We roll away from a coffee shop glow and into blue ink air. Cold presses in, as it always does just before sunrise at 8,000 feet, but a climb comes first on this dawn patrol. Warmth lies just a few minutes up the road.
Creatures of the dark, we are. Working stiffs, mostly. Real jobs, or as close to real as is possible in this industry. It’s not nine-to-five because it’s 24/7, 365. We’re on-call like doctors, without the intelligence or pay. But these schedules leave some time to play, albeit often on the edges of daylight.
The sun is sleeping, for another 20 minutes at least. A hum of thick rubber on asphalt dampens blue-lipped conversation before the road turns to dirt. Climb through a small mountain enclave, through 9,000 feet, up and away from email and smartphones and deadlines and work fires waiting to be put out.
The five of us sometimes light fires for each other, back in that other world. We are two editors and three marketers, living in a tug-of-war of content and coverage. Two contrasting sides of the media you consume every day.
But here, in the cold before sunrise, headed toward secret singletrack, where the phones show “no service” and the only pitches are topographical, that salaried world may as well not exist. Maybe it never existed, I think. But that’s just pre-dawn meta nonsense.
The trail is on the right, somewhere. A mile more, perhaps. It is marked by nothing, a blank face of forest, invisible to the unfamiliar. We pass the entrance … oops … even though I rode this trail just three days ago. Double back; spot a ribbon of pressed earth through the trees. Pick up the bikes, walk in 20 yards. Leave no trace.
Maybe build a little cairn so we can find it next time? Stack three rocks. No, best keep the forest face blank. Knock the tower over, throw rocks back in the woods.
Look back, East, at cotton candy clouds on fire.
Pleased that the singletrack has survived the night, we roll first tracks on dewy hero dirt. The climb is steep, rocky, and full of technical moves; it feels like New England, to me, like home. On this northwestern face, there is more soft dirt, less decomposed granite than we usually deal with. A few groves of aspens let the first light through, so striking it raises the hair on the back of my neck, before we dive back into shadowy tunnels of pines.
The top, two miles above sea level, provides a look toward home, 5,000 feet below. We rise out of the canyon, and cell service returns. A collection of bling-bloop-buzzes radiate out from our packs. The Europeans are up, and emailing.
Nobody steps back into that other world.
This is the dawn patrol, a murky reflection of real life below. Cold starts and steep climbs, hard work and occasional discomfort — each pedal stroke is rewarded in kind. Little happens down there that doesn’t happen here; it’s all just a matter of scale.