Are You Ready for the Struggle of the Less Traveled Trail?

Photo by Dennis J Coughlin

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Imagine you are on a bike.

You head up the road, alongside the busy traffic. Each car whizzes by at what feels like a 100 miles per hour.

Where is everyone going? you wonder.

Why is everyone is such a rush?

Most days, you tend to stick to the bike trails you know. You ride along the ones where you know the way back home.

Today I’m going to try a new trail, you decide.

There on the side of the road is a tiny opening. The entrance to a trail that you have passed by for months, all the time wondering where it leads and imagining what lies on the other side.

You slow down and turn in. The opening in the trees is just big enough to fit your bike.

Here goes nothing, you say to yourself as you squeeze through.

Everything goes dark as the sky is blocked out by the tall trees.

You feel nervous, but you tell yourself, I’m just being silly.

Life is short. Live a little, you think.

You notice that the trail is getting more and more narrow. The bushes and nettles are closing in around you as each side of the trail grows tighter and tighter.

This isn’t so bad, you think. It’s a bit dark in here and this trail is a bit bumpy, but I’m doing fine. This seems fine.

Branches start knocking off your shins. It’s okay, you tell yourself. This should ease up a bit once I get over that ridge.

A jagged branch scratches across your arm. Okay, that one hurt, you admit.

A thicker branch smacks against your shoulder, which forces you to jerk your handlebars to the side. You feel yourself slipping off to the right and into the bushes.

You catch yourself just in time and reposition the bike back into the middle of the narrow trail.

You keep going. You pick up speed. I’m getting through this, you decide.

More branches. More scratches.

A random stick on the ground catches the spokes of your front wheel, bounces up and hits you just under the eye.

The sound inside your head is deafening as the bits and pieces of the forest bounce off your helmet.

Then, just when you think you can’t take any more, it stops.

It opens.

You hit the brakes and skid on the wet leaves.

You come to a stop in the middle of a wide opening.

The sudden quiet startles you.

You are there alone with just the sound of your loud breathing.

You find yourself in a circle shaped clearing in the woods. A tree sits in the middle with nothing else around it, except for the fallen brown leaves.

The lone tree is lit up by a single beam of light that has pierced through an opening above your head.

You can hear the slow trickling from a stream. You strain your head around in all directions to find it, but it must be hidden over the hill.

You sit in the quiet.

This is not the end of the path, you realise.

You put your feet on the pedals and push off again.

The trail on the other side is wider. You pick up your pace.

Up front, you see the outline of a couple walking towards you. You slow down enough to say “hi” as they pass.

The man and woman, who are holding hands, say “hi” back.

Then you pass by a grey-haired man walking his dog. You say, “hi” but he stays silent. He just stares as you go past.

You wonder why some people don’t want to reply with a simple “hello”. Doesn’t matter, you think. I’ll still say hello anyway.

You hit a patch of mud and your back wheel slips before you have a chance to react.

You feel yourself tipping to the right as the tire spins out of control in the muck and mud. You hit both breaks and the bike jerks back and forth.

You regain your balance.

That was close, you think.

You carry on, getting back to speed, travelling even faster than before.

The trees fall away and the trail opens out into a wide field. You slow the bike and it skids to a stop in the dry dirt.

A bird flutters off into the distance. No one else is around.

A slight breeze presses the bushes against the wooden fence that separates the path from the field.

It’s so quiet here, you think.

You can see the hills off in the distance and you feel like you are the only person left on this earth.

You step off and stand beside your bike.

You take a deep breath. You think about your family.

You breath in the fresh air.

You take one last look at the field and the hills.

You lift up your bike and flip it around into the opposite direction. You jump on and start heading back.

The long climb to get here is now a downward slope. The evening air cools you down as you pick up speed.

You fly through the opening in the woods and cruise back through the narrow path. The tense trip to get here is forgotten as you ride back in half the time.

You pop out of the woods and back onto the road where you started.

Almost home, you think.

Then you hit the hill.

You forgot about the hill. The steep climb that leads back home.

You stand up on the bike and push hard on the pedals. The back of your legs tense. You click your gears all the way down to number 1.

You breath hard and consider stopping for a break.

Just a bit more, you tell yourself.

The bike slows to a crawl.

You keep pedalling with just enough energy to keep up the forward momentum.

Then you reach the top.

You take a deep breath and your legs relax as you click the bike back up a couple gears.

You can see your home just off in the distance.

You ease the bike around a corner and onto your street.

The wind at your ears quiets as you come to a stop outside your front door.

You hear your family inside.

You take a moment to remember the quiet field.

You smile as the door opens.