Our Mother The Mountain
Understanding the where and why.
If "thinking outside the box" had to be a cycling group, it would be OMTM.
I've been putting off writing this article for quite a while, to be honest, as I wasn't sure if I would do it justice. To say that OMTM profoundly impacted and shaped the cyclist I became today would be an understatement. The only other person that comes to mind when I think of shaping my cycling journey would be Evan Balbier. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am on this journey.
Lastly, this journey wouldn't have flourished without RideWithGPS as well.
So the story starts with when I met Evan. It was 2017, on a group trip to Plain, WA, for an off-roading event. I met Evan through a friend, and we connected throughout after that trip. I had learned that he was an avid cyclist and had quite a lot of miles under his cleats. I was chatting with him about my "new" drop bar bike that I bought from Sellwood Cycles in Portland. It was a 2006 Giant OCR 2, my first ever "fast" bike.
"We should ride sometime" he said.
And we did.
The first time I rode with him, I showed up on my OCR 2, with my backpack full of books (I was a student), a U-lock, and no water bottle. We met up on the Sellwood bridge before climbing up Riverview Cemetery. Mind you, that was probably the first time I rode with someone who was a "cyclist." I never considered myself one since I had only been commuting and riding around town for about 2 years at that point.
Evan showed up on his Specialized, kitted up, and looking really fast.
As we were riding, Evan was trying to gauge my knowledge and interest in cycling. Things I had little to no knowledge of. However, what I did have was a passion for just keeping on cycling.
He saw that in me from that first ride.
After a few rides, he generously offered to let me ride his Specialized Roubaix, even though it was a few sizes smaller than what I should be riding. Evan also gave me a few cycling kits to ease me into riding in cycling clothes, something I had never done before. The more I rode with him, the more I wanted to keep on riding. Every time we rode together, Evan would share more about cycling and the latest trends. He was also trying to get me to experience riding one of the newest sensations, a gravel bike.
"Gravel bike? Like a mountain bike or something?" I had no idea about gravel and the latest cycling trends, but he did.
I told him that I had been saving up over the past few years to buy a nice bike, and he took that chance in convincing me to buy a gravel bike.
By September 2017, Evan landed a great deal on the new generation of Specialized Diverge at one of the best shops in Portland, River City Bikes. We met up at the shop to go check out the bike and availability. Ryan Weaver, a local legend and one of the salespeople, ended up selling me the bike that started it all. And Evan even put his money where his mouth is and bought the same bike. He believed that it was the best bang for your buck.
And it was.
It came with all the latest bells and whistles.
It had disc brakes, wide tire clearance, and suspension under the handlebar, called "future shock." Now that might seem all too common to have in modern gravel bikes (sans the future shock). But back then, that was cutting-edge technology.
I didn't know what was just around the corner and the new phase of cycling that I was about to enter.
A few days later, we met at Good Coffee on 12th and Salmon, a cafe shop we frequented, to go ride around some of the buttes on our new bikes. He started talking about this cycling group that he found on Instagram called "Our Mother The Mountain" I had no idea what that meant, let alone who they were. He then started talking about the rides they go on and the places they ride.
"We have the right bikes now," Evan said.
I spent the following few weeks learning more about OMTM and more about my bike. The more I learned about both, the stronger the urge to ride and explore became. I was amazed by what they had built up, and that kindled something within me that soon would become more than a hobby.
The New Front Line:
A month had passed, and it seemed like I'd ridden my new bike every single day. Back then, I lived a stone's throw away from Forest Park, the backyard of many Portlandians, and home to some of the best cycling trails in the city.
That became my go-to every morning, rain or shine. I would wake up early in the morning, ride to Skyline rd through Leif Erikson and Saltzman trails and back down before my classes started. That was the rhythm I got into, and I caught the bug of gravel and adventure cycling since then.
From that point, I knew that it was gonna stick around for a while.
