The Non-Tourist


The following post was originally published in XXC Magazine No. 5  (late fall 2009) and is reprinted with permission from the author (which is me). While I no longer have goals geared towards ultra endurance racing (dwindling fitness and a series of blood clots now have me pursuing races 50 miles and under) the sentiment and my love of mountain biking remains.

I recently read a couple of excerpts from Spanish philosopher Ortega Gasset’s book Meditations on Hunting, and they sort of spoke to me. No, not about hunting, but about the love of mountain biking. First let me say that I just don’t sit around reading books by Spanish philosophers, I’m not that intellectual, as anyone who knows me would surely tell you. The excerpts were in the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Anyway this is what Ortega wrote of hunting…

“When one is hunting, the air has another, more exquisite feel as it glides over the skin or enters the lungs, the rocks acquire a more expressive physiognomy, and the vegetation becomes loaded with meaning. But all this is due to the fact that the hunter, while he advances or waits crouching, feels tied through the earth to the animal he pursues, whether the animal is in view , hidden or absent.”

The excerpt then went on to say:

“The tourist sees broadly the great spaces, but his gaze glides, it seizes nothing, it does not perceive the role of each ingredient in the dynamic architecture of the countryside.”

When I read this, even as a non-hunter, I can identify with what he is saying. To me, mountain biking has those same connections and emotions. The air, the weather, the rocks and soil that makes up the trail cutting through the woods. They all take on new meaning when one rides. As mountain bikers I believe we are all are “tied through the earth” not to an animal which we pursue, but instead to the trails in which we ride.

Ortega speaks of “the tourist.” He most likely is referring to the non-hunter, but I see them as “non-riders.” I like to think that almost anyone can lo ok at nature and see some beauty in it, whether it be a mountain range, a forest, a meadow or rolling hills. But when you spend countless hours each week outside, experiencing it first hand, as many of us do, the outdoors and its various landscapes become so much more.

To us, a mountain in the distance will have us not just seeing its aesthetic beauty, but will also have u s longing to be on that mountain, to experience it, to be on our bike. We will look at the trees blanketing those mountains and imagine trails cutting through them, thinking of the roots which surely spider from their trunks, and the skills it will take to glide over them. To see fields of rock and stone has us easily imagining ourselves powering through the rock gardens of our favorite trails and wondering if that mountain’s trails are butter smooth ribbons of dirt, or rocky and technical. We think of the endless trails that could be ridden on such a mountain. To think these things, to be “tied through the earth,” to seize what it has to offer us, and “each ingredient in the dynamic architecture of the countryside” via the trail on our bikes is to be a “non-tourist.” It is to love not just the sport of mountain biking, but its spirit.

Mountain biking’s spirit is what guides many of us towards endurance and ultra rides or events. Thinking that with each additional mile we will experience or see something in nature or in ourselves that we never have before. These experiences are what fuels the passion, the spirit of the ride, the want to not view the world as tourists, but to be the ultimate non-tourist.


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