Photo by Dan Barham. Story by Kristin Butcher
There was a time when the odometer turning over on another year inspired the type of drunken revelry best reserved for an age before digital cameras. These days, bacchanalian celebrations have given way to a traditional New Year's cookout—the low-key kind of affair thrown when you're no longer embarrassed to go to bed well before the ball drops.
This annual scene has the comfortable familiarity afforded between close friends. The grill is running, dogs are camped next to those deemed weakest in the bratwurst-defense department and, for no particular reason, everyone has crammed themselves into the kitchen. A jesting rib is unleashed and stories that were anything but funny at the time have been rehashed until the laughter hurts. "Do you remember the ride where 'one more hill' meant 'four more false summits until the climbing really starts?'" That story is immediately topped by the one about the guy who, in a moment of complete brain-fartage, put his bike on the roof rack and then drove out of his garage. "Can you believe he has kids now?"
At some point between the good beer and the cheap beer, conversations quietly change from reminiscing about the past to fantasizing about the future. By dark, the kitchen table is covered with trail maps, dog-eared magazines, and more than a few empties.
Discussion about riding a new trail not-so-far-away inspires talk of a weekend campout. Someone points out that if you're going to camp for a weekend, you may as well rent an RV and make it a week. And if you're going to make it a week, you may as well quit your job, sell your non-essential organs, and travel the world by bike.
What started with a few suggestions has evolved into a rapid staccato of ideas as the bike-trip imaginator cranks to eleven. Names of practical destinations intermingle with those a bit more far-fetched. Equal consideration is always given to all. This isn't the time or place to undermine brilliant plans by pointing out silly things like "feasibility" or "facts". At this moment, everything is possible.
Committing to a plan for Olympic-level fitness while eating enough pork to induce meat sweats isn't just accepted—it's adamantly encouraged. Tonight, bank accounts are full and vacation days are flush. Fantasies churn until we are swept away in the tempest of possibility. This is life at its simplest, blissfully removed from the reality idling patiently on the other side of night.
Should we unplug from it all and head into the woods with just a tarp and enough energy bars to ensure we'll never look at cardboard the same way again? Or should we live it up and zip through time zones on a plane, sipping drinks with those little swords that make you feel so suave until they stab you in the nostril?
At this moment, we're no longer huddled around a too-small table covered in topo-lines. We're riding through the Rockies on a trip that'll take all summer to plan. We go ahead and create a list of necessary gear: ridiculously large hydration packs, bear spray, faux-denim lycra—only the essentials for us.
Or what was that story we read about mountain bike tours where the guides wear elephant guns? Yeah, we should totally do that.
How about that festival where they cook up a whole pig? The mountainous backdrop is replaced with the murmur of festivalgoers creeping out of their tents, trudging through the misty morning air in search of coffee and clean toilets. Long rides during the day, fun rides during the night, and a bevy of food, music and drinks in between. What's not to love, aside from nighttime attempts at urinary discretion being thwarted by invisible clotheslines filled with disturbingly moist chamois?
As the evening goes on, we dream of dirt a different color than our own: Hard-packed clay just a hair more crimson than the spires piercing the distant sky. Or soil so black it creates singletrack that slithers between pelts of green lichen. Or miles of sandy berms that feel like Velcro in the warm rain.
Right now, the seeds of epic tales are being planted. Not coincidentally, this is also when we begin the time-honored tradition of blending lofty aspirations with just enough bad decision-making to ensure there are plenty of stories to tell next year. Rolling out for a backcountry trip? Good time to break-in that new pair of cycling shoes! Eating mid-ride sausage before ascending a mountain pass? Go for it! Storing chamois butter next to the Icy Hot? What's the worst that can happen?
A brief silence is punctuated with a yawn that becomes contagious. We make promises to get working on one trip or another, and it's not long before the house clears out. We know that most of our plans will dissipate into the detritus of life, much the same way a dream can seem so real until you tell it to someone else. Some view fantasies as worthless unless executed A fantasy's value isn't withheld until fruition—instead, the inspiration is immediate and its effect is priceless. We really do resolve to ride a little more. To eat a little better. To get legs capable of more than a fast sputter. To do whatever it takes to answer "Yes" when the opportunity for adventure presents itself.
And a year from now, we'll get together again. Same time, same place. A few new faces will fill gaps left by absent friends, and the familiar combination of laughs, beverages and meat products will swirl again, drawing out stories we've heard a dozen times. Maybe some of last year's fantasies will be reincarnated into this year's tales. And maybe they won't because life or money or nothing at all got in the way again. It doesn't really matter, because for a moment we were there, swooping through the pages and riding our hearts out.