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Finding A Breath

Finding A Breath

I’ve sat on this trip for so long trying to find the right words to say.

To be honest, a trip like this during a climate like ours both right now or a month ago felt like so many things. This trip was such a fleeting attempt at a reminder of the old times. A trip like this is a gentle but firm reminder that you are small and this world is not. It’s trips like these that wake the soul and energize you for months. These trips like ours you need to do more of. We all do, for the sake of humanity. 

I remember reading at the beginning of COVID that it’s dangerous and selfish to go bikepacking right now. Go home, stay inside, lose your mind and save the world because if you leave your home it is going to burn. I sat with a group of friends for the last time for a long time and we Facetimed a friend who had just returned from being in the backcountry for weeks. He was laughing because he’d never seen so many notifications on his phone after returning to service. It was after this I knew how ridiculous it would be to go dirtbag for a while. I went home, cancelled my flight to Nicaragua, and put on Tiger King. I’m doing my part. 

After however long it’s been had passed I rode with a single friend again and conversation was like breathing again. It’s gotten really hot and stuffy in my apartment and the idea of getting out and feeling the wind again sung like heaven. Quinten and I met up to just pedal. The birds would glide between us and the coast and all would temporarily return to the quiet. It was an old taste of freedom.

Evan Christenson Orucase Finding a Breathe


So of course we went bikepacking. We drove into the mountains and loaded down the bikes, but I loaded them with some of the guilt I still felt trying to go into the mountains to be free. Maybe it’s a COVID mutation of survivor's-guilt, or maybe it’s public health, but if someone can get a nose job the same day, I think I can go pedal down a dirt road in my backyard. 


We leave from a turn out. We can’t find a place to park the car because everywhere on Mt Laguna is full. We’re immediately stuck behind hikers on the trail, and within 30 minutes we ride around at least 300. We see some cyclists but not many. It’s like riding through a zoo. 

The guilt fades away a little more now. So many adventure tourists and selfies out here. We chat with some and ride when we can. It’s a weirdly gentle, both familiar and non, reentry into society. 

Soon we turn off the main path and are alone for the rest of the day. We’re back to a much more preferable ease to the real world. Now finally, a moment to breathe again. We laugh at how few people stray off the main trail network. Everyone is following each other in circles from the parking lot and back to their cars. We ride far, far away from the metaphor for society. 


Evan Christenson Orucase Finding a Breathe

In the backcountry we pedal for hours and sit in the shade for long stretches. I teach Quinten how to shoot film and we pedal and sway with the breeze. The riding is incredible, though there’s no place to fill water and the heat grows through the afternoon. This is a new route that we’re not sure is possible- Quinten thinks we can ride 120 miles from Mt Laguna to Torrey Pines, (the mountains to the beach) through San Diego almost all on dirt. This section, the one Q was worried about, has gone from riding dirt to hiking through bushes. I finally learn what poison oak looks like and we climb down the side of the hill. Some fences may have been jumped in this process. 

We stop to fill up on water at a tower on the side of the road. I see a stupid picture and ask Quinten to stand still as the water pours out. A man is now racing up the hillside on his ATV and Quinten is growing more agitated by the second. The man is furious, thinks we’re spying on him and threatens us. He has a small dog yapping at Quinten and a wife beater tank on. We apologize, play dumb and move along. In retrospect, I now consider this photograph worth every second.


Evan Christenson Orucase Finding a Breathe


We ride on and into the night. Dehydrated beef stroganoff and whisky by a fire. A small brook runs through the rocks by our small sand alcove. The frogs and the crickets cry through the night and I watch the stars from the hammock. Instant coffee and dehydrated eggs. A creek bath and a long pedal home. 


Evan Christenson Orucase Finding a Breathe


We swim at a surprisingly magnificent waterfall later. Four kids in high school are out here swimming and enjoying nature. A helicopter flies overhead and they all flee. “They just want us at home playing Xbox man...” 


A rattlesnake altercation, a long hot climb and a park ranger yelling at a group of frat guys later we’re eating tacos at a roadside market. It’s my first time casually shopping in months and I carefully peruse the different popsicle flavors. Decisions feel so inappropriate. Taking my time now seems irresponsible.

I guess underneath this all is a large, sweeping tidal change in the structures of society. I see so much changing from here on out that I don’t like. I feel uncomfortable, because for the first time in a while I can’t look forward with any sort of familiarity or certainty and it’s uneasy. So Quinten and I go bikepacking because it does two things so well. It brings us back to riding when it was normal. It serves as both a reminder of what the world was like and what I was like before it all. Bikepacking serves the soul and reminds me of my own in times like these. Along the way it has brought me so much unfamiliarity that it’s become an inherent quality about the process that I love so much. Bikepacking through uncertainty has brought me growth, bliss, pain, and so many challenges to overcome that doing it now feels almost like training. Because if I’m going to be uncertain, I might as well do it where I enjoy it most. Maybe learning how to navigate uncertainty by riding through it will leave us in a better position to point our society in a more positive direction after this calamity. This change is tough, but this change is necessary.  


Evan Christenson Orucase Finding a Breathe

So yeah, Quinten and I go bikepacking through a pandemic because maybe it’ll get us through. Hopefully your own transcendental experiences can bring you a stronger community upon returning. We’ve been riding for hours, and there’s some life lessons to be found on this trip. It’s 7pm and the sun is setting. I just shot my last frames and the ocean comes into view. We run in, splash around and laugh. Disbelief, shock, and peace come in with the tide and we dry off with a dirty T-shirt and ride back away. Let’s go home.


Evan Christenson is a 22 year old former road racer from San Diego, California. After breaking his neck he began transitioning to the more adventurous side of cycling. He has now bikepacked in 12 countries and has assumed a leadership role with UCLA Cycling. He works as a photographer in LA and is a senior at UCLA studying Mathematics / Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences. He interns with the National Science Foundation and does research on surface current systems.

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