Words and Photo by Danielle Baker
I'm not what you would consider a religious person. In fact the last time I was in church the priest interrupted the marriage ceremony to tell me not to stand on God's furniture to take photos. I think God would want you to have nice wedding photos, don't you? There's also the small matter of religion rejecting me before I could reject it. My parents tried to have me baptized because it seemed like the right thing to do, unfortunately the minister in our small town refused because I was a bastard; my parents weren't married. The little old ladies were up in arms over it and protested, but the minister held his ground. Good for him for believing in something. For me it took a little longer to find somewhere I wanted to be every Sunday.
I grew up in a small west coast community where you didn't have to try very hard to be outdoors. Everything from going to get groceries, going to a friend's house, or going to the bathroom meant that you were walking through the forest. When I moved to the big city after high school I embraced everything that I didn't have growing up; I had electricity, indoor plumbing, and there weren't any pigs chasing me through the front yard. I went to concerts, I went to movies, and I even got cable TV. Yet I struggled with feeling incomplete and couldn't figure out what was missing.
Finally, one night, I met a cute priest at a Halloween party and everything fell into place. He asked me if I mountain biked, I lied and said yes. I hadn't ridden a bike since I was about eight years old, but since I was never baptized I figured I could lie to a fake priest to a get a date.
It took me a long time to fall in love with mountain biking, I'm not an easy convert and I am the furthest thing from a natural athlete, but the destination of it hooked me. Finally something clicked for me that had been missing since I moved to the city, I was back in my church. The trees, the dirt, the fresh air and especially the silence all filled the void that I'd been experiencing. I had found my religion and no one was serving suspicious lemonade.
Something that had existed all around me growing up was now something that I had to plan to access. When I first started riding I couldn't simply pedal out my door, it took planning and loading up the bikes to go for a ride, but I was addicted. I went in the rain, I went with anyone who would agree to go, and I went with bruises and torn ligaments. I was passionate about it and somewhat frantic that it was going to disappear on me.
I use mountain biking like people use religion, with the exception of starting wars or marrying multiple wives. It has given me a community, helped me sort out challenges and solve problems, and it gives me something to do on Sundays other than watch football. Solo Sunday rides have become a favorite of mine. I pedal and think and work out all of life's problems. I meet chatty people on the climb, smile at people who are lost in their own solitude of solo rides and high five groups of friends when they pass by. Sunday rides aren't for getting faster or better, Sunday rides are for that moment where you know that there is more to life than work and stress and daily commutes. They are for living in the moment.
I still go to church on occasion, mostly for weddings or funerals. I look around at the pews that I'm not allowed to stand on, stay put when I am not sure what people are lining up for, lip sync the words to "For Those About to Rock" during the hymns, and I realize that it is not where I was meant to find God. Mountain biking may not be a recognized religion, it has never predicted the end of the world, or as far as I know, been endorsed by Tom Cruise and if there was a single unified mountain bike god, I am fairly certain he wouldn't kill kittens when you touch yourself, but being out in the woods is where I find peace.