I think the purpose of life is to discover who we are and what we are capable of. We don't always consciously choose how much we pay for these lessons and when. This learning process is sometimes risky and painful.
Two weeks ago I posted an article about a mountain bike crash two years ago on the Portal Trail in Moab that landed me in the hospital for 8 days. I had some unfinished business with this treacherous trail, and this past week, Tania and I hiked up to where I went over the bars just 100 meters from the finish.
Portal is infamous for the number of people who have died on it. It's difficult to overstate how dangerous this trail is. All the ways it's possible to get banged up, seriously hurt or die on a mountain bike are available to the unwary rider on the final 300m descent. This was all too obvious to my bride as we walked up all the super rowdy sketchy bits cut perilously into the steep sandstone.
My friend Craig and I rode the 35km trail as it began from deep in Canyonlands National park, to the top of Gold Bar Rim where much of the airy double black riding is within a body length from free fall. I don't really remember thinking about anything other than the trail in front of me and we both arrived at the start of the last 3km down Portal having ridden pretty much everything. We executed the last section very carefully, with full concentration, walking the two mandatory dismount areas where the trail narrows to eighteen inches right on the edge of the cliff (around the corner in photo below). Everything else went smoothly and cleanly. It is to this day my favourite trail.
I was very curious to see exactly where I had fallen. I had broken my derailleur on a rock drop near the end of the day. Most of the intense, spooky moves were behind us as we finished on "relatively easy" terrain. I thought I could coast down to the road with my broken bike. When I got to the crash site, all I could think was, "I rode down 35km of the scariest shit I've ever done and this is where I ate the dust?" In fact I had never been even near the hospital in 35 years of mountain biking, ice climbing or back country skiing. But as I figured out exactly how I crashed, I realized how close I was the whole time. I hit a relatively small, relatively innocuous rock edge. Since I had no drive train, I couldn’t peddle over the edge and stopped dead. The handle bar jammed under my rib cage as I flipped over the bars onto my back, perforating my bowel.
It's possible to do a long stretch of complex work with great finesse and still trip up on something relatively minor with a very slight lapse in concentration.
Obviously it's painfully easy to catch an edge in any worthwhile pursuit. And it’s somewhat of a truism that if you are looking to find the edge, you will find it. I don’t believe this is a reckless pursuit: we all have to do what we all have to do, whether the adventure is outdoors on a trail or indoors in a boardroom
As an outdoor athlete, I have no more great mysteries to unfold. I am grateful for the knowledge that I don’t lose my shit during extreme danger and can keep my concentration in tact and on the task at hand under even intense pressure. I am also grateful that the tuition for these life lessons was not fatally high. I also think the purpose of life is to contribute to the human condition. I think the qualities we discover make us useful in the service of others. That can feel risky too but we're less likely to end up dead doing it.
A big shout out to Craig Fraser for his example of airtight resolve on the ride and getting me off the trail and into the hospital.