Different friends, same look. We've all witnessed That Look. "Now where is that trail I thought was around here..." must be all Fast Freddy is musing over.
There's something about the holly-daze that bring past memories, forgotten traditions, or old friends out of the woodwork. It's almost as though the sands of time are agitated enough to unearth a slough of "Remember when..." moments as friends are shamed into the pilrimage homeward. Things that we're either too busy, or happily find an excuse to be too busy to confront, bubble upward. Stress from the monetary crunch marches on, social pleasantries appear as a success measuring stick even if they're not, and there's very little daylight in the season where everyone's sick.
Maybe knowing this is coming or having already braved it, we seek solace in one form or another, be it longtime friends we feel comfortable around, a long ride for those lucky enough to have a general lack of seasons (the Californians,) or perhaps a never-ending jug of egg nog. For whatever reason, I set out on an up north trail exploration with a friend from high school blessed with a shameful depth of vacation availability and a good riding buddy whom I never seem to be able to ride enough with.
When you spend your precious time crammed into the confines of a truck cab and your hard-earned cash at the gas pump, there's a lot to be expected when traveling to a new riding locale - an underlying theme of "this better be worth it," hangs in the air like unwanted bodily odors. The further you drive, the higher the stakes.
Different rider, different state, same look. "Where am I going and why are you taking a picture of me?" is all I can imagine this gentleman was puzzling over. Notice the eyebrows, they're telltale.
After what seemed like forever, we wiggled our way past house after house, then ranch after ranch, then gated fire road after gated fire road, finally stopping at the side of the road after the pavement had turned to dirt. We were perched atop a shelf, wooded thickly by Redwoods, overhanging a series of deep drainages. Fingers of trail entrances and exits dotted the road's sides, escaping from the ends of roadside ditches. We threw on our packs, I led the way.
Within maybe a tenth of a mile, I'd counted upward of 20 intersections, devoid of signage, one guess as good as the next leading into enveloping foliage. After not too long, something was far from correct. We were heading up a well bermed trail that looked like a riot to descend, definitely wrong. I stopped, knit my brow, and turned around.
"I don't think this is right," I panted, apparently exhausted from worrying. We weren't exactly race pacing it through the Redwoods.
"Yeah?" Chis matter-of-factly marveled back. He wasn't panting.
"I think we need to be over there," I gestured, meaninglessly. We were swallowed whole by trees, no vistas, no reference points. I was alluding to my imaginary hill top, I figured must be over there - you know, past the road I assumed were were flanking.
Sure enough, we were kind of paralleling a road and not only that, the road went over to my imaginary hill top, which was politely sectioned off by a gated fire road, the very one I vaguely remembered, and, atop that, was the start of the trail we were going the wrong way on. Magically, we were at the top. Then, low and behold, a rider pedaled up from the other side, guided by his Nano 2.1 29" TCS front tire (so he couldn't go wrong) and stopped at our head scratching confusion convention to lend a hand. This guy had a map, something I was certain was banned in these parts. Apparently he got it doing a race in the area - he was up from Petaluma. The map allowed my knit brow to unravel. Slightly.
"You said this was going to be easy. It's not." Same look, different ride.
We made the loop happen that I'd hoped we'd achieve but even still, there was an ominous weight looming above me. Down in the dregs of the main drainage, I yet again stumbled over a perplexing set of intersections.
"Uh oh, I see it." Aaron smirked.
"What?" Chris volleyed back.
"He's got That Look again," Aaron furthered. "You can tell, it's in the eyebrows."
"Oh no," Chris teased. "If I see too much of That Look, I'll be out here forever. Whenever I get home, my wife'll really give me That Look."
It all worked out. We made it back, nobody was in trouble, the trails were sweet. Chris added some adventure to it, leading us down a ridge line that must have plastered That Look across our faces as we each knew we were descending too far and in the wrong direction through bush after bush of Pampas Grass scissoring exposed skin. I'm unfairly blaming it on him but I was just as much at fault. There's something about finding more riding, new trails, and different places, that requires stumbling about, flailing for the hidden stashes. To get the goods, you gotta earn the turns. Inevitably, That Look surfaces. To me it means, "I sure hope this works out, lotta expectation riding on this." To others or for different rides, it can be the understanding that the exploration may not or will not pan out. I can still remember sitting on a steep hillside up in Tahoe near Armstrong Pass hoping our envisioned connector to Mr. Toad's would magically appear before us and alleviate our time spent hunting for it. We were seated and snow was starting to fall. I remember Bryce perhaps overly calmly stating, "I don't think this one's going to work out." I don't remember what I sputtered back but I do remember that equally calmly, Bryce retorted, "It's ok, they don't all work out." Sure enough, when I looked to my left, he was wearing That Look.
May 2014 be good to you and a year of sweet trails but hopefully not too much of "That Look."