Two Days Away

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“Time off” is a strange concept.

It’s odd to me that many people spend decades in jobs they might not enjoy or respect. This has been the human story since the beginning of jobs. Think about the person who had to leave the cave to gather firewood when they KNEW that right outside that safe, stone cavern was a dazzling range of animals who loved nothing more than to dismember you, lap up your entrails and use your shinbone as a toothpick. I’ve had some horrific jobs over the years starting with my first job ever, picking up nails. Imagine an expanse of land that ran from one edge of the horizon to the other, located at 8000 feet with unpredictable weather and its own assortment of angry and dangerous animals. Bucket in hand, staring at the ground, hour after hour….picking up nails. I got a penny apiece. I was promoted to “tractor greaser” which also proved to be less than ideal, and over the next few decades I made my way though hot tub installer, fragrance model, model-model (for one day), bouncer (for about an hour) and even on to newspaper photographer at a tiny paper where I shot, printed, edited, shot halftones and did paste up. This last job was as bad as any of the others.
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My current job is the best job I’ve ever had. My title still has “photographer” in it, but I rarely do any photography for my employer. I do…different things, and those things change from time to time. This job is challenging, fast, fluid but also puts me in fun places with interesting people. I’m fortunate. I think I get two weeks vacation a year, but I’m not really sure. I don’t take a lot of vacation. In fact, in eighteen years of being with my wife I don’t really think we’ve gone on a real vacation. Like where you go sit somewhere warm and get fat. We aren’t really vacation people, but I wish we were. I think about it a lot. I know plenty of people who take two or three trips a year, just traveling, or surfing or hiking or laying buy a pool. I keep thinking I’m going to do that, but I also know I probably never will. For me there is just far too much to do. I’m trying to stop feeling this way, but it’s more difficult than I imagined. I’m 46 and I have an incurable disease. Nothing like reality to bite my vacation pondering self in the ass.
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I was recently in Santa Fe and had just been stung by a bee. Standing there hanging out with some friends and someone says “Hey, full moon June 2nd, we should go to Chaco.” Now, the easy thing to do is chew on this idea for a few days, find a reason not to go and then politely bow out. Instead we all said “Okay, let’s go.” And we did. I actually didn’t make the full moon, had to leave the day before, but it was still damn bright and I got the point. I drove my fully loaded vehicle across roads not fit for man or beast and backed it up to a campsite and pitched my tent. Now, before I go any further I need to let you know that before I left Santa Fe I turned my phone off and place it in the front pocket of one of my leather “Dan Bags.” I loaded a roll of TRI-X in my Leica M4 and twisted on the 50mm.
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Two days later I was terrified. EVERYTHING normal in my life, EVERYTHING routine in my life was dangerously close to falling off the edge of a cliff and disappearing forever. There were moments when I thought about walking into those hills and not coming back. The idea of a telephone, or talking to anyone, or emailing or posting something was ALMOST completely erased from my thought process. I never took a shower, or cleaned myself in any comprehensive manor, and was covered in a fine layer of sweaty grim. And I was positively content, so much so that I realized why I don’t take much vacation. Too dangerous. Too suggestive. Of course it’s all BS because life on the outside is BRUTAL. It’s just the mind game
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Now, to be fair, I was with several incredible artists, inspiring people who make things that I want and need to see. Fire, conversation, physical activity, history carved in stone and elements front and center combined to create a unique scenario. Icy rain on a sunburned back. Shooting stars.
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Near and Fargo: New Mexico 20140907

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Some don’t make it back. I smelled this poor little guy before I saw him. Coyotes and cars don’t play well. I was climbing slowly, rising sun in my face when the whiff of death became apparent. Only the sound of my breathing as I stopped to make this little tribute.
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The road continued to climb for several miles then topped out with a view of a small mountain village. The road turned to dirt and the mobile had no signal. Keep pedaling. A low road along a dried up river but the soil was damp with recent rains, a small column of dirt spraying up from the front wheel. Switchbacks began and were loose, dry and laden with washboard. Up and up and up. Small sprocket, looking down between my legs at the rear ring, never wanting to surrender to the low gear. A photo, ya, that’s it. Reason to stop.
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At roads end was a gate blocking my movement, but oh what a gate it was. It is claimed that 75% of all Fortune 500 CEO’s have property in or near Santa Fe, and this baby looked like one such compound. Every trip out here I find a new paradise..owned by someone else.
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There was no choice but to retrace my step. Miles of downhill back to Two Trails and then I drop south into the high desert. Miles of downhill tarmac, nice shoulder, no shoulder, glass, debris, etc. And then single track along the rails all the way back to town. The trails changes to improved trail and I realize I’d ridden five difference surfaces on this little gem. Right at forty, perfect, solitary miles. RIP Mr.Coyote

