The afternoon started as usual. The parking lot was full of eager riders, their steeds almost snorting at the nostrils with anticipation. Like daggers we cut through the forest, each man spraying the next with dirt and grit as a result of our bikes kicking up the soggy trail. In a matter of minutes our fist loop was complete and the adrenaline coursing through our bodies was palpable. A powerful drug was calling us to perform more daring stunts, to ride harder, faster, to push our limits. We continued to ride, stopping at intervals to play on boulders and rocks and to take snapshots of our technical feats.
The afternoon was a temperate break from the summer heat wave that seemed to have stalled in our part of the country. The sun had not shown the entire day and low hung clouds threatened to pellet anyone not under shelter. Thinking back, this was like an ominous foretelling of the events to come. The gray, smoky color of the day would soon give way to a thing so dark I hesitate to give it a shade. More aptly this was the coming of an almost complete absence of color.
As we moved further into the forest, the slick surfaces and the quick pace drew our attention away from the waning daylight and before we knew it the canopy had enveloped us in such low light that the trail was barely visible from atop our mounts. The slippery, serpentine snake had struck; sinking its syringe-like fangs into the flesh of my thoughts. All at once the adrenaline that so enlivened my pace was replaced by the venom of a twisted trap. Picking a good line around rocks and roots was nearly impossible so we resorted to muscling and bashing our way over the terrain. But the path would not surrender to our pounding. The more we struggled the more we were wrapped and constricted in the grip of this predicament. Several of us exchanged our technical prowess for literal bumbling as we tumbled to and fro along the dimly lit course.
As my eyes adjusted to the low light I took a moment to look up through a break in the trees into the sky. To my surprise the moon was hanging there almost completely full. But the celestial orb mocked us! There was no spotlight guiding us to our destination! There was no solace to be found by using this reflection to navigate the twists and turns…No! The spiteful singular eye peered at us and revealed only a devious grin; only a provocative snicker. I cursed myself for such a bad decision, for venturing so far from security, for leading my comrades into this dire circumstance.
My thoughts seemed to sink with the retiring of the light. I pondered the best alternatives should we completely lose sight of the trail and I again cursed myself for not packing some viable light source. We Cross Country riders carry packs that contain vital tools and equipment. We all have water to stay hydrated, tools to repair broken parts and inner tubes to replace flat tires. Why had I not been prepared for this?!?!?! Just then a spectacular thing happened. I looked behind me and could not believe my blinded eyes! My buddy had decided at the last moment to throw an LED pen light into his back pack. Ah!!!! That bright beady light could have been a thousand suns! We all let out a quick cheer (there was no time for celebration) and he took the lead. As we went, Ben called out each and every feature of the trail and together with the proximity of one man to the next we were a caravan of elephants, plodding trunk to tail, through the dense darkness. That singular light searched the ground for tricks and traps with its master calling each out. The echoing of the leader’s chants by each successive rider was comical and necessary at the same time. Our pace hastened and soon we were moving with confidence and bravado! This all climaxed at the sight of two round eyes moving across our path in the distance in such a way that it had to have been a car on the road! We again cheered and in an instant were back at the lot.
I dismounted my bike, threw down my pack and heard a call from behind me. It startled me as I was still reeling from our experience. Dan and Dave had chosen to stay on a trail closer to the road so they were waiting anxiously for our return. In Dan’s hand were beers which he handed out ceremoniously! He must have sensed the need for some respite from the trial we had just endured. The cold aluminum was raised to the sky and the clanking of cans mingled with the cheers of men; Brothers connected by experience and drawn together by a common desire to ride faster and harder, to leap higher and land smoother, to be at once and individual and at the same time a singular unit. Our resources we combine and together we are stronger and more prepared. For when the land can swallow you whole as it did today, you will lean heavily on the tools, knowledge, (refreshments) and resources of your comrades!