Words by Sammy Spence
If you take Highway 542 and head east until you can’t drive anymore, you’ll find yourself sitting where we called home this past winter. The snowpack is slowly melting away and with that, our mountain seems to be waving goodbye in the rearview mirror, at least until next November. I reach out my hand as far as I can and try and catch the last of the high mountain light, clasping my fingers around the air as we drive away.
Our dog Gatsby has his head hanging out the window, the wind pressing the fur against his head, a mixture of happiness and drool exploding from his flopping jowls, a smile blowing in the breeze as we rush past a sea of cedars. From the passenger side mirror I can see a mixture of dirt and sloshy snow glittering in the sun, blackened by car exhaust, flying behind the van like swirling ashes from cheap fireworks on the fourth of July.
Still low in the sky, floating amongst a violet-blue horizon, the sun pushes its gaze through the endless evergreens, casting shadows across soon-to-be steaming asphalt, as our four wheels weave through this mountain highway, taking us further from the glacier (or rather, the parking lot) we called home this winter: Mt. Baker, nestled deep in the North Cascades of Washington.
It is the end of ski season, at least the end of fresh powder days. The Mt. Baker Wilderness will hold skiable snow into the summer months, but even so, I feel a twinge of homesickness for deep powder turns and wind burnt cheeks, tired legs, cold toes and the shadow of big mountains looming over me as we tour through the backcountry, waiting for the thrill I think we all dream about: the feeling of flying, the freedom of movement.
We are driving until we can no longer see snow on the steep mountain faces, we are driving until the cedars no longer can hold the melting snow, we are driving until the river grows fat with the fresh runoff, flowing and cutting through fresh earth. We are driving until we hit the closest trailhead dry enough to ride. It happens quickly, at least quicker than expected. We round a corner, and then another, before we both grin and put the car in park.
Only one other car sits in the gravel lot, it's only Monday morning, still early in the week and in the day. I pop the passenger door open to a deep raw smell, the smell of dirt and cedars and moss, it sits heavy in the air and I can’t help but feel a buzzing of excitement in my head, the kind of feeling you get as you slowly crawl up to the apex of a roller coaster, right before the fall. My calves are tight from yesterday's ski tour. I reach down and touch my toes, stretching my sore muscles, and I can’t help but smile. I can’t help but wonder: how many places in the world can you ski and mountain bike, within an hour drive?
We swing the bike rack off to the side, reaching in to grab our bike shoes and our helmets. The three of us live in our old Ford E-350 van, we try and run it mostly on the fumes of discovery, but every once in a while we have to put gas in it too. Under the bed located in the back of the van, we are full to the brim with our belongings: our backpacking gear, different types of shoes, our first aid kit, our camping chairs. The kind of things we need often enough to need a rack with a swinging arm.
We don’t own a house, or rent a storage unit in a town nearby because frankly, there is no nearby, we live where we drive and drive where we live. Everything we own and love lives in the van with us. Which is why we put a lot of thought into what bike rack was right for us and our lifestyle, we wanted something that could withstand the ever-changing weather, adventures and terrain. We wanted something that could be a permanent addition to our home, not just a weekend accessory.
Our home conveniently happens to be on wheels, so the freedom of movement is not only what we seek in our hobbies and passions, but a kind of mantra in the way we live our life. Because of this we seek tools that help aid in the “where we go, everything goes” attitude. RockyMounts Backstage rack makes life simpler. Our bikes are attached solidly in a way that makes getting to everything simple, not a hassle. We’ve driven across the country with our bikes on our backs. Our bikes have felt the burn of the Tennessee sunshine, experienced the joys of running fast under the pines of Northern Michigan, ripped through the damp dirt in Washington, passing by a blur of cedar as we pump our pedals.
We unstrap the bikes from the rack. I hear the sharp clip of the bike shoes clicking into place, the grip of my tires rolling over a series of roots, the climb and the fall. I feel free, the wheels of my bike spinning into the dance of movement. I feel the burn in my thighs, my cheeks tight with warm heavy breath as my heart pumps faster. The homesickness I was feeling only hours earlier is replaced with a sense of welcomed familiarity, the way you might feel after rearranging your living room for the first time in months. I feel like I’ve arrived…home. Only this home isn’t covered in snow or decorated with rugged mountain views, the art on the walls has been replaced with soft lichen and enchanted old growth trees and sunshine dripping onto moss and rocks and ferns. It feels different but no less beautiful, no less to seek around the next switchback.
For one brief moment, a split second, I look back, as the evergreen world goes blurring, the sea of cedars becoming unrecognizable, and see Gatsby, four legs pounding into fresh earth, his jowls flapping against his teeth as he runs, happiness exploding from the grin above his k-9’s. And a holler escapes my throat, as we hit the downhill and for a moment I don’t think about where we are going next, I don’t think about maps or destinations, I don’t think about white snow or alpine glow. For a moment I don’t think at all, all I feel is…flying.