In the...ahem…prologue to Down the River, Edward Abbey tells us he’s been floating rivers for a long time. For 23 years, actually. The book was published in 1982, so I assume he wrote that thereabouts.
Here’s the exact text:
“For twenty-three years now I’ve been floating rivers. Always downstream, the easy and natural way. The way Huck Finn and Jim did it, La Salle and Marquette, the mountain men, Major Powell, a few hundred others.”
It’s 2014. And I’m not Ed Abbey. But I’ve been racing bicycles for a little longer than he had been running rivers in 1982. (If you don’t count the years off. Which I don’t. Or won’t. He probably missed a few years too.) I’ve mostly been racing bikes uphill. Down too, to be sure, but the racing is usually up the hills. It’s the hard way to ride a bike, but the natural way to race one. The way Merckx did it…and a few hundred others.
Racing bikes isn’t much like running rivers. Or maybe it is*. But being outside, escaping the hectic dogmatism of Modern Life through The Wild and Adventure, and then thinking about it, trying to tap into your soul and make sense of what you find there, and then trying to write it down, to share it, and to be understood…well, that’s been done forever. Since Mohammad. Since Confucius. Since Moses. Since Adam.
And so that’s the project…
In 1980, Abbey took a very particular river trip down the Green River in Southeastern Utah, in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Tomorrow, I’m going to race the TranslvaniaEpic, a seven-day mountain bike stage race in the mountains around State College, in the heart of Pennsylvania Appalachia.
On Abbey’s 1980 trip down the Green River, he took along “a worn and greasy paperback copy” of Walden. He abducted Thoreau from his New England woods and held him hostage through a multi-day river trip. I’m not sure Thoreau would have liked the trip, had he been there in person. Despite his pretentions, the dude wasn’t much of an adventurer.
On my 2014 race through the woods, I’m taking along a crisp, new copy of Down the River. Abbey would have been at home in the Pennsylvania woods, having grown up here, if not exactly keen on bike racing (I’m sure I’ll have ample time to discuss what Abbey may or may not have thought of bike racing in the coming days). Abbey was a hearty sort. An endurance man. So if he were a bike racer, I think he would prefer the marathon-type MTB events. Or maybe one of those Surleys with all the crap on it and heading off with just a few other dudes for days in the wild.
Anyway... Abbey took Thoreau on a river trip and wrote an essay. I’m going to take Abbey to a bike race and write an essay. This bike race is seven days long, so my essay will come in seven parts. If all goes as planned, a new installment each night. So after you check on the race results at cyclingnews and watch the post-race interviews on dirtrag, roll over here and read the next installment.
My race reports will absolutely not be complete, may embellish a detail here or there, contain outright lies, or be incomprehensibly convoluted. However, I promise that everything in them will contain the absolute truth.
Time trialing tomorrow. Get excited.
* But probably not.