This story produced in partnership with TravelNevada
I forgot that I could fly. It happens to all of us, but as I soared above the dusty trail at Bootleg Canyon, I remembered. We had come out to Boulder City—a short trip from Las Vegas—to find a different kind of excitement. My friend, Oscar, had been trying to talk me into testing my mettle at the world-renowned mountain biking park near Lake Mead for months and I finally had the time to give in.
Right from the start of the ride, I realized Bootleg Canyon was more closely related to a roller coaster than to a bike path. Even the environment hinted that I was in for something new: the colors of the earth and plants were subtler than the ones back home. The browns and greens were soft and worn, like sun-bleached fabric. The sky above was aggressively blue. The contrast hinted at a world not completely tamed, but I told myself I wasn’t there for the scenery. I asked Oscar if he really thought we’d have more fun here than on the Vegas strip, and he just grinned, like he knew something I didn’t. It reminded me of when we were kids and he’d learned to ride his two-wheeler before I did. One look conveyed superiority, mischief and genuine excitement for me to get up to speed.
Since I knew that look meant no more information would be forthcoming, I strapped on my helmet and climbed onto my bike. The start of the ride takes you over wooden slats that bring to mind a gun-slinging outlaw’s Old West or a playground seesaw. The wooden bridge starts out flat, and then hinges down into a ramp that spits you onto the trail, but as the ride picks up speed, you realize this is far from child’s play.
The hard-packed earth weaves through desert brush in a way that makes the most of the terrain. It winds like a snake between short sage-colored bushes, and then narrows to a crevice as it makes its way around a rocky outcropping. I take the first jump before I even realize it’s coming, and there I am: flying through the air on my bike. I brace for the impact with the ground, but I hit the earth the same way I hit the jump—without missing a beat. The shocks on my bike absorb the landing, and I start pedaling, chewing through the welcoming dust. Once I’m soaring down the path again, chasing Oscar and shouting laughter, I realize that I haven’t felt this kind of exhilaration since we were kids.
Riding with abandon
Riding Bootleg Canyon gave me the same feeling of wild freedom that I had the first time I took off on my bike without asking permission or knowing where I was going. At eight years old, it had just been me and Oscar and the open road, and we had ventured through miles of unfettered adventure before our parents even knew we were gone. Now, as I rode through the Nevada desert, I wondered what happened to the vow I made to go farther faster and be more daring once I was no longer subject to my parents’ rules (or consequences). This was the first time in a long time I had done anything that would have made my eight-year-old self-envious.
I could see a steep hill on the path ahead, so I shifted my focus back to the trail. I prepared to dig in for the climb, but I was cruising so fast on the approach that I sailed up the incline with barely a turn of the pedal. I was surprised by the effortlessness of the climb, but I was expecting the ramp effect of the hill. This time when my tires left the ground, I was ready for the flight—and I reveled in it. I seemed to hang suspended in the air for an impossible number of seconds, as if I had time to take a breath, see the rock-peppered ground beneath me and the azure world around me, and completely enjoy it.
Then my tires touched down and I was moving again, the forward momentum gripping my attention as I pushed to the end of the trail. I finished the ride, heart pounding, lungs pumping, my body recovering from the effort I barely noticed I was exerting while I flew over the hills and valleys of the trail.
Oscar grinned, and I couldn’t even blame him for his smugness. He had been right about mountain biking Bootleg Canyon. “We should ride it again,” he suggested good-naturedly.
The ride had made me think of more than just what we should do for the rest of the day. It was time I made good on my childhood promise to chase fun and freedom, and I couldn’t afford to lose any momentum. I slapped my childhood cohort on the back and said, “We’ve definitely got more riding in our future.”
Take flight in Boulder City, NV!