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The Incalculable Joy of the Stupid Ride

By: Jen See

One morning not long ago, I woke up in Santa Barbara to bright sun and blue skies. Somewhere, birds sang their mad songs. I drank a coffee on the couch. Suddenly, I realized. Today was the perfect day. It was the perfect day for a stupid ride. The best ideas always come from coffee. A stupid ride is too long, too far, too high, too much. There’s a good thing. Then there’s too much of a good thing. That’s a stupid ride. I dug my favorite kit out of the drawer. I pulled on white socks, the perfect choice for a long day on the mountain bike. I pumped up my tires to the ideal pressure. I filled two bottles. Then I filled one more and stuffed it in my jersey pocket. Food and more food. A bag of peanut M&Ms for emergencies. I should lube my chain, I thought as I rolled out the door. Maybe next time. I bopped along the road to the first climb. Going mountain biking! Super stoked! On the first climb, reality started to bite. Climbing, not so easy. I queued up a good song and kept it rolling. The prospect of ripping the descent made me impatient. I pushed harder. Gravity pushed back. At the mountain’s crest, I looked out over the ocean. Turning inland, I could see layers of mountains stacked up like a wrinkled rug. Long-gone rivers left their footprints on the land. Here and there, traces of water lingered in the dust and sunburned grasses. The rain comes so rarely now.

Winding along the ridgeline, I found the entrance to a dirt road with a gate across it. I shimmied around the gate and headed down the road. I passed the tumbled ruins of a house that once stood there. An old bathtub sat in the dirt, grass growing through it. A ribbon of singletrack unwound and traced the steep contours of the mountain’s fall line. A wide-angle view opened of the blue sky above and the river valley below. I bent the bike through a series of switchbacks, and laughing like a fool, I hucked over a rock pile. Mountain biking is the best thing ever. I should mountain bike all day. Too soon, the wild descent ended. I followed a road along the valley floor and tried to remember where to find water. It was here somewhere, that part I knew. The trees all looked the same. Finally, I found the lone spigot. Bottles refilled and snacks inhaled, it was time to climb home. I pointed the bike toward the sky and began to grind. And then I kept grinding. I ascended through the layers of geological time and watched the rock’s colors shift. I wondered if I would ever make it to the top. I wondered what the dirt would taste like. Whose idea was this, anyway? Mountain biking is the dumbest thing ever.

At the top of the climb, I tore open the M&Ms and poured them straight into my mouth. It was definitely an emergency. Then I finished my last bottle. It’s mostly downhill, I thought. I can totally make it. Stopped at a red light, I saw a car come up alongside me. Looking through the window, I could see a Big Gulp sitting in the cupholder. Could I reach through the window and grab it? Surely, the driver wouldn’t notice. A whole Big Gulp! I could ride so far on a whole Big Gulp. Too slow. The light changed, and regretfully, I watched the Big Gulp roll away. I crawled the last few miles home, dreaming of food. I imagined a hamburger. How amazing would a hamburger taste right now? I’m a vegetarian. Finally home, I lay down on the floor in my dirt-crusted kit. If only I could reach the refrigerator. It was too far away and I wasn’t getting up any time soon. The floor felt so perfect. Sometimes it’s good to go too far. Sometimes it’s good to be stupid.