The following text is unashamedly taken from 'notes from the field', a collection of adventure stories commissioned by Patagonia.
GROWING UP, everyone takes something of their childhood with them, as if to stave off that inevitable loss of innocence. I took my bicycle on the road out of adolescence toward adulthood. Falling down a slickrock desert cliff stopped me from thinking like a teenager. I was thirty-two.
I bike the eighteen-inch-wide section of the Poison Spider Trail called the Catwalk, a fantastically dangerous route with a sandstone cliff falling away hundreds of feet on one side. Entering the Catwalk I actually believe my balance to be highly evolved.
Before this day I thought mountain bikes were manifest destiny. Once, racing friends down a two-track, I looked back to gauge my lead and when I faced forward again I stared at a Jeep's front grille. I slid my bike sideways beneath the Jeep, kicking free at the last moment.
On the Catwalk I feel the pressure of my right pedal against an object, a skull-size rock that levers my machine, my feet still clipped in. I'm going over and already it's too late to turn against it. In that gaping moment of lost balance I become keenly observant. I see that the cliff slopes at a sixty-degree pitch—all shale, sand, and loose stone—before the rock cuts back on itself in a fatal vertical face. I was brought up to believe that each of us controls our own destiny, but as I go over, the wind whistles through my ears like a hawk scream and I know I've been handed a line.
My body hurls sideward through space. My life refuses to flash before my eyes like a music video; the one I love never appears in a vision; and I don't forgive my seventh-grade English teacher for making me feel hopeless. Three seconds feel like an eternity. I think of how little I understand about mountain bikes, gravity, or the surreal edge of the desert, and how, out of everyone I know, I least deserve to die.
In the air I try to grab my bike. It is worth almost one thousand dollars. The thing about falling is that I can watch myself as I go, even upside-down turning flips. By this time I'm tumbling closer and closer to that fatal drop. Beyond it is nothing but air. I can't seem to arrest myself. Then suddenly I catch. My bike flips to the cliff edge and stops. The front wheel spins free over the abyss.
For a while my wife bugged me to get a new rear wheel because of a flat spot that goes thump da thump. But I like the bumpy feel when I occasionally bike. It reminds me of how arrogant and selfish I was to imagine that I might cheat gravity, the desert, or adulthood.