foot trails

Reader Story: Doodling & Painting in Anticipation of Riding Season in ‘A Spring in


Where I live, spring comes slowly. Our trails all lie under feet of snow for months, and we’re stuck rolling groomed singletrack on fat bikes, or chasing pow turns on skis or boards. Eventually, though, winter’s icy grip starts to loosen, and we start to think about mountain bikes once more.
The upside of lacking anything close to year-round mountain biking is that the months of anticipation make our short riding season even sweeter. As soon as the skiing stops being good, folks head to the desert, packing in hours of driving to ride ribbons of ledgy singletrack. I’d never really done the desert riding thing before, so I hitched a few rides down with friends, rode techy trails, and a long bikepacking loop.

I’m not as comfortable with this arid ecosystem, and its foreign inhabitants haunt my mind as we make the long drive back home from a riding trip.

Once home I’m impatient, but there’s no real riding to be done yet. Instead, my days are occupied taking first aid classes and recertifying so I can coach young riders this summer. I kill hours of boredom mixing my notes with doodles, playing around with new ideas and techniques.

I ordered a new bike in the fall, it finally arrives and I build it up, bunnyhopping it over the snowbanks still melting in the streets. It feels good, so good, but you can only get to know a bike so well on the few miles of open singletrack in the Tetons in late April. I’m eager to ride, my mind drifts off to serpentine singletrack as I work.
So I pack my things and drive north and west with a car full of bikes and art supplies. I have no real plan, other than riding trails that have ferns near them, meeting new people, and painting everything I see. The first night I almost hit a deer, moseying across the highway in the dusk, so I pull over and sleep in a closed ski resort parking lot, waking early to find a porta-potty and paint.
Hours of mindless driving later and I’m ready to ride, meeting an internet friend in the parking lot and finally attaching a face to an Instagram handle. I’m out of shape, or more precisely, in ski touring shape, not mountain bike shape, and I spend my first climb wishing I’d invested more time on the trainer.
The pandemic’s impact is still evident, masks rot in the undergrowth and we gather in groups uncertainly, still shy to stand too close together.

I’m terrified through that first ride. Slippery rocks and roots funnel me down steep chutes and I feel like a beginner again, trying to remember the fundamentals that I spend my summers drilling into youngsters. Look up! Anticipate! Calm body, separated from the bike!

I thank my new friend for the tour guiding and head further north, further west, trying to catch a glimpse of the bay as I weave through rush hour traffic. In town, I find a bike park with a porta-potty, and set up, painting at a picnic table as the sun goes down. I feel a bit like a voyeur, watching locals session the pump track, taking reference photos of the new jumps that are being sculpted.
I post on social media, fishing for internet friends to ride with, and then retire to a big box store parking lot to sleep, praying the street sweepers don’t chase me out, imagining potential camping setups.

The next few days are a blur. New friends, new trails, bikes, beer, arm pump, fist bumps. Every chute is steeper than home, every jump a little less predictable. I feel like I’m starting to warm up though, my ski mind is giving way to my bike mentality and every foot of trail feels better. I’m slow, friends wait for me to catch up after every descent, but I’m so stoked, eating it all up, in love with it all. The trails here have legacies, I recognize features from edits, hear stories of local legends building, sending, rebuilding.

Bike culture runs deep. The kids are fast, the old people go big, and everyone in-between seems to ride their bikes everywhere.

I understand the terrain my bike was built for now, and how to optimize it for this kind of riding.
As my trip nears its end, I feel like an addict, trying to stuff in as much riding as possible every day, trying to make the most of every duffy corner and every loamy chute. I’m hooked, I want it all.
Too soon though it’s time to bid farewell to new friends and hit the road home. The trails are melting out, and the dog misses me. So I turn my back on the Canadian border and cruise south and east, swapping the Cascades for the arid central plains and finally the Rockies again. As I drive I listen to bike podcasts, nerding out on gear and thinking about the classic buzz lines we like to use.

At home I’m restless, trying to articulate what was so special about the places I visited, desperate to harness some of that magic for my hometown.
I’m more aware than ever that trails don’t just happen, there are no trail gnomes leaving ribbons of singletrack in their wake.
So we head out into the rain and snow and start digging. We’re moving dirt slowly, reclaiming an old trail from the clutches of nature, trying to respect the mountains we move through as we re-shape them into a playground.
When it dumps snow late in the spring I huddle inside, watching edits and trying to contain my excitement for the future these young riders represent.I crank through a glut of ideas, putting out too many drawings with no time to paint them all. They’re extras, coloring pages for anyone else who might want to fill in the lines with their own colors. [L=]Download as many as you’d like.[/L]

Eventually, our trails dry out, it’s time to start coaching, and self-care rides become viable again once more.
I’m busy with bikes, I spend my days drawing them, desperately trying to put down all my trip’s inspiration onto paper before it escapes me. Ferns, moss, big jumps, rutted turns, and steep chutes. I have too many ideas, too many bikes to draw, and not enough time. So I set an arbitrary deadline, a number of paintings to complete, and no more before I take a rest. Here’s the result, the culmination of a spring and early summer of riding bikes. A resting place before I dive back into the magical world that two-wheeled machines take me to. If you want to follow along for more, check out my Instagram.

So much thanks to everyone who showed me around, gave me a place to stay, and made me feel welcome. I can’t thank you enough. You’ll all have to come sleep in my driveway sometime.


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