Gravel in the Loops: Where the Wild Things Were

For Dylan Sherrard, riding a bicycle has provided equal parts community and escape. In his early years, the bike was the ultimate tool for expression, but as time goes by, the bicycle becomes a tool for exploring his relationship with self and a vehicle that leads him into a deep passion for photography. Read on for Dylan’s story about rediscovering his joy for riding, on humble dirt roads, a path that ultimately led him to pick up a camera.

Kamloops, B.C. was the apple of my adolescent eye.

When I first moved here at 17, I was chasing a wild ride. I found exactly what I hoped for and fell hard into a bike-centric lifestyle, immediately invited into a mix of opportunities I could barely even believe. I found work at a thriving community hub and bike shop. I had sponsors. I found the support to host bikes camps for kids and workshops for riders of all levels. I was wildly passionate about the creative portrayal of my riding and committed every hour of free time to collaborating with filmmakers and photographers, the result of which often graced the pages of my favorite magazines and websites. It was a serendipitous situation as I went fast into a tangle of everything that I loved and aspired to.

I was spinning in the splendor of my manifested reality. But in my mid 20’s, I started to get dizzy. I was achieving everything I admired as wild, yet I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I’d made good on my own milestones, yet I felt incapable of celebrating them as my own. It was a pungent flavor of imposter syndrome to feel as though my every win was chalked up to luck and great timing. The public narrative of people telling me to “enjoy it while it lasts,” felt heavy in my chest. And at the point when the process came second to simply completing tasks, I wasn’t even enjoying my riding anymore. I felt like a failure for damaging my relationship with something I loved so much, and I knew I needed someplace quiet to work that out.

So I started by caving into a curiosity about a bike with curly handlebars and an old dirt road. A space for quiet contemplation and the exploration of curiosity. I was immediately enamored with the long sightline of rolling roads and the long gold grass that swayed in the breeze. Somewhere in between the webs of new terrain, interesting interactions with people along the roadsides, and chance encounters with Great Grey Owls, I felt a whole new wave of visual inspiration flowing in me. I coupled that with my long standing curiosity for being on the backside of a lens, and picked up a camera to start collecting pictures of my experiences in general.

I was sneaking out for gravel rides in relative secret – always solo – whenever I could spare an evening. Initially, it felt sort of counter-culture to the scene that attracted me to Kamloops in the first place. But I was romanticizing the discovery of a whole new-to-me kind of shredding. In the years to come I found these rides therapeutic in one way, as the meditative state of cruising solo gave me space to process the emotional puzzles of career change and creative pursuits. And it was deeply social in another way, as I started riding with others and enjoying deep conversations as long-winded as the rolling roads. And I thought it was kind of magical how the bicycle was providing me equal parts escape and community, the same way it did when I first started mountain biking almost 20 years earlier.

“I don’t get it,” some of my riding friends would say. And for the first time that I could remember, I felt okay about that, free of my old need for external approval. I was spinning in a new happy place, with a much different pace, embracing a refreshed relationship with myself and reframed definition of wild. I was finding enrichment in the removal of old responsibility and deep meaning in untangling my identity from my performance.

And now, 15 years after moving here, I find myself smiling in places and headspaces that surprise me as much as they inspire me. I’m five years into a career as a freelance photographer and I’m focused on bicycles and people who live a lifestyle of passionate connection to craft or place. The chance to choose how I use my time is a fortune I feel great thanks for, daily.

I’m still mountain biking a lot and I’ve actually fallen in love with those rides all over again – this time, in a new space of zero pressure or personal expectation. It’s purely playful now. Though, the old dirt roads have really held onto my heart. Never knowing where I’m going, loving the whole process, always ending up exactly where I need to be. And coincidentally, the experience of all these charming conditions accumulates to a space that feels far more wild than anything I could have bargained for.