may not be a transcontinental escape. It may not even be out of state. Hell, it might only be as far as our legs can take us from our doorstep.

But it’s another step closer to wherever we’re going.

A year from now, give or take, we’ll get together again. A few new faces will fill gaps left by absent friends, and the familiar combination of laughs, beverages, and meat products will draw out stories we’ve heard a dozen times. Maybe some of last year’s fantasies will be reincarnated into this year’s tales. And maybe they won’t because life or money or nothing at all got in the way again.

It doesn’t matter, because for a moment, we’re all swooping through faraway lands and riding our hearts out.

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