by Ray Birks

“Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground”

Once in a Lifetime, by Talking Heads, from the Album Remain in the Light.

For some unknown reason or part of some twisted joke my brain likes to play on me, this is the default song that will start running through my head while I’m riding if there is no other song

Talking Heads bandmates 1977. L-R Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns).

currently cycling through my neurons and synapses. Even though it’s from the 80’s, my go to wheelhouse for favorites, it’s not even close to my favorite song. But there’s something about the easy to remember lyrics and possibly the rhythm that matches my cycling cadence that brings it to the forefront and becomes my cycling companion on the climbs.

The song is about the passage of time and not to fear that passing. David Byrne, lead singer for The Talking Heads, told NPR, “We’re largely unconscious. You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else. We haven’t really stopped to ask ourselves, ‘How did I get here?’”

I appreciate music, the artfulness, the creative time and energy, the pouring out of someone’s heart or manifestations of their brain into song and it often keeps me company in the car, on the trail, in the house, at work. And I can contextualize Byrne’s statement about my own unconsciousness and surmise that my brain is trying it’s best to fill the half-awake void with minutiae and sundry thoughts.

I suppose it also keeps me from madness as my brain, while I’m riding, tends to focus on real or perceived bike noise and squeaks. Wonderings about which gear I’m in and do I have any in reserve, how much climbing remains, is my chain too dry and noisy, did I choose the correct PSI for the terrain, was that a bear? Lots of inconsequential ramblings that the songs seem to help dissipate.

That got me to thinking about another song by one of my favorite artists, Dave Matthews Band, called The Space Between. It’s a song about relationships, their ups and downs, the pain and joy, and how within all of the spaces between the ups and downs is where true meaning can be found. I’ve heard the song’s meaning described as, “Everything in life is held in place by what it isn’t.”

The lyrics poignantly portray that the space between the tears contains laughter. The space between the lies is where hope lives. The space between the bullets and bombs is where we wait for each other. The space between your heart and mind is a space we’ll fill with time.”

Ray Birks pictured in the foreground. Looking stoked grinding uphill.

Dire Straits, in their wonderful ballad Why Worry, write, “There should be laughter after pain. There should be sunshine after rain. These things have always been the same.” If we don’t have the bad we never appreciate the good. If we don’t have tears we don’t have context to appreciate the joy. We mostly reside in between those extremes and that’s where we need to remember to make the most of our time. The highs and lows will always be present but the spaces between is where we find hope, laughter and each other.

Where is all of this 80’s-fueled cycling infused babble leading? Let me attempt to explain. I ride a lot by myself and many times the reason I ride is to find refuge from the world around me. I take that statement with a grain of salt because just the fact that I have the time and means to ride is a blessing in itself and I don’t take that for granted or take it lightly. My “world” that I’m taking refuge from is far from the struggles others incur on a daily basis, but riding helps to keep me balanced and centered.

Too often when I’m riding I get caught up in the start and the finish and I forget about the proverbial roses along the way because I may think I don’t have enough time or I get childishly impatient. I often feel a strong pull to finish a ride, as if getting to the destination completes a circle and helps soothe any minor O.C.D.. There’s security in being back at the car or back at home, not worrying about flats or bonking, wrong turns or crashes. My long drawn out point here is that the spaces in between the trailheads is where I need to focus my mental energy, in the journey not the destination.

I started to make a list of some places and experiences ‘in between’ that we have here right in our little valley as a reminder of where I would like to harness and focus my brain cells. 

As most locals can contest, the trails seem a bit more crowded when the flowers come out in April and May and the hillsides go from velvet green to blaring yellows and purples and the slightest moisture brings out the strong smell of sage. There are some special spots in Coyote Canyon and Upper Lightning that force me to stop riding and stare in awe at the wildflowers. My senses sometimes get numb while riding and at points need to get snapped back to reality that our trails during wildflower season are pretty special places.

Many times at Squilchuck riding in the winter at night I’ll stop and soak in the snowflakes gently filling in the gaps in the ground and the absurd quietness and experience of having a trail, a hill and a park all to myself. When I’m night riding in Sage Hills here’s a spot on the Lone Pine Trail where you crest a small hill and the lights of Wenatchee and beyond become so overwhelming, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, that I have to stop and say “wow” under my breath. Further down that trail is a spot where I can let the brakes go and lean hard into a few banked corners. I’m not the fastest nor the best downhiller but for a few seconds I feel like I’m reaching my biking potential and if someone was watching they might just stop, and in a fleeting second of mistaken identity, say “wow” under their breath.

The great new trail up Number Two Canyon, Sofa Kingdom, has a spot overlooking the Mission Creek drainage where the trail builders were smart enough to have built some stumpy seats to take in the views. The first few times I rode past them I didn’t see them and didn’t stop. But now that I know they’re there, I look forward the time to stop and sit for a few minutes and just relax between space A and space B.

There’s a tiny stretch of trail on Lightning high up in Sage Hills that skirts through the trees and is slightly off camber but I like that stretch because it’s out of character from the rest of the trails. I like how it reminds me of trails I used to ride in Bellingham where I first learned to appreciate mountain biking. It’s an inconsequential stretch of a broader trail system but it causes me to take pause, even for a split second, and remember why I ride and it makes me smile, if only a slight curl of the lips. It’s the space between first learning to ride a bike and my last pedal.

I don’t normally take big jumps on my bike. I never took the time to learn how to do it properly but every once in a while on Waterslide I’ll hit one of the smaller jumps and catch some air and I’ll grin, simply for the fact that it’s out of my norm. It’s that small space in between the fear of crashing and keeping the rubber firmly planted on the ground that makes me feel alive.

Back in Sage Hills one of my favorite loops to do when I’m in a time crunch is to ride up Lightning and take Snakebite toward Horse Lake. There’s a short steep hill that challenges me and sometimes haunts my entire ride knowing that it’s coming. If you’ve ridden that trail you know which one I’m talking about, about 10 yards long, maybe 15% grade, often rutted from rain and footsteps. I need to hug the outermost part of the steep hill to even have a chance at making it and most often I don’t.

Whether it’s early season legs or fear of failure, I’m more likely to be heard muttering under my breath than celebrating the small victory of making it up and over. It’s become a personal hurdle in my life to try to make it every time I ride there and sometimes that means going back and trying it again and again and again until I get it. And when that last slow pedal stroke finally pushes me over the top I feel that small sense of accomplishment and relief. The space between the bullets and the bombs, the wicked lies we tell in hope to keep safe from the pain. The wicked lies in that space that try to remind me if I don’t make it on the first try that I’m getting old or out of shape becomes filled with hope that they’re wrong.

The next time you find yourself on the trails, take some time to stop, quiet the legs and mind, find the spaces in between sunshine and the rain, joy and sorrow, that give us context. Fill your unconsciousness with that hope, laughter and each other and not the fickle, fuddled words that aim to confuse you. Keep your life held in place by what it isn’t.

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