I had spent some time getting comfortable with my new-found obsession, adventure cycling, so I decided to ride one of the OMTM routes. I picked the MOSIER-ROWENA SUPER G route.
To sum up this point, I was a different person after that ride.
What I encountered was something that I hadn't really experienced before. The ride was more than cycling up and down gravel roads in the Colombia Gorge. It was an experience in itself.
It felt that whoever built that route in the sequence and direction was focusing on a bigger picture than just riding.
It felt like a symphony where nature meets cycling.
I was buzzing after that ride for a while. It left me with more questions than answers, and I wasn't looking for answers, to begin with.
It almost felt like I was validated in some sense. It matched my behavior of wanting to know what lies around the corner. It spoke to my adventurous side and started the fire that burned within me.
Which is still burning strong to this day.
In the winter of 2018, OMTM organized a social gathering at 21st ave bicycles, a shop 2 blocks away from where I lived. The winter social was a ride up Forest Park during the worst conditions you could imagine. It was cold and wet, but no one seemed bothered by it. In fact, it seemed like that was a normal weekend winter ride. At the social, I met some of the folks that would later become really close friends of mine.
As a person of color and a minority in the US, I wasn't sure what to expect since the majority of cyclists I had met up until that point were older white men in lycra that didn't really know how to interact with a person like me.
I walked in with an open mind and hoped that I wouldn't be shunned or not taken seriously.
After chatting with some folks, like Rudy, the infamous Spitzer, and many more, I realized that these people were different. No one asked me, "how can a person like you afford that bike?" or "Kuwait! Wow, you must be one of those rich sheiks".
I put my guard down since I knew I could be myself around that community.
They showcased the "Our" in "Our Mother The Mountain."
Yet another reason that fanned the flames within me to explore this new-found passion and lean into this experience.
The weekend following that social ride, OMTM hosted a group ride out of North Plain, the notorious Hell of the North Plains. I joined them as my first OMTM group ride. It was an icy cold and rainy January day. I was unbothered by that. In fact, I was more eager to join the masses in this crazy winter ride.
With most group rides, I noticed that they organically separate into groups of cyclists of similar interests and not necessarily just fitness levels. With that, I kept up with a group that and we mostly cycled together. However, 16 miles in, right before the first major climb, I broke a spoke in my rear wheel. I was devastated since I had just bought that bike 4 months ago.
However, one of the folks I was riding along with, Alex, stopped and helped me with my wheel situation. He suggested wrapping the broken spoke around another spoke to keep it from getting jammed. So we did, and I managed to continue on with the ride.
This is just one example of many that would come over the years. The sense of camaraderie, selflessness, and looking out for each other on these rides is something that I found in abundance within the OMTM community.
With that, I felt encouraged to push the envelope even further with these rides, thanks to the safety net of like-minded people.
As time passed, and the more I rode my bike, the more invested I became. It was an upward spiral of growth as a cyclist. I eventually started to make my way through the OMTM list of routes. Sometimes even riding two routes on the same weekend.
Simultaneously, I started to get into the habit of exploring my surroundings, now that I had a bike that was good enough to take me anywhere I wanted to go, Paved or unpaved. And more importantly, I had an insatiable desire to explore every nook and cranny of my city.
Drivin' by the spirit of OMTM, I spent countless hours looking at different maps of Portland and mostly NW Oregon. I learned more about the topography, possible routes, and history. This new phase became some sort of a game, as I would triangulate different maps, riding styles, and areas to come up with a route that I would ride on the weekend.
I was hooked.
A new phase that was put into overdrive thanks to the amazing tools of RideWithGPS alongside the growing desire to explore my beautiful state on two wheels.
The more routes I built, the more I rode my bike, and the more I realized how little I really knew about my city and state. This stage was full of exploration, pushing the limits, and getting to know myself as a cyclist.
However, with growth comes growing pains. Some of those pains were realizing that I overgrew my gear and reached a stagnate stage of growth. I knew that I had hit a wall.
