“The road is life.”
In his generation-defining masterpiece On the Road, it may be those four brief words that most succinctly capture Jack Kerouac’s wandering enlightenment. It is sentiment echoed by some of history’s greatest literary rebels, from Hemingway to Thompson to Twain. It has been an elegant mantra and life philosophy for millions.
I make no claims to mastery over words; I am an image man. But for the past few years as a professional mountain bike photographer, those four words have defined my life as well.
It’s almost easier to count the days I spent in my own bed last year than those on red-eye flights and random hotel rooms. The life of a photographer is spontaneity; weeks of plans turn to months away from home. The road does become life—but for a photographer, it’s just part of the trade.
It wasn’t until early October of 2013 that I truly understood that phrase, however. I was headed south from Bellingham, WA towards the Red Bull Rampage competition in Virgin, UT, with a crew consisting entirely of Moriarty-esque personalities: athlete Geoff “Gully” Gulevich; course-builders/sidekicks Eric Lawrenuk and Ross Measures; and “Hans Vans Biets,” a self-proclaimed “world-famous DJ” who dropped a lucrative stock-brokering career to pursue a vodka-fueled one as Europe’s finest late night dance party act. Kerouac would be proud.
Driving a (theoretically) uninterrupted 3,400 miles anywhere is a clear gamble with Murphy’s Law; do it with such a high-energy group of gonzo-ites and mayhem is guaranteed. Like swerving off I-90 at 70 mph, drifting up a bank to dodge a jackknifing semi-truck. Gully and the rest of the peanut gallery helped…by offering comments and suggestions from their truck. Thanks, guys.
My mother was expecting us that night at her house in Baker City, OR. Having raised boys, she was unfazed by the delay and energy of our crew. Having raised only a single daughter, her husband Don could only gape as madness poured from the trucks in the early morning hours.
Despite our collective ADD, no incidents (or Euro EDM raves) broke out. Instead, we had breakfast and endless coffee at the Oregon Trail Diner, a greasy spoon as at home in Baker City as in a Coehn Brothers’ film. Soon we were posing with the blank-eyed critters filling the diner’s walls. I took a photo of Gully posing with an elk whose head spanned an entire table, and an elderly couple congratulated Gully on shooting such a magnificent animal. Core-score points can come from anywhere.
With our coffee jitters bordering on epilepsy and 800 miles to go, we made slow progress with an extended stop at Cabela's for the latest camo gear and a visit to an Idaho Wal-Mart to stock up on real, non-Utah-alcohol-content beer. When in Wal-Mart do as the Wal-Mart-ers do, and our shopping carts strained under a towering load of Busch Light and Budweiser. Between camo and beer, we barely made it to Twin Falls before nightfall.
There are few more effective forms of hypnosis than the miles of dark, arrow-straight roads of southern Idaho, and we were soon forced into a dingy cluster of roadside motels. After an unsuccessful search for rooms not infused with cigarette smoke and mystery stains, we found ourselves in motel purgatory, five bikes and fifteen bags crammed into a dirty hallway. We awoke not murdered by a Mormon drug cartel (thank God), and a few hours later we reached the ying to northern Utah’s soiled yang.
Park City is a hot spot for the jet-set crowd and their cash; it’s also home to an incredible biking scene—including a city-funded dirt jump park, which we spent all day session-ing. Despite some snow, we headed towards dinner with shit-eating grins. In the Thai restaurant downtown, they suddenly became awkward and forced—we had found the suit jacket-clad, jet-set crowd, and our flannel and dirt-stained jeans gentrified us into a corner table. The high-class posh had advantages, however; the meal was excellent, and soon our easy and authentic smiles returned.
As we continued south, good friend and Utah legend Eric Porter invited us to check out his backyard water-slides-turned-bike-ramps setup. However, as usual we were late and had to continue our race towards Rampage after only a quick session. The sunset backlit miles of windmills, and as the light faded the familiar red cliffs of Virgin, UT appeared as we wound out of the monotonous desert.
Morning would bring a view of the actual venue, and preparation for one of the sport’s most punishing events. Gully, unfortunately, would experience that brutality, having one of the hardest crashes of the year during a practice run. But that was days away, and as the road hummed underneath us, the cat-eyes and yellow-and-white lines running by like banks of a concrete river, I realized that the road is the story, the story is life, and life is now.