Do you ever get the feeling that life is blurring by, like you're a passenger on a train lost in the simple beauty of watching the countryside fly by? My grandmother says this is just the beginning of life speeding up, and I believe her, even though I wish I didn't. When life's uncanny ability to redline the tachometer intimidates me, I think of Fruita.
My first encounter with the iconic mountain bike destination came in much the same fashion as my first experiences riding Canadian backcountry and bikepacking on the outskirts of Russia. They arrived in magazine pages that I poured through again and again on slow Sunday mornings in the hammock and while taking care of less-than-glamorous bathroom business.
I'd lose myself in photos of pale tawny lines lurching across mountains seemingly formed in the bottom of an hourglass. The striated cliff-side edges reminded me of moats left behind by kids digging at the beach. It seemed so strange for this to exist in the same world as the east coast megalopolis I called home along with its trails in every shade of green. Alligators were familiar trail hazards, but I couldn't wrap my head around people knowingly riding difficult trails lined with cactus, a plant I'd only experienced as stabby dining-room decorations.
Flipping through those pages at a time when I'd only ridden a handful of trails in my home state, I would have bet anyone who asked that I'd never see the likes of Fruita. Thankfully, I've always known I'd make a terrible gambler.
The first time I set foot in Fruita, I wasn't even headed there. My husband and I had just landed jobs based in Colorado and were headed to Reno for a conference. Our boss suggested stopping in Fruita to take a break and spin our legs on the trails.
"You mean, Fruita Fruita?" I asked. "Yeah, it's about a half-hour away," he answered in a casual tone that made me realize that every trail, no matter how iconic or unknown, is somebody's backyard ride. This was where I'd fantasized about riding since I slid my tennis shoe into a pair of pedals traps, and here I was experiencing it on a whim, the way you stop for Slim Jims on the way to Cleveland.
As my flatland legs contended with hills and trailside cow patties, I learned the value of a granny ring and the importance of knowing when to keep one's mouth shut. After parting through a slow-moving cattle heard, I noticed my husband had disappeared off the back. Bathroom break, I thought. I kept waiting. Flat tire, I thought. I kept waiting. Right when my thoughts turned toward the worst–sentient cow revolution–he rounded the corner wearing his signature terminator-style sunglasses, a blood-soaked shirt and a feminine hygiene product shoved halfway up his right nostril. The dry air transformed his nose into a gushing red faucet that I found way more hilarious than he did.
The fantasy I'd crafted from magazines didn't include being whipped by bitter February winds, tasting cow manure or assuring passersby that my bloody beau was neither injured nor an ax-murderer, but it's those moments that formed memories so palpable I can roll them around my hands and get lost in the past until someone asks why I'm smiling.
When I returned after nearly a year riding out west, loose, decomposed granite felt like home and I'd stopped expecting half-buried rocks to act like roots. I suffered less on climbs and throttled more around the corners. I stayed in a hotel during the Fruita Fat Tire Festival and surfed on the back of some stranger's bike rack during the Clunker Crit race, putting way too much faith in a couple of rusted bolts.
When a move across the country turned Fruita from a bucket-list pit stop to a weekend road trip, my excursions there became annual measurements of a changing life. I remember sitting on the sidelines of the Clunker Crit, holding an impossibly small human after finishing one of my first post-procreation rides. I rode slowly and terribly and loved every moment of it. I was so tired and weak and clumsy that I'd never been so happy to finish a ride–not because the ride was terrible, even though it was, but because it was one of the first rides back. Those rides always hurt, but you can't get to the hundredth ride back until you endure the first few.
I was back again a few years later, by myself and sleeping in the back of a car next to three different bikes. I indulged my inner 13-year-old by shooting spitballs in a restaurant, and read messages left in the red-tinged dust gathered on my car from friends who were already on the road to someplace else, knowing it'd be years until we'd cross paths again.
When I last returned, it was with a cadre of middle-aged parents brought together by dirt, bikes and kids. I followed my oldest son down my favorite trail and took an embarrassing number of pictures of my youngest as he toured the campsite on a kick bike in the dirtiest Spiderman footy pajamas known to humankind.
Trails are so much more than dirt and trees and evil shin-loving cactus spines. They capture snapshots of our lives, offering dirt reflections of how much has changed and how much has remained the same.
Sometimes I close my eyes and revisit a lifetime of tiny moments when the train slows down just enough that the landscape begins to sharpen. The longer I look, the more features appear etched onto its canvas. Somewhere out there, a sliver of soil is holding onto wonderfully mundane moments that fit between the stories we tell friends and the accomplishments we tell strangers. Trails are our partners bonded through dirt and grime, always there reminding us that it's the small moments, the forgettable minutia, that draw in the details of our blurred little lives.