My knees were around my ears and had begun a tight, vigorous tremble.
I was low in the wild lilac, attempting to compress my spine into a progressively smaller form. My feet were rooted flat to the ground, pulling stiff, old hamstrings tighter than they wanted. I looked down to the ground, concentrating on keeping my breath to a dull roar, my pulse to something less than a drumbeat. I hoped the sun would stay behind the clouds long enough that it wouldn’t catch a bit of my watch, my bike, my sunglasses. I was starting to lose feeling in my lower legs.
Six minutes previous, all three of us were wending down a ribbon of deer trail, returning by bike from a vista so beautiful as to inspire doubt that I could have actually witnessed it. We had heard tell of this place and pored over topographic maps to identify the landforms we’d need to travel across to get there. It was an unmarked promontory, but the contour lines on the page connected in such a way that promised a hard trek out to a point lovely enough to strain the imagination.
We opted out of GPS; it wouldn’t have helped us anyway. We made our way across country on mountain bikes. The slope and drainage of the land before us dictated our path. There was no straightline shortcut direct to our objective. We had to follow the designs of the hill and look around us to find the best path forward. Besides, the satellite reception was garbage under a dense canopy of redwoods. Luddite romantics aside, dead reckoning was pretty much our only choice.
After much work and a few failed attempts, we had successfully made our way through the towering wood and found our objective. It did not disappoint. We opted out of taking pictures and said very little once there. We weren’t going to forget the light, the architecture of the landscape, the structure of the sky, and, best of all, the sheer surprise at turning the corner and seeing all the elements coalescing in such a state of play before us. We had our minds blown, pure and simple.
And as fast as we arrived, we knew we had to leave. Sublime as it was, we couldn’t linger. We were, at least within the bounds of our own experience, in uncharted waters and the desire to be back in known surroundings soon eclipsed the wonder we felt. We were on our way back and moving fast, wind in our faces, rumble in our tread, when we heard the crack.
The ATV had driven over a dry, fallen tree limb that laid across a road we never realized was there. We pulled up on our brakes and quickly and soundlessly as we could, coming to a halt and dropping, all three of us, without a word. The ATV killed its engine at the exact same moment. We had no idea if we were somewhere we shouldn’t be or not. There were ranches next to open space next to more ranches in a patchwork that stretched for hundreds of square Northern California miles. We assumed we were unwelcome guests and prepared to wait out our unaware hosts in this new, still silence, less than 20 feet from each other.
The two men on the ATV got off and began milling about. We could see the gun rack on the ATV, see the over/under rifle in its cushioned crooks. I suspected that the opportunity to wave that thing around would’ve stretched a yellow, toothy grin across our hosts faces but for now, better it lay at rest than in the hand. They continued to shuffle throughout the area, saying nothing until one of them piped up, “Hey look, it’s one of them eye-talian mushrooms.”
A member of our trio stupidly and hilariously hissed “they’re porcini, dumbass” under his breath, nearly turning hillbilly heads our way. I stifled an unexpected giggle. They ambled toward us, slowly getting closer and closer. I was contemplating how fast I could get back on my bike with bloodless legs and how far down the old game trail I could get before they caught me. I reached for my handlebars when the ranchers were a mere 8 feet away. Another step and I was making a run for it, knowing my compatriots were seconds away from doing the same. The whole thing was about to go sideways when they turned, got back on the ATV, and motored off. We were in the clear and, once we regained circulation in our extremities, we resumed our way into familiar territory, reeling from the risks and rewards of the day.
Trespassing is the new rite of discovery. In a world shrunk by technology and edged out by a surging population, there are few blank spots on the map. There be no dragons here, no black waterfalls over which the ships disappear, no voids patched over with superstition and myth. In our discovered world, physical exploration will nearly certainly run afoul of political and cultural delineation. It’s math. Travel far enough, long enough, and one will run up against an edge that can either turn you around or force you to consider the consequences of moving forward. It’s a new part of the old equation and the risk we trade for being part of a generation that knows exactly where the world ends.
It should be said, no matter how obvious, that breaching fencelines is illegal. These borders are the method by which we define property, a foundation concept in our society, for better or for worse. The laws that dictate trespass are older than the Parthenon. A tale of three old-enough-to-know-better men who simply wanted to see what lay beyond known roads and trails is not compelling justification to break those laws, nor should it be. Free passage sounds great, but it’s usually a manifesto written on paper made from recycled rainbows and bean sprouts. It’s terribly unrealistic and a naive impression of how our world operates. Its contravention is not a moral right, nor is it glorious defiance. Its ramifications are simply the price we may choose to pay to fill in a missing piece of the world we haven’t yet found.
There is no nobility in trespass. It’s the new scurvy, the new pirates hiding in the secluded cove, the new hostile cannibals waiting on the shore. It’s a sudden storm, a broken mast, a nighttime misread of navigation charts and, in that way, little has changed from the time of De Leon and Vespucci and Cook. We take on debt when we push off into the unfamiliar. It’s the chance you take when you set out to find something new in a world that seems to have little new left in it.
rides bikes in Sonoma County almost as much as he talks about riding bikes in Sonoma County. Formerly the whipmaster behind Bike Monkey magazine, he's now largely unemployable, and enjoys blowing deadlines, listening half-heartedly, and succumbing to rampant distraction. Despite editing articles for several publications, in and out of the cycling world, he's not managed to publish anything he can remember seeing in print.