One summer, I was dating a boy and looking for a mountain bike at the same time. I wasn’t sure if either would work out; both were a fun distraction and the type of commitment I wasn’t sure I was ready to make.
Recently there’s been quite a bit of writing about the new American woman, and what being single in this country means. Take Rebecca Traister. Like Traister, I am entering my thirteenth year of independence and singledom. I’ve lived alone, with roommates, and in an intentional community in urban settings and mountain towns alike. These days, as a resident of small-town Alaska, I’ve dated every Alaskan stereotype you can imagine: a fisherman, guide, carpenter, miner, oil field worker, and a partially employed boat captain. Don’t get me wrong; some of the relationships have been brief, and some have been extended and very meaningful—but never the right relationship, and almost always a distant second to a good book or a long solo run.
So, after the first of two back-to-back weddings of my best friends, I found myself without the boy who was supposed to be my wedding date, traveling to Crested Butte to visit a close girlfriend and go mountain biking. I was still glowing from being the maid of honor in my dear friend’s lovely nuptials, and only slightly stinging with disappointment that things hadn’t worked out romantically. Somewhere at the edges of my mind clamored the usual social pressures: to be accomplishing more, adventuring more, partnered, to have the sepia wash of the laidback but extremely successful outdoor lifestyle one might promote via social media.
In full-fledged recovery mode, I poured myself into sun-soaked days, trail runs, and mountain bike rides in a town that looked like you’d just flipped open a Sunset Magazine spread. Turns out, stepping into the embrace of a dear friend and a new mountain town is the fastest way to get over heartbreak. Primed by my experiences, with just a few butterflies in my stomach, I nosed my 29-inch rental bike tire around a looping hairpin turn of the famous 401 trail. As we entered a more technical section, my friend, Lindsay, casually yelled over her shoulder, “Don’t forget to look through the turn!”
There are a few moments in our lives that become a totem, a snapshot; an instant when things slow down and we touch something deeper and bigger than ourselves, some eternal truth or A-ha! Moment. This was mine. All of a sudden, the anxieties of being a slightly unmoored, single-thirty-something modern woman and novice mountain biker melted away. I wasn’t concerned with who I was, where I lived, or the work I do. I simply looked toward the geometry of the trail in front of me.
In that trail-induced state of mindfulness. I began looking just beyond the bend. Not too far in front of my nose, just enough that I touched that “flow” we’re all searching for, and made the tight turn with ease. What is flow? A feeling that comes from realizing you’re no longer conscious of moving your legs on a long trail run, the levitation in a powder turn, or the tiny insignificant moments when you move through life at peace and at ease. Being deep in a graduate program, I couldn’t help but think of all the graduation speeches I’ve heard in my life—the feeble attempts to impart perfect wisdom or advice for the future.
Looking through the turn should be one of them. It’s a physical expression of mindfulness: to be present to what is just barely in front of you and not much more. It’s so much better than seize the day, live in the moment, to thine own self be true, or follow your bliss. If you are looking through the turn, you are looking just far enough ahead that you can dodge the giant rock that will be your next obstacle, but you’re blurring the details so you don’t focus on every little pebble in your way. Adulthood is something like that, I think. You trudge through different versions of loneliness and joy, through obligation and freedom, and find some special mix of the two. That’s what singledom has come to mean to me, jumping at that last-minute trip to visit a new mountain town, or buying the mountain bike and ditching the boy. It’s not always as glamorous or lovely as an Instagram image of a girl on her truck bed-tailgate might imply, but it’s honest and true, exactly the filter with which I choose to view my life.
Photo by Zach Dischner.
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