Near and Fargo: New Mexico Dawn Patrol 20140902

“I hope I run into the bear on a downhill,” I thought as I rounded the blind corner in a tuck and in the drops. The trash cans along the road had been turned over, sorted through and consumed. Bear country. At 30mph I might just glide by, but in the steep sections I was moving so slowly I could see the individual knobbies on my front tire.

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Maybe my flashing headlight would lull Mr. Bear into a trance and allow my passage without complaint. Or send he or she off into the brush at warp speed. As it turned out, no bear. Not today. Perhaps they too were hungover after the holiday weekend, food drunk on sloppy campsite dweller trash. Up early today, before the sun, an extra thermal layer to protect my fragile, shrinking body. Nobody on the road. The sun rimming the Sangres.
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Although I ride with others, for the most part, riding is a solitary pursuit. I like being alone, on my own, and at the mercy of the environment. I daydream, visualize and talk to myself. When I my legs burn and feel tired I pedal harder, just to see what happens and if I can recover. I’ve ridden this route many times. It’s somewhere between 23 and 27 miles but the GPS always cuts out and says “Sorry, not really sure how far you went.”
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That’s okay. It’s just an idea more than a challenge. It’s simply about being out. Long rolling downhills, steep uphills and the shadow cast as the sun peaks the mountains and lights up the path in a vibrant yellow swath. I watch my own form, and that of the bike, as they roams the rock, dirt and high desert scrub. Coasting and looking. Waiting for what lives around the bend.

Near and Fargo: New Mexico 20140831

“I haven’t ridden since May,” my friend said.

“Good.” “I want you fat and slow,” I replied.

The goal was just twenty-five miles of hilly, New Mexican gold. My house, north of town, east of town and then back into the guts of the city. But this was my first ride with someone else in roughly a year. I knew we would ride fast, too fast, because neither of us knew the correct pace. I on the Fargo and he on his road bike. The route begins straight up. Within ten minutes neither of us can speak as we gasp for anything we can. “I can’t talk anymore,” I said. “Give me ten minutes.”

Cold to hot and the sun begins to show it’s face. Strong enough to tan my arms through sun sleeves. Lips chapped. Legs on fire, but the conversation, when possible, is fantastic. That’s one of the great things about this pursuit. Time in the field. Time to think. Time to talk. Time to wonder if coincidence is really that or something far more.
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Heading west from a small bridge. “Now we have a nice, long downhill,” I say lowering into the drops and crouching just over the top bar. The road is rough, vintage New Mexico, with dirt, glass, broken road shards and other debris. The bike is so stable and rolls supremely over everything in my path. Rounding at corner at high speed I nail a medium sized rock lying in deep shadow. It fires off the tire like a gunshot into the brush but the bars never tremble or move.

By mile ten my legs are good. Solid. Ready. A short stop for a bite and then back to finish the ride. Done.
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“Will you ride with me now?” my wife asks as I roll to a stop in front of the casita. “Sure.” “Why not.”

Bikes on the back of The Duck and off south of town where the road ends and the dirt begins. She is tentative, still learning, but the trail is perfect. I air down the Conti’s but she doesn’t want me to TOUCH her bike. A short, steep drop and the trail begins. Twenty-five miles of rolling singletrack. It’s beautiful. Truly beautiful as the wind from the east assures us a tail wind on the return trip. A few steep, sandy dips but otherwise packed to perfection with the wet summer.

This is my first real trail work on the Fargo, and I’m amazed at how solid it is, how smooth. Even with the new tires, and the sand, the ride is fantastic. My seat post and saddle making strange popping noises, but I pretend they are bird sounds and enjoy the ride.