The Last Ride
Making autumn count.
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” ― Joni Mitchell
There is an urgency to autumn, as the vast, bright horizon of summer narrows and dims, and it becomes clear that our unfulfilled plans—the backpacking trip in the Beartooths, the climbing weekend at Humbug Spires, a four-day float on the lower Yellowstone—are almost certain to remain unfulfilled. There is an end in sight; a deadline looming. This urgency of the season, however, is an opportunity. It produces valuable clarity and gratitude: every ride, or climb, or float, could be the last of the year. It makes us relish the days we have left; appreciate them; remember them. The last ride of autumn is the one that carries us through, and prepares us for what’s to come.
Summer is the only season that we eulogize. Even hunters and skiers—people who love and anticipate the shortening days and cooling breeze and snow-dusted high peaks—look back on summer with nostalgia. Maybe it’s because there’s simply so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. Maybe it’s because life is easier when the days are warm and long. Or maybe it’s because of autumn’s annoying tendency to arrive suddenly, like Cousin Eddie, uninvited and full of bluster.
"The urgency of the season, however, is an opportunity. It produces valuable clarity and gratitude: every ride, or climb, or float, could be the last of the year."
Summer in Montana is a frenzy. Days on the trail run together as they should, leaving us with kaleidoscopic memories; moments of greatness and flashes of light. All summer long we leave our bikes on the rack and our climbing gear in the car—no need to bring them in when we’ll be out again tomorrow. But when the days grow shorter, and the weather turns cool and wet, our summer toys sit longer between adventures—waiting out rain, and gathering dust in the growing after-work darkness. Of course, it’s not quite time for skis or ice tools, either. And so we wait, and we take what we’re given, and we’re thankful.
We never know which will be the real, last ride, the final one. The later into autumn we go, the closer to the edge we run. And each time we dash into a beautiful fall day, warm and sunny and soft after a late, frosty start, we confront the end of one thing and the beginning of another. This is the time to grieve the waning summer, and anticipate the coming winter; time to reflect on what matters, and appreciate our experiences all the more. It’s time to make our last ride count.