Riding While Dying
I guess we’re all dying a little every day, technically.
Sure, we’re living our lives the best we can, taking opportunities that seem right, to curb our regret count.
But as soon as we’re born the clock starts.
Then it wavers every day with every choice that we make.
Sometimes the life that we spend on certain moments pays us back 10 fold. Sometimes it’s the opposite. The clock flexes with experience.
It speeds when we’re idle.
It stalls when we’ve pushed our perception to a new limit.
I’ve been squeezing my clock recently.
I spent 2 weeks riding a Husqvarna 450 for 1250 km across the Mongolian countryside.
A few friends had gotten wind of a trip that took us West from Ulaanbataar, Mongolia to Khusvugal Lake, just 200km south of the Russian border. Our friend Buddhi had been leading tours through the Himalayas, Thailand, Bhtuan, Nepal and more recently scouted a trip in Mongolia with his company Motorcycle Expeditions.
The itinerary was wild. We all agreed immediately.
Mongolia had always seemed like a fictional place to me. A name that I would throw out when I didn’t know what I was talking about and needed to say a place that had no cultural reference point.
Like Timbuktu. Or Delaware.
I found out pretty quickly that Mongolia was very real.
Our first day gave us a comprehensive peek at our next 2 weeks of riding. After a traditional good luck ceremony of mare’s milk on our knobbys, we hit the tarmac for about an hour before our leader Bogey veered off the highway into an open field.
Par for the course, we would learn. There are no designated riding areas in Mongolia. If you’re riding in it, that’s the riding area.
We took off across the panorama that would begin to shape our trip.
I crashed almost immediately. There were lots of ruts in the dirt caused by erosion and other two-wheeled travelers. Avoid if possible. Lesson learned.
I spent the next 100 miles of the day keeping that in mind. At the end of it we pulled into what’s called The Mini Gobi, or Bavan Gobi in Elsen Tasarkhai — a wide open series of dunes where we would spend one of many nights in a traditional Ger.
Sunsets lasted forever in Mongolia.
They began at around 7:30 and it stayed light until about 10.
It was summer in the steppes.
With an average temperature of -13F in the winter, Mongolia is actually one of the coldest countries in the world. Combined with dramatically short Spring and Summer seasons means that the country explodes with life and light whenever it has the opportunity.
In the capital city of Ulaanbaatar we saw young families letting their toddlers drive little motorized cars and trucks around the plazas until well past midnight. In the countryside, all of the animals had young in tow; horses, goats, yaks and camels all followed closely by their miniatures.
Adorable from afar, dangerous in a charge.
Several times a day our path would be crossed and slowed by a large herd of this or that animal. Sometimes they were chill and just wanted to get on their way. Other times they came at us.
On the highway the biggest issue was Yaks fighting in the plains then randomly and violently taking it to the streets. I don’t think it was mating season but all of those animals out flexing at once was a recipe for confrontation. It was just another set of obstacles to consider as we whipped across the untrodden territories that made us feel alive.
Every sliding tire made my heart jump. Every approaching berm was hiding something. A steep rocky drop-off would transition into a river crossing. Rolling sand dunes would lay you down the second you let off the throttle. A dramatic sunset would shed light on a field of glistening granite knives.
And yes, after being charged by a large male bull while going 50mph on the highway, every subsequent Yak would emit threatening vibes.
It was terrifying in the best way. The kind of stress that gives you gray hairs when it comes from your boss, but when it emerges from the compromised environment you’re ripping across, it slows the hands of time.
Mongolia has a gentle danger about it in that way. Massive hills unfolded in front of our eyes, complete with criss-crossing single tracks, beckoning the whole group to pin their throttles with abandon.
A dozen plus crashes implied that it was best we didn’t.
The horizon begged otherwise.
There’s something about the immensity of the environment that makes you feel inconsequential. There’s something about the focus required that funnels your attention to just the immediate. You forget about the rest of your life.
The meaning of it.
The issues you’re dealing with feel every bit as far away as your desk chair. I know a lot of us found peace. Our wild eyes darted back and forth as we hovered inches above the blurry grasslands. Our minds only able to grasp each present moment as it raged towards us, one after another. We were pushing ourselves to a limit we hoped we’d never find.
Riding the line between life and death gives you an immense appreciation of both.
I don’t think I necessarily had a goal for this trip. I wanted it to be what it needed to without too much prescription. But the most enlightening moment came after the riding was over.
Our group was sitting at a large table in an old bar in Ulaanbaatar on our last night. Talking about the things that affected us.
What we were proud of or what surprised us.
Brice loved riding the dunes. Erica found a new level of confidence. Noah felt like his riding had become more instinctual.
Lonzo talked about the smell of wild sage that emanated from the earth. The intensely specific hue of green on the grass.With tears in his eyes he described the minutiae of our collective journey. We all held our breath as he loosed vibrant memories into the air. His life flashing before our eyes.
Lonzo wasn’t supposed to be here.
His doctors advised heavily against this trip because he would miss 2 weeks of chemo. He wasn’t even supposed to make it this long but treatment had been going well. As well as it could. Better than expected.
Throughout the trip I heard him talk about his life with the objectivity that we could all benefit from but most of us never had the courage to. His reflections were brutally honest, almost scientific. I could tell that he was still adamantly shaping his perspective on his life with every day that passed.
Maybe it was the urgency that sharpened his focus.
Maybe that’s just who he was.
To me it seemed like his memories of the trip were inspired by the concrete knowledge that he would never be back.
I probably wouldn’t either but at least I had the choice.
It made me think about what the rest of us were doing there.
Chasing our own mortality with the understanding that we could choose not to. Getting so close to the feeling of our expiration that life glowed a little brighter in contrast.
Or maybe we were peeking at death to take its power away. A glimpse of the unknown so it couldn’t sneak up on us.
A constant flurry of reminders that life is a precious thing.
We were racing towards the edge, but Lonzo was already there.
I know it sounds weird, but I’m sort of jealous of him.
While the rest of us were chasing a feeling, Lonzo was living it.
Charging across Mongolia, middle finger to the sky and tears in his eyes.
It was a beautiful thing to witness.