Space for Conversation

Space for Conversation Close Encounters of the Fat-Tire Kind

I used to work for wages as a tool under employer will. Eventually, choosing to shirk the restraints of debt, I sold my house and whatever other stuff people would buy to condense my life to the interior of a Sprinter van and the wide-open outdoors. My van is noticeable on purpose. I want to provide an example of getting something for yourself.

Since hitting the road in July 2008, I have ridden in 49 states—some 2,600 rides over 38,234 miles and counting. While I spend much of my time alone, my adventures teach me lessons about meeting others. Together, people make group decisions. Solo, I make my support group out of whomever else.

“Is that your green Sprinter with all the stickers at the trailhead?” an approaching rider asks. “I remember reading about your Mountain Biking the States adventure and thought that was so cool.”

So starts a conversation between someone who knows a bit about me while I know nothing about them. Most often, my conversations with fellow riders follow a familiar pattern, their questions centering on my life on the road or places to ride or visit. On some occasions, conversations take unexpected turns. Recently I met a rider who told me he worked at a hospice. Forgoing the usual mountain biker banter, we instead talked about the ways in which people face the end of their lives.

Craig Bierly rides his trusty Turner RFX through the Utah desert. Craig migrates with the seasons, chasing perfect ride conditions 365 days a year.

Years ago I decided that we are all actors and everybody we interact with is our audience. I tend to be an outgoing actor who keeps the audience guessing as to what will transpire. I like to wing my opening lines. Once I asked a checker if her socks matched. I rattled her a little bit, but she has remembered me since. Generally speaking, people want to be noticed and sometimes I make an effort to provide them with that notice. People have much to share when I can find a thread and start learning from them.

One such person is my friend Steve from Wood River Valley in Idaho. Steve takes short road trips, several of them to places where I am. Over time he has become as close a friend as I have ever had. His driveway is always open for me. We have shared rides in Bend, Sedona, Moab and his locale. He is my guide on trails near his home and I get to be his guide when he visits me.

Craig Bierly’s green van is his home on wheels in addition to being a reliable conversation starter at trailheads across the U.S.

I met Steve at the Sun Summit South bike and ski shop in Hailey, Idaho. Chip, the owner, was an AMP bikes dealer long ago. At the time, I rode an AMP Research B4 that required frequent rebuilding of the dampers. I didn’t think I was doing the rebuild correctly, which is what first led me to stop at Chip’s shop. I did my work under his watchful eye. My work was done correctly. Now when I visit Sun Valley, I hang at his shop.

In Sedona, where I spend part of the winter, I am a welcome member of a small group of riders that I have known for years. I am the newest member, and I was added many visits ago. When I met the group, I wondered about new blood—thinking back to my mountaineering days in which it was common to only hang with people we knew and trusted. Being able to establish rapport is important. Trust and credibility are the basis of all relationships—even among those we’ve only known for a short while.

In all my travels, I’ve come to understand that one question never fails: “Where are you headed back to?” Asking someone at a trailhead about home or where they live tends to garner a warm response. Chances are I’ve ridden some of their local trails and, for mountain bikers, that’s as surefire a way to connect as any.