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The Lasting Allure of Radio Tower Rides

Mike Levy's enduring urge to climb to the highest tower has been one of his longest-lasting two-wheeled obsessions

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I’m pretty sure there are only one or two more steep sections,” I spat out between breaths while both Phil and I struggled to sustain enough forward momentum to keep from falling over. If you’re ranking climbs from most bad to least bad, the one we were crawling up has all the hallmarks of the former. First off, rather than engaging singletrack, it’s an access road of the kind that slows time down to a standstill, and it’s covered with loose tennis-ball-sized rocks that shift and roll under your every pedal stroke. I also don’t know how it’s legal to build roads this steep, but I suspect it isn’t. And, worst of all, there isn’t even a trail at the top to come back down on.

What is up there, after three or four more steep sections, is a radio tower.

It’s nothing too grand, just 50-or-so-feet of steel bolted together, painted red and white, that’s bouncing our calls and texts around from the top of a nameless sub-peak. A 12-foot fence topped with scary-looking loops of razor wire encircles both the tower and a small building to house the batteries and a humming generator. Plenty of red and orange signs with skulls and lightning bolts make it obvious they don’t want visitors. That’s okay, though, because just getting to the damn thing is the point.

Most of the time, all I want to find at the top of whatever mountain I’ve just pedaled up is some sort of amazing singletrack descent back to the bottom. But I also have a weird urge to find my way up to any and all radio towers in my town and surrounding area, a fixation that’s been there long before I found bikes. We’ve all got our own ‘things’ we’re into, and while there’s even a woman who married the Eiffel Tower back in 2008, my own desires are more exploratory and probably don’t require counseling. At least not this specific urge, anyway. Yet.

Is it just me, or do most towns have a trail or climb named after a radio tower? (Photo: Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Long before I knew that our sport existed, I remember spotting a tower on the side of a local mountain that could only be seen from one particular angle. Nearly hidden by a fold in the hillside, it was positioned just halfway up the 3,000-foot mountain, but I also remember thinking how neat it would be to get myself there, probably a hardy quest for a 10-year-old who didn’t realize most towers are accessed by maintenance trucks via 4×4 roads. No bushwacking needed, probably no bigfeet to fend off, and not exactly the Indiana Jones-style adventure I thought it’d be. Regardless, the notion that I just needed to get to that damn tower—all the damn towers—has never gone away.

When I did eventually stumble onto it more than a decade later and after being lost on a maze of old logging and 4×4 roads, I discovered that it was barely 20-feet-tall and 100-percent rusty. There was no view to take in at the top, and the only reason I found it was because its old generator was shrieking so loudly I could hear it long before I saw it. At the time, though, it felt like something special that could finally tick off my list of senseless to-do tasks. As an added bonus, there was even a trail down from this one.

I’ve ridden to countless towers since then, some absolutely massive and others long abandoned and close to toppling, and another while it was being resupplied with diesel via helicopter as our unbuckled helmets blew off from a barely-safe distance. A buddy and I even found a three-legged Yorkshire Terrier while sitting at a different tower, and another served as the ideal spot to watch for UFOs late at night. And while I can’t say I spotted anything unexplained (yet), my whole ”I gotta get to the tower” mantra has fuelled all sorts of dumb adventures to other places that I probably shouldn’t visit.

While I put out a lot of effort to get to the towers, I rarely take photos of them for some reason. (Photo: Anthony Smith)

Not long ago, in the middle of another ill-advised adventure to some radio tower that I couldn’t find, I somehow managed to spot a long-abandoned house through the trees. This wasn’t just an old trapping or logging cabin, but a 2,000-square-foot, two-story house that, when finished, wouldn’t be out of place in a middle-class subdivision with Jim and Nancy’s Dodge Journey parked out front. Framed up with siding and stairs in place, it looked ready for insulation but had obviously been left near-untouched for a decade or two. The closest overgrown road, the one that I bushwacked through to get to the house, had decent-sized trees growing in the middle of it, so it had certainly been a while.

Sliding my way around a flat corner or finally rolling into a line that’s scared me for too long is never going to get old, but I’ll always want to simply go exploring as well. Over the years since, I’ve also found my way to caves and waterfalls, cabins and old logging camps full of rusty steel, plane crashes, illegal border crossings, some of the wildest viewpoints you could ever imagine, and a bunch of mines that seemed frozen in time. I doubt I would have seen any of it if I hadn’t spotted the damn radio tower as a kid.