We leave the parking lot, riding side-by-side up a short stretch of fire road before cutting left onto a rock-strewn creek bed that climbed sharply. Making it to the top requires choosing a path that navigates boulders, gravel, damp leaves, and roots - and then executing. Gravel can spin; boulders may be insurmountable; leaves and roots are slippery when damp. The hill is steep enough that the wrong choice would bring me to a halt. I carefully select a good line and push forward, breathing hard.
The trail flattened out and alternated smooth and rolling through the trees that were now three-quarters bare. Sections like this are really pleasant: hard enough to labor breathing but straightforward to navigate so a glance off the trail isn’t a dangerous indulgence. The leaves can hide something treacherous, but they typically don’t. Much of the ride is like this.
Careful line selection can be debilitating. There’s a very steep climb I’ve never accomplished without putting my foot down. A sharp right turn at the bottom eliminates any momentum. The trail is narrow with roots at angles like fishbones. I note my path and make a cursory attempt at the bottom -- but know I won’t make it so I don’t. I walk the last 50 yards.
We hit a descent. The path is clear in places but branched in others. Rocks had fallen with the last rain, some large enough to stop flow. We ride a bit too fast, beyond the pace where a careful track could be selected, but in the crisp air, I feel buoyant. At times like this the ride is hardly cognitive: visual signals and sensory input from jostled hands and legs skip the planning exercise and are translated into motor-neuron reaction. This is instinct, drawing on experience, skill, and pattern-recognition. I make it to where the path flattens out.
At times, the carefully-considered decision delivers you; at times, it betrays you. We all rely on instinct to guide us. There’s a balance.