White Lines

Photo by Ryan Krueger
Photo by Ryan Krueger
Photo by Ryan Krueger
Photo by Ryan Krueger

White Lines

England, Mike
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What is it about white lines? Those winding strings of pearl, sinuous rills weaving down mountainsides, carving and cascading through rock like storm clouds harnessed to a rolling boulder. Long after spring burns into summer, the cool white smears remain, sheltered and stubborn below sheer rock walls, beyond the reach of a smoldering sun.

Down in the valley, in garages and back yards, rafts are uncovered, fly rods assembled, bikes lubed and tuned, climbing gear cleaned, checked, and inventoried. Swim trunks slip on, shirts peel off, and happy humans shuffle from one sun-dappled sport to another. And still the white lines remain.

They summon. Not like the scream of the river, nor the wailing siren tugging you toward the rock, the singletrack, the shoreline, the well-worn hiking trail. This is a whisper, sweet and steady. Patient. And this summer, finally, you listen.

So you call your friend, describing the scene in sweet and sonorous detail: warm rock, forests of pine, rushing streams, and crisp alpine air feeding the lungs like an ambrosial buffet. You channel the whisper, allowing the music of the white line to grow and gain volume as it passes through, to work its magic on him as it has on you.

It works. You load up the truck—bikes, backpacks, skis—and glide out of town, pulling away from the world a mile at a time, until there is more nature than man, until there are no stoplights, no traffic, no pace but the one you set. The road narrows again and again, until beneath you is only dirt and rock, an ancient roadbed from a bygone era.

You rumble along the old road, farther and farther, higher and higher, past the dark shadows of old mines, beyond the abandoned claims and crumbling prospector shacks. Trundling through this graveyard of the past, your mind unwinds and you feel it, strong and clear like the wind: the inexorable cycle of life. Up here in the wild country, the truth is laid bare: deterioration and decay exist amid the blooming life. Is this reminder, this involuntary apprehension of the finite nature of things, part of why you’re here?

Fir branches scrape the sides of the truck as it bounces over boulders and broken ruts. You can go no further. Out come the bikes, and finally you make full contact with nature: an embrace unfettered by the barriers of glass, plastic, and steel. Like the bare skin of a lover, it presses itself against you. You pedal harder, faster, your pulse rising as your body presses back.

An hour’s ride through shadowed forests brings you to the lake. Above the dimples of meandering trout towers the mountain. And there, streaked along the side, is the line you seek, that long ribbon of white.

How many times have you stood here, on the shore of this shallow pool, and stared at those white strips, spilling from the mountain like Rapunzel’s locks? You marvel at the contrast of snow on rock and the mystery that lies ahead. That line, beginning stark and clear then disappearing behind a band of rock—where does it go? What wondrous places does it pass through? Today you’ll find out.

Stashing the bikes in the trees, you continue on foot. Two hours later, after miles of bushwhacking, your ski tips snagging on branches, tails smacking your calves, swatting mosquitos and horseflies, wiping your sweaty brow, following trails and scat left by mule deer, moose, and mountain goats… finally, you’re on top.

Around you rises an army of rock: granite legions carved by time. These mighty mountains, raw and rugged, each with its own white lines—you’re in a daze, overwhelmed by the beauty, the immensity, the sense of possibility. Below your feet sparkles a sea of tiny wildflowers: specks of red, blue, and yellow splashed across the mountaintop, as if deposited by the sneeze of a rainbow-filled sky.

A short walk across the rim and there it is: that long-awaited line, that white stream spilling down into the unknown, into bliss. Who knew that paradise wasn’t a place, not a lofty Shangri-La at the end of a long journey, but a pathway? A connection between worlds: a bridge across the chasm. This ascent to the heights of heaven and back down to earth, back to where we belong—that’s what the white line is all about.

So you drop in. The snow is creamy, the turns smooth: big sweepers, rhythmic and flowing like a ballet dancer. You glide easy, picking up speed, slaloming the occasional rock. Farther and faster you go, sliding ever closer to the place whence you came. And the white line, like a lover, whispers sweet somethings in your ear all the way down.

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