Me, My Bike and Bays Mountain in Tennessee
In Tennessee, the City where I worked, lived and played in, had a 4,000 acre nature preserve on top of a mountain that included terrific hiking and mountain biking trails called Bays Mountain Park. If you know me at all, you know my passion for mountain biking and being in nature.
After riding one hot afternoon in mid-summer I sent the following email to the Park’s Director who at 60 something still gets out and jogs up and down the mountain’s trails. I thought I’d share it with you here for further insight into what makes me tick and help explain why I want to find a way to build our own mountain bike trails right here in Kent.
[the picture to the right is a view of eastern ridge line on Bay’s Mountain from my front porch]
As hard as we seem to work to exile ourselves from nature by paving new parking lots, building subdivisions and widening roads, I still yearn for a return to that sense of connectedness and for me Bay’s Mountain is like a path home. Riding about once a week affords me a chance to get to know my parts of the forest up close and personal and yet by giving the forest 7 days respite between my visits I can also watch the forest change and grow in time with the seasons.
I read that jetstream patterns and weather conditions propel the next season to move closer to us at a rate of 13 miles a day or about an inch per second. It’s usually hard to notice the change in inches but in my days between trips I am never disappointed by what the ever evolving forest offers up for my consumption upon my next visit. At my anthromorphic best, the forest has become like an old friend whose door is always open for a homecoming that welcomes me back with abundance.
As you know probably better than anyone else, the forest upon your mountain has abundant lessons for those that take the time to look and listen. I cherish the time I get to spend on the trails to detoxify my mind, body and spirit and allow my troubles to perspire with each crank of the pedals. As I rode today it was clear that the summer season has fully settled in on the mountain. The evidence of the transition from spring was officially complete.
My favorite riding partners, the swallowtail butterflies that used to gather on the path in their ritualistic dance have moved on and they have been replaced by the biting flies that stalk me by my scent and wait for an uphill climb when I am at my most vulnerable to strike. I miss my butterflies but I am pleased by the number of caterpillars I have spotted inching their way along the trail sporting wildly colorful Mohawks and spiked haircuts that give me hope that these adolescents will mature into another crop of riding partners. And at least the flies inspire me to ride faster up the hills to escape their sting.
The wet spring has indeed receded, and once proud ponds and mud holes that teemed with larva and an occasional frog are now silent bowls of dust. The baptismal water’s of spring have evapo-transpired into thin air, leaving those left in its wake to go from ashes to ashes and dust to dust reminding us all of our own mortality in the face of the mighty forest.
The forest is quiet, too quiet without the sounds of water gurgling along the paths and baby birds beckoning for feeding. As a result the forest seems to have lost some of its regenerative powers to heal old wounds. Where each Spring rain left its own unique imprint in the channels of the trail, the turn of the summer solstice seems to have debilitated the trails ability to heal itself and now the channels remain as unchanging and unforgiving scars.
The air has changed as well. What was once full of heavenly fragrant honeysuckle nector and budding trees is now condemned to the more earthly smells of decaying wood and minerals from the soil that kicks up beneath my tires. There is a stillness in the air, that is heavy with humidity, that seems frustrated by the lack of reprieve from summer showers that never materialize — the air just waits, leaning on the trees and everyone in its midst. In the few remaining bogs I can physically feel the air temperature rise from the skunk cabbage and swamp plants that release the energy created from converting tap root sugars to starches.
The plants and animals seem to share in the time spent waiting for something. The forest doesn’t move like it used to, it too waits. In this stillness, I see far fewer animals, they are waiting somewhere outside the trail. The lack of forest noise and activity causes my movement to seem excessive and disruptive in the forest. I feel out of tune with the Zeitgeist of the forest as I clamor along over its hide. At best, I find the occasional dung pile full of seeds and wonder a bit about the location of its owner until I am overcome by the appreciative flies whose presence around my head makes me think about how bad I must smell in non-human olfaction terms to draw flies away from the dung in favor of me.
Even the once flowering vines have turned against me as they stretch their now thorny arms into harms way, ripping pieces of my skin for the thorns to proudly display and in turn leaving thorns embedded in my remaining skin. Riding in these conditions is more work and less play. The summer has become a bit too serious. The forest and I need a good rain.
The one thing that doesn’t change is knowing that you too are plodding your way through this forest, seeing, tasting, smelling the changes just like I am. I read a principle called Competitive Exclusion that theorizes that no 2 species can occupy the same habitat forever. I hope they’re wrong, it would be an awful forest if it was just full of you and I.
See you on the trails.