Nevertheless, both OMTM and Evan came in clutch and guided me through this stage and beyond by either teaching me the ways or by redirecting this cataclysmic energy I had within me to just keep on riding.
They shared articles, routes, tips & tricks, and time in the saddle getting lost in the woods.
Over the years, I got to know Ron, Ryan, and the rest of the OMTM crew. Thanks to their continued community engagement and routes that they would put out every now and then. Not trying to speak on their behalf, but I truly feel that they have built a strong sense of community that goes beyond the typical bike groups.
Yet another reason that compelled me to chase this lifestyle even further. They put the rider first before the ride. That taught me a lot both as a person and cyclist.
What also helped guide and shape my journey as a cyclist was the nature of OMTM routes and philosophy. I got a sense that the routes were built through a mixed methodology approach. What I mean by that is the OMTM routes have a sense of harmony with nature, history, and climate from the POV of a cyclist. What that also means is coming prepared to face the unexpected and learning how to overcome that, even if it means MacGyvering your way home. A case in point would be using business cards or other similar materials to boot a tire in case you had no tire patch.
And trust me when I say that you want to be prepared mentally and physically when you're deep within the chunder splunder.
To quote the wizards themselves:
"Broadspectrum Analog Nagivationals and Progressive Post-Gravel Velojazz.
I couldn't have said it better than that.
From a meta point of view, I learned how to see through tree cover, seek roads reclaimed by nature and understand the where and why.
Over time, I would attend the seasonal OMTM group rides, such as the infamous Timber Log Jam, The Lone Butte, Swale Canyon, or Hinterlands of the Gifford Pinchot. The excitement of going on an OMTM group ride on the weekend is unmatched. I can't think of any ride that wasn't a full-on adventure that became a lifelong memory.
Those rides challenged me to become a better cyclist holistically. I started to ride longer, go bigger, ride from my front door around a volcano and back. I got better at understanding the rhythm of the sessions, the land I bike on, and the people that I accompanied across the woods. There was so much that was influenced by getting to experience the OMTM rides. Even if I had that within me, to begin with, it certainly was kindled by everything I have written about so far.
Being "good" in cycling isn't really the only winning card in understanding the philosophy of the OMTM routes. An example would be to chase strava clout by finishing the route faster than anyone else. Or by attending the ride and just riding within your closed circle of friends.
To me, and again, I'm not speaking on Ron or Ryan's behalf here; once you're off of the road and behind the vale of fir and pine, it's all about full immersion. Be that with nature or by getting to know the person next to you on the trail. That's how I got to meet so many great people, by bonding over that lifestyle.
Hell, I even had my first ever PB&J sandwich on The Lone Butte ride in 2018, courtesy of Evan. Remember that I grew up in Kuwait, and a PB&J wasn't on the list of sandwiches Kuwaiti kids would have.
The notion of Our Mother The Mountain crystalizes over and again before, during, and after every ride, rain or shine.
One with Thee Holy Mountain:
Almost a year has passed since I left my home and homies and set on the sour trail of rediscovering beyond the borders of my beloved state, Oregon. I had a lot of time and space to reflect on this journey, where it had taken me, and where I might be going. As aimless and lost as I might seem, I find refuge in knowing that I rubbed elbows with the individuals who became my indirect mentors and source of guidance as a cyclist.
I learned a lot from them and grew exponentially as a result of that.
They were generous with sharing their knowledge and bringing the community together over the common appreciation of this wonderful lifestyle.
Although I might not be with them physically, they will forever be with me on the road, trail, and throughout the hinterland, perambulating the boundaries of the world with that same sense of harmony with nature, eagerness to explore, and comradery with your fellow cyclist.
Again, I really don't know if I would be who I am today without meeting all of these wonderful people that I call friends. Without those experiences, I might have never found out about myself beyond the comfort zone.
As I roam around the world while waiting to be reunited with my home, Oregon, I will continue exploring the world in the same way I learned how to, the OMTM way.