The Hill as a Cardiac Event

I’ve recently taken to singletrack mountain biking, which is to say I’ve taken to gasping uncontrollably as I walk up hills in previously abandoned sections of city parks.

June 2018: The Hill as a Cardiac Event

  • “Ed is a Portal” — Akron/Family
  • “Baybee” — Jay Som
  • “Sober to Death” — Car Seat Headrest
  • “Gimme Sympathy (Dirk Lind Remix)” — Metric
  • “Angel’s Harp” — Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse (feat. Black Francis)
  • “A to G” — Blackalicious (feat. Lateef the Truthspeaker)
  • “We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Together” — The Staple Singers
  • “Deep Red Bells” — Neko Case
  • “Pescadito” — Tommy Guerrero
  • “Annabelle” — Gillian Welch
  • “I Am the Fly” — Wire
  • “At the Helm” — Hieroglyphics
  • “London Social Degree” — Billy Nicholls
  • “Runnin’” — Wajatta
  • “Two Doves” — Dirty Projectors
  • “All Mixed Up” — The Cars

There’s more than a little culture shock in going from road riding to singletrack, in more than riding styles alone. It’s easy to think of the ground as the main differentiator — from concrete to dirt, from wide to skinny — but it’s the mindset that’s thrown me off. One of starting and stopping, where momentum itself changes from second to second.

I’m not a gear guy, but I definitely got the gear this time around: the shoes, the suspension, the paint color, by god. Nothing prepared me for the trail itself and how it’s slowly eroded my self esteem; as sharp hills turn into sweeping valleys, I realize I’ve been taking it easy up until this point. The very gall to call myself a bicyclist when I’ve been riding with my full scope of vision – from sky to horizon, instead of being surprised at every turn.

The change has affected my music as well. Podcasts are fine, I guess, when it comes to flat open slogs, but singletrack is all turning corners and dodging trees. It takes focus, and it requires full attention, and it becomes an exercise in chaos and groove: I’d listen intently for moments, and then completely miss the next.

So I’ve been throwing the same mix of chaos and groove into my music playlists. I’ve learned that the old constructs of extreme sports music — the cool skateboard kids always knew the best Beastie Boys songs, after all — don’t apply when you’re predisposed for noodled-out old Neil Young songs. So I’ve found affinity with bands like Akron/Family, who spread Dan Deacon-style chaos over multiple movements, and I’ve appreciated mixing that chaos in with jams like Jay Somme’s “Baybee,” or spacey folk from Neko Case.

In a way, this month’s mixtape is a subconscious representation of the three main Leaders Park trails: scrambled weirdness that segues into tough-lived, sun-drenched hills, the screeches of Black Francis’ “Angel’s Harp” representing the struggle to get up the hill, the smooth roll of Tommy Guerrero sending the whole thing back down into the field, all while trying to get ourselves together for the next loop.

I’m still struggling with the ups and downs of singletrack life, not unlike struggling with the ups and downs of real life in a world that seems to shift toward chaos, away from groove, into darkness, and while I am tempted to shy away from platitudes here I am saying, in not so many words, that the struggle to make it up another hill could be a promise toward something better.

Or, it could be another hill. Who knows. Stay with the all unknown, stay away from the hooks. Make mistakes, get off your bike, walk up the hill. Then try again the next day.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 6th, 2018