Southern Salvation

As the light wains and the shadows grow, each moment is a race against the coming winter days.

Southern Salvation Chasing Daylight with Graham Agassiz

There comes a time when we must move on.

If what we seek no longer exists where we are, it must be found elsewhere. Each revolution of the earth brings a new day, and with it changing times. Summer, fall, winter, spring. This cycle affects everything: shadows on the ground, temperature of the air, currents of the oceans and quality of the dirt.

For this reason, large numbers migrate. Fall in the Northern Hemisphere is marked by limited sunlight and cooler days. The birds head south. The whales seek warmer water. The salmon return to their spawning grounds. We humans, however, stay put.

But maybe there’s a small part of us that feels the need to move during this time of change. Not forever, or even far—just far enough. A migration to different views, different landscapes and different dirt.

There's no shortage of moss in the Pacific Northwest, nor steep singletrack.
The impact of human kind is always visible, but so is Mother Nature's resilience.
Textures of the forest.
Stylish and composed, classic Aggy form.
Catching the last rays of light in a forest of ferns. Dark comes early during winter months in the Pacific Northwest.
Aggy at hyperspeed, but smooth as ever.

In October we set out to do just that with Graham Agassiz. Known to most as Aggy, he’s one of the most stylish riders in the sport, and if there’s anyone who can enjoy the diverse terrain of a migratory journey, it’s him. But Aggy’s connection to the land goes beyond his bike—the weeks before we left, he’d been out in the bush in Kamloops, BC, stalking a buck. After a prolonged chase, he brought home a beautiful four-pointer. Aggy has a respect for the land that comes from knowing it, and that’s as much thanks to his upbringing as it is his bike.

It doesn’t take long to see the sage-brushed hills of Kamloops in the rearview mirror.  Before long, the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest take over, a scene unlike anywhere else in the world. Their coniferous trees stand tall. Moss covers everything that has stood still for any significant amount of time. Ferns grow head-high. But as fall sets in, the clouds begin to let out a melancholic grumble, their grey growing dark before the tears let loose. It’s this atmospheric annihilation that drives our migration.

As we head south, Aggy is ever so aware of the faunae that dot the roadside. Herds of deer flock in fields near and far. Bald eagles circle above. Traversing into the southern Cascades, the air becomes dry and the mountains jagged. The loam turns to dust, a feeling familiar to Aggy. But you can only go so far east before you lose the magic of the mountains. And that’s what we’re after, after all.

Roadside scoping is always a good way to take a break from the monotony of the highway.
We're not the only ones getting ready to hunker down for winter.
From sandy ridges to epic rock slabs, the geology of the North Cascades makes for a mountain biker's paradise.
While moments on the bike call for unwavering concentration, time off the bike is perfect for reflection—and scoping lines.
Evidence of Mother Nature's power lurking in the shadows.
As the Cascades settle into the Wenatchee Valley, ferns are replaced by sagebrush. Far different landscapes are not always far away.
High and dry, the eastern Cascades feel the temperatures of winter before the snowfall.
The long shadows of fall signal the short days of winter just around the corner.

These hills, like any other, wear their scars proud. Throughout grass-covered wrinkles charred trees tower lifeless. Roads zig-zag into the horizon. But with a little patience, it doesn’t take long to see signs of life. Here, they’re on the ground, their owner long gone. Alongside our tire tracks are those of a cougar. Feline paw prints don’t tend to show claw marks, Aggy points out. The beast could be anywhere. But there’s nothing we can do about that, and we’re in her territory anyway. The Cascades kindly hold off the weather for us, but the wide open skies welcome the cold. It’s time to continue south.

We cross the colossal Columbia River, its gorge and water dictating a small climate of its own. Thick fog can roll in on a heartbeat while the wind can do wild things in the narrow canyons. The flats dominate the horizon here, although mankind has had no inclination to hide its presence. The biggest difference here is that just a few hundred miles ago, a whole mountain range would take our breath away, the peaks stretching into infinity.

Down here, it only takes one. First, it’s Mt. Rainier. Then, St. Helens. Adams and Jefferson follow, still to the same effect. Their sheer rise is overwhelming—and beautiful. The traces they’ve left though, are what we’re after. There’s nothing like volcanic dirt.

The race against winter is futile, and there's a point when we must embrace it.
The changing landscapes of winter offer a different kind of beauty.
The sun can be a rare sight in these times.
The woods might be dark, but the ground is dry, and that's all that matters.
One of thousands of signs of winter.
Each moment daylight is sacred at this time of year, and Aggy isn't one to let any go to waste.
Mother Nature bringing another day to close, in a moody and mystical manor.

The frigid weather seems to have followed us. Our bones are cold, but the tree’s are colder. Their pine needles are covered in ice. The frozen crust of the dirt cracks with the impact of tires. Even though the wind is howling, it’s energy is adverse. There’s a giant ball of fire in the sky but its rays aren’t reaching. Everything around us is tired, and so are we. Winter is here.

We can run as far as we want, but there’s no way to escape. Mother Nature has her own devices and our will holds little weight. To fight would be to waste that precious amount of energy we still have. Instead, we say thank you. Our southern salvation has come to an end.

It’s time to go home.