My eyes open and I’m wide awake, it’s pitch dark and I say a silent prayer twice, please let it be at least 6:00AM please, please PLEASE! I get up and turn on the light so I can find my glasses, it’s 2:38 DAMNIT! I spend two hours tossing and turning while my mind torments me. One cup of coffee down and I decide to walk to the water, ok hobble. It’s cold as hell, a lone car is coming towards me on the road I have to cross, is slows, swerves and then floors it screeching the tires as it speeds assay. What the hell? Oh shit, I realize I’m wearing a Shemagh to stay warm. I laugh out loud and re-tie it a little more appropriate for the simple minds of the islanders.
Sipping hot coffee from my thermos at the edge of the water it’s dark, really dark. I pull my Shemagh also known as a Keffiyeh or a Shesh a bit tighter and light a ciggi, I’m trying so hard to quit and failing at every turn. With all the advances in tech clothing this is still my go to 9 out of ten times. My smoke drifts across the bay and I drift back to the first time I was introduced to these wonderful Arabic treasures. It was almost exactly 30 years today. I had nothing but my camera bag, a pile of snickers and some film plus developer, fixer and a little metal bowl to process my story. Yes it gets freaking cold in the jungle.
I think about photography and how much it’s changed over the years, perhaps not as much as me but still. Back in the early eighties I had a small film camera and took it everywhere I went, we didn’t have Instagram or Facebook or even an answering machine for the one phone in the house. Still I documented every one of my trips of what would eventually become known as mountain biking. Just a few short years later we started carrying plywood boards up into the mountains, it would take hours of hard labor for a few precious minutes of fresh virgin powder. We had the first batch of what was then called snow surf boards and would shortly become just snowboards. A few years later ski slopes started letting them in but it would take another 30 years before backcountry skiing would become mainstream. I had a Better camera by this time and we stared setting up for the best shots and I started to write about the overnight trips we made into the back country. I was discovering a new passion and starting a new life as a dirtbag journalist. the mid 90’s I started bike touring when I was living in Hawaii. A road bike with drop bars and the biggest tires I could fit for all the janked roads. This would eventually lead to touring on a mountain bike and then by the late 90’s bikepacking with ultra light loads. Shortly after the millennium I went to a rigid single speed for a more indestructible ride and used the Tahoe back country as my training ground for bigger and more remote journeys. I remember sending my then wife to the bike shop to buy tubes for the 2.4 tires I had just found. At the time they were just released for down hill racers but I figured all that rubber would be a godsend on the trail and add a
Little suspension at the same time. The bike shop guys tried for 20 minutes to convince her that she couldn’t possibly be running 2.4’s. The norm back then was 1.75 and 2.1 was wide. Today the norm is 2.5 and the wide is a definition we have yet To define. Our loads were pared down to small daypacks and a stuff sac on the bars with a second under the seat, it was feral but got the job done.
It amazes me what advances in toys I’ve witnessed over the years and can’t help but to wonder if it was technology or the lack of it that fueled the fires inside of us. Boredom is the devils best friend. Back in my cabin I’d be crawling the walls if I wasn’t crippled. I pull out my tools and cleaning equipment and start to pamper Chika, she truly is a marvel of simplicity and while the quality of all of her components is much better, she is far simpler and more reliable than any bike I’ve ever owned. Maybe I need to switch back to single speed for my next bike tour. I wonder if anybody has ridden the Dalton HWY on a single speed plus bike.
I pull out my journal and start to ponder with my pen. There are so many of us out there with this collective thinking. I can’t help but to believe all these thoughts are connected as are we even if we only communicate on a subconscious level. We all have a tribe that we belong to. It’s through doing what we love that connects us although I guess it’s a little easier these days with social media, maybe technology isn’t such a bad thing…