Big Cheese

From the outside, this could seem like another mid-twenties white kid hitting big jumps on his bike. And in a lot of ways, I guess it is. But I would offer in these words, photos, and videos a deeper story; it is one of elation, let-down, fulfillment, loneliness, and animosity. I will try and touch on it all, as I feel it speaks strongly to anyone as a human. Maybe, just maybe, we can connect dots between each other through the things they bring us pain and joy.

These hills really blew my mind when I went to college in eastern Washington, stepping into a dry, dusty, but golden landscape late summer. The spring, after long, dreary, foggy winters, brought forth green vibrance I had never seen before being from the southwest. School preoccupied most of my time, and it wasn’t until I moved fifty miles away to the Tri-Cities that these green hills would present themselves for exploration and creation.

 

Working at the Hanford nuclear site is an experience in itself, cleaning up decades of contamination from our cold battle with communism. Long days, sometimes being very mundane, left me yearning for some outdoor time outside the weekly ride. Additionally, I found it hard making friends in a large sprawling suburbia, especially with people like myself. The solution? Find someone who would let me dig on their land, and build a trail I had always dreamed about. Turn inward when going outward takes a ton of struggle.

It sounds dreamy on paper, but the reality of it was that building what I wanted required a stupid amount of labor. Id dig for days, and see tangible progress, but the goal would be so far off it would seem daunting. But, outside of work, I really had nothing else to do. And so I just did it. Things started to change though, in hindsight, as to how I would handle myself digging. The features were cool, but I started to notice the sunsets, the vistas, the wavy ridgelines of the hills, and the beautiful swaying grass.

After a little under of year of digging, I was testing out a quarter pipe to step-down feature I had built. After about eight tries with no success, I changed the way I was maneuvering the bike. I came down awkward, falling about twenty-feet into the face of the steep landing, shattering my lower right leg. With my friend still a ways out from meeting me, and the fear of shock. I crawled up the hill to my car, and got the hell out. The first thought that came to my mind in the car wasn’t how the drive was going to go, who I was going to call, or how weird it felt to have a jelly leg; It was that my hope of completing this trail I had poured my heart into had gone out the window in thirty seconds. That hurt more than anything else.


And I waited. And waited. And waited. Healing takes a while, and it takes even longer to swing a leg over a bike with confidence again. But mainly, it was the rejection of the whole thing. It felt oddly similar to other things in life: breakups, getting laid-off, falling out with friends, etc. It also stripped me of part of my identity. Now, I’m more of a couch potato who rides shit second-hand bikes and watches lots of TV, as opposed to living every day outside or being active.

It makes me think about people who can’t move freely. The prospect of how I will come back, as opposed to how I never will, is something I have always taken for granted. That’s not an option for a lot of people or even mobility in the first place. I want to acknowledge that privilege.

Fast forward a year. The snow is deep, the inevitable spring bloom looming. My childhood and lifelong best friend, Logan Bonwell, and I, had been talking about returning to the zone to film once the hills started turning green. His one free weekend I managed to free up as well. I went from two weeks of professional trail building, to an eight-hour drive, to three days of digging, riding, and filming, returning back to work to dig the following Monday. A hustle, but a fulfilling one at that.

The extra time I had spent creating good drainage, removing organics, and weeding had payed off. Everything was rideable and coherent, a little over a year later (a testament to hard, perfectionist work paying off!). We pulled weeds, stacked some dirt, watered, and did some test runs. We ate cream cheese and bagels. Listened to Sugi Dakks and the new Anderson.Paak. The hills were buzzing with green life, the fine dust in the air from farmers plowing lending itself to amazing light. We laughed, we joked, we smiled. The same theme from my days out there alone reappeared; maybe all this trail business was really about this, not the riding.

Originally, this was going to be a heart-pounding trail, with big hit after big hit, screaming down the mountainside. The reality is, a lot of that stuff is insane. It’s huge, it’s dangerous. I wasn’t a hundred percent still, and re-injuring myself would not only suck, but also was the antithesis of the weekend. We were there to make a project from a project, and that goal was the catalyst to have a beautiful, fun weekend with friends. And we did. We had a damn good time.

I do believe when you put yourself out there with good intention and happiness, it gets reflected. Studies show that it works. Obviously, don’t go overboard, or else you’ll be let down. Additionally, if you really do care about something, it will show and come out. It will be infectious. Lean into it, and friends and people will present themselves. Enjoy the path to your goals, as when you get the goal, it won’t be as sweet as everything leading up.

Editorial, Riding and Trail Building by Henry Lanman III

@hendotb14

Photos by Matthew Roebke

@mattroebke

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