Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Chris McPherson | Date:
Lost and Found
Film: Droptree Productions
Ira Ryan has gone off the front, as he does. Something about the vast expanses cause him to ride away from the rest of us at will. Some have been dealing with this habit longer than others, but none of us are surprised by it. As this happens the call goes up that we are off course. The map is consulted, and this fact is confirmed. Greg Johnson jokingly yells after Ira. A big long “Iiiiiiii–raaaaa” and after the echo has subsided, we all laugh.The trees seem to press up against the road, which is to hardly call it a road. We have been climbing for a little bit now and with each bend in the road, the tall pines lean and wiggle their stout trunks closer to the edge.
This has been an interesting trip so far. Far and away the largest gathering of Rapha Continental riders in North America together in one place, it has been dubbed Continental Congress. A look around the cabin where we are staying might make some people’s eyes water: The East Coast is supremely represented by the way of Rich, Pierre and Dan. The lower West Coast has sent us Cole and Ben and the rest of us — those that spend the majority of our seasons in the Pacific Northwest — outnumber the rest. Greg, Ira, Tony, Aaron and Hahn, James, Joe, Ryan and Slate. And then there’s our guest rider from across the way — Graeme Raeburn of the Rapha Continental UK. However, the question that keeps coming up, one that every single person has mentioned, joking or not, has been: is this the end of the Rapha Continental? It has been asked so much over the course of two or three days that everyone seems to have their own opinion as to whether or not it is true. Either way, we are here now, so let’s focus on the actual riding.
The longer that we stand there, the further that Ira will be going in the wrong direction. Someone knows this and says it out loud. Ok, here’s what we’ll do. I grab Tony by the shoulders in a mock expression of seriousness. “Do not move from this place until I get back. Can you do that?” As I say this we both turn and survey the rest of the scene. Almost everyone is off their bikes, Cole is exploring the abundant wilderness, some are snacking, possibly someone is phoning their mom. But no one seems to be in any hurry to go anywhere but here.
Aaron and I consult each other:
“Is it possible that he’s realized no one is following and he’ll wait for a bit and turn back?”
“Ira? Hmmm, unless that road ends at a junction, probably not.”
I’m feeling good. I’m feeling strong. The sensations are right for this one, I feel like a falcon… I feel like I could catch a horse in full sprint, this should be nothing. I mention those things to Aaron and then say that I’m only going to chase for a few minutes, and then I’ll turn around and come back. But, I emphasise one thing: “Whatever, you do, do not leave this place.”
We’ve been lost before. More than a few times. We’ve ridden in the dark because we’ve been too slow to finish with daylight. We’ve taken wrong turns and turned around in spots that made more sense to continue following. There are roads we have taken that abruptly ended leaving us to turn back and re-navigate. Plus, there have been a few times that we’ve gotten upset with each other over it: I distinctly remember a shouting match at a stop light somewhere near Denver. There was a bridge that was argued over in Connecticut. A gas station attendant in California knows what a van full of men yelling at one another sounds like, too. But you always kept going. It always works out in the end.
After about five minutes, a growing sensation starts to build in the pit of my stomach. It is the feeling of the wilderness as it rises up around you. Not so much the woods themselves, but the gravity of them. The alone time with yourself. It slows accelerations and makes pedal strokes feel heavier than they have felt in months. Years even.
The road crests with its high point and starts to lean in the opposite direction. “Three more turns” I think to myself. Pulling off onto a small gravel shoulder I check my phone and see that I’ve been gone from the group for more than 20 minutes, which sends a little pang to my gut. I click back into one pedal and start to head back. Then, for some reason, and I will never know what, I stop and turn back to the woods. The woods that have somehow swallowed up Ira Ryan whole, his bike and all.
“Ira.” It is more of a statement than a shout. (This is the point when things get weird. ) “What?” say the woods back to me. I stare blankly towards the spot where the sound came from. I try to look harder into the trees. Is someone actually there? Is it Ira Ryan or someone (or something) else? We had just spent the morning explaining to Graeme about the Yeti. About Sasquatch. About how Bigfoot is actually from these woods, in Pinochot National Forest, home to Ape Canyon, which was the site of the notorious 1924 attack of the ‘ape men’ on local hunter Fred Beck. The forest also happens to be a mystical place for American Natives. And now this National Forest has just spoken back to me.
I try once more: “Are you still there?”
The woods: “I am here. Where are you? Who is that?”
No matter how much I want to clip in and ride off in the opposite direction. I can’t. Squinting my eyes I look deeper into the forest. Is this where Bigfoot carries me off to his Bigfoot children to dine on? Local rednecks? Could they be playing tricks on me? Watching the thin man shivering in his spandex as he speaks blindly to the conifers.
Me: “It’s me. I’m right here.”
I then decide to continue on, towards Ira. Towards the voice. And, as I turn the corner any thoughts of a hillbilly-Bigfoot melt away to the sight of James Selman sitting on the top tube of his Beloved, grinning. The woods had worked their magic. “Ira and Dan are just up ahead, but I stopped to see if you guys were coming. Are we going the right way?”
We ride up the road. Now, there is no turning back. We must find Ira and Dan quickly before this endeavor turns out to be the whole day. And now the road isn’t helping and I groan out loud at the thought of descending this tarmac only to have to turn directly around and climb out of it. But as we continue we realise it’s a beautiful descent. Never once do we hit the brakes. Only when we can see the bright colors of their jerseys do we start to slow. And the first thing out of our mouths isn’t “damn you for going the wrong way,” it’s “holy bigfoot that was an amazing descent.”
Then, against my better judgement, we wait.
We start to talk about the possibility that the others will come down this road and meet us here. We discreetly avoid the discussion of climbing back out to them. It is a trick that we have all come to know well in our years together. Politely avoiding speaking about something will prevent us from actually having to do it. At least for a while. And then we hear the sound that can mean only one thing: Thirteen of the pinkest, most beautiful sounding hubs and their adjoining bicycles zinging around the final corner straight for us.
Every one of these riders is grinning from ear to ear and a mass of exclamation ensues: “That was the best road I’ve never ridden.” “You could see through every corner.” “I don’t think anyone has ever driven down that, there was not one rut. Amazing.”
The question is this the end? isn’t asked again. And later, when we have eaten, cracked a few beers and jokes and reflected on all the amazing rides which have brought us here, Slate Olson tells us: “It’s really a simple idea. Go ride your bike.”
And with that we will be off again. Off to find another wrong turn or a bend we’d missed in the road.