Gaia and the Trail

Her name is Alison, not Gaia. She named herself when she was 24 - when she realized that her parents didn't know her. That she was the only one who could chose a name that resonated meaning with herself. And this is the story of how she annoys me.. .

I first met Alison in the fall of 2006. It was a peaceful Sunday morning in south side hills of San Francisco. I had just finished climbing a steep, leafy, nameless road and was taking a moment to drink in the start of the day. It's a ritual of mine that helps to abate the feeling of 'impending Monday'. My mind had reached the desired state of restfulness when something crept in through a relaxed corner of it. Something that drew my attention to the thick bank of fog that had been following me up the road, and was now fixing to engulfed the whole of the ridge. It for some reason became curious to me, as if it held some mystery beyond the normal enigma of a fog bank. I stared for a long silent moment into the vapor until its visual enigma yielded to a faint squeak, followed soon after by the sound of heavy breathing. The mist spun as the shadow of a small girl emerged puffing and panting astride an over-sized mountain bike.

I think that 'emerging from fog' was how she had, and would, always appear to people.. . conducting about herself a sense of grace that introduced her as more like a myth than a real person. And I seem to remember that when she stopped to talk to me, the fog halted its advance a few meters behind her and just waited there like an obedient pup. An appreciation of odd weather and biking in common; I began to lay down my charming moves on her.. .or was it that invited me to. ..?!

However our dating ensued, it finished almost as immediately as it began, in favor of us remaining riding buddies. The undoing factor didn't come about when Alison began to share her religion with me, but because of how she geared that religion around biking. The further that she got into her ideology on riding, the further my eyes would roll back in my head form the drivel that she was spewing. It was the way that she acted like she 'knew it all', even when I first met her at the wise old age of 22. Eyes sparkling with wonder she would explain the universe from a perspective that threatened to infect something that was sacred and precious to me, something that was somehow a defining part of myself. But what was most annoying about the enlightenment that she would constantly sick on me was that there was something behind it that I knew was true.

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A group of us had just climbed 'The Dynamo' at China Camp, and were figuring our breaths before playing on the big 'drop off's' up there. I caught mine a little before Alison, pulled my notebook out of my backpack and ask her to tell me about her 'awesome' bike; making some stupid comment about it coming with a spare set of lungs (it's cheep, and heavy, and I'm being rude) "It does the job you cheeky monkey - I shredded your arse, and it joins me with the earth for a tenth of the cost or your 'arm and a leg' Stump Dumper." I assured her that I 'really did' want to hear about her thoughts on mountain biking this time and promised not to take the piss.

"I don't like riding bikes. .. their just hunks of metal!" Alison begins.

"Or carbon!" - I interject, but she ignores me with a glare.

". ..I don't get how they work and I don't care to. I just need mine to go when I start peddling and to disappear when I'm on the trail, and it does! It's like there's nothing underneath me, I mean nothing at all!? The bike is just a thing that connects me to the Earth, to Gaia, and when I'm riding the trail, I might as well be riding on air, or on a sandwich, or.. ." she looks very seriously and says in a very 'matter of fact' way; ". ..or your mum!" Then she smiles politely and punches me really hard in the ribs. "That hurt. ..Alison!" I say - it's my way of punching her back. I met her when she was still 'Alison' and I can't bring myself to call her 'Gaia', it just feels wrong to me. It rubs her up the wrong way, but it's the status quo now. We both know the score; on the trail we speak the same language, on the side of the trail we annoy each other.

"Well, maybe I'm a little hard on the 'bike' thing.. .it does do something. It goes like this for me; the earth is pulling us down all the time and some people call this gravity.. ." I want to say 'every people call's it gravity' but I hold my tongue; ". ..but this is Gaia - she want's us to become part of her. It's the way that God calls to us! Some people talk with their God in a church or by lighting josticks and saying 'Om.. .'" She makes an attempt at the buda-yoga, or what ever it is pose with the thumb and index finger touching and the soles of her feet together. ..and she dose a pretty good job because her cleats get caught in each other, and she topples sideways with a little and giggle; ". ..whoops!"

". ..yeah, talking to god. ..'whoops' are a good example! My body is going in a straight line, towards where I'm looking down the trail, but the bike is flowing up and down, into the earth, and then out again. Gaia asks me and the bike to go to her but I extend my legs and let her have have only the bike. Then I push against her a little; and as the rolling bike meets the rolling of her trail she throws me forwards.. .it's like were playing together. It feels like I'm leaning off the side of a boat, flowing up and down through the swells. My hand is hanging down and, the water is like Gaia's hair flowing through my fingers.

"So when your riding, your combing Gods hair!?"

"Shut up and listen. I see an obstacle down a trail and form an image of how to 'overcome' it in my mind, but when I get there it's much more about 'understanding' it - I become part of that place on the earth for a brief moment. I don't overcome anything, I've been listening, understanding and asking for safe passage - I've just been talking with Gaia. When I'm looking for the smallest lip on a fire road to help me through an 'off camber' turn; what I'm really doing is looking for 'her' to guide me through. But it's not blind faith, it's a two way thing - I believe in my connection to her and stay off the breaks, but I press down, pushing my wheels into her surface to connect even more with her. And she throws me out the other side of the turn like.. .I don't know, she rewards me with joy I guess..!" Alison pops up into a big cheshire smile, like she's just solved one line in a cross word and now the whole thing is complete. But then something occurs to her and her smile drops as she searches for a close by answer. She turns to me with a very seriously face and fixes my eyes.. .I feel a uncomfortable, like I'm about to be buried by an avalanche that is the rest of the puzzle.. ."And for me, threading a rock garden is like wiggling my body through 'Gaia's Vagina.. !" She's just looking at me with big bulging eyes, and I'm doing the same.. .neither of us are blinking or even breathing. ..we sit there for hours. Alison's face twitches a little, and we both fall about laughing. "Oh shit Alli.. .I'm crying.. .", "Yeah.. .I think that I just did a bit of wee on my God's face.. .!"

As much as I want to tell her where she can stick her 'Gaia's vagina', I just can't do it. I don't agree with the words that she uses, 'Gaia' and 'God' and rubbish like that, but deep inside I know she's right. I have to step up and own this frustration at her. Because through teeth gritted to the point of chipping - I agree with her. When you're riding you're one with the trail, and when your riding your best the bike doesn't exits. The highest function of your bike is for it to disappear entirely.. .you're on the earth and your a part of it, communicating with each other. Sometimes you argue and sometimes and on rare occasions you'll win, but that won't be a smooth ride - it'll be a desperate save. More often than not, when you don't listen.. .you'll lose!

I've not seen Alison put her face in the Gaia once in the 4 years that we've been riding together. She's not the quickest person on two wheels, but she is 'the' most graceful. She'll thread a man eating rock garden like she's dancing bare foot in the grass and I've seen her do both. For Alison, the earth as her friend whom she respects and listens to.

Alison. ..Gaia, I'm trying to listen more too, and not just to the trail, but to the people that I love.. .