Marin County’s first-ever poet laureate, Albert Flynn DeSilver, recently published a new book of essays titled, Singletrack Mind: Finding Wisdom & Poetry of Life on Two Wheels.
This book takes readers on a firsthand journey alongside local legend, DeSilver, as he recounts five of his most memorable mountain biking experiences.
In his book, DeSilver sets out to capture the spirit of mountain biking in a travelog-like collection of singularly splendid stories. The book was initially inspired by a piece he wrote in 2021 for Adventure Journal magazine, which told the tale of his point-to-point mountain bike journey across Point Reyes during the pandemic.
“This project has been gurgling beneath the surface for quite some time, but really came to fruition just in the last two years,” he said.
DeSilver did not set out to become a poet—rather, his ambitions led him on a journey from the East Coast, through Ohio, then further west to Colorado, where he received his bachelors of fine arts degree in photography. His trip westward across the United States came to its natural conclusion when DeSilver moved to San Francisco to attend grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute. There, his interest in poetry and writing developed.
“While in San Francisco, I met Bill Berkson, who sent me to a poetry reading,” he said. “I didn’t have anything else going on that night, and I’ll never forget, the editor Paul Hoover, he read a quote from the poet Jack Spicer that goes: ‘Unblind the dreamers. Poet, be like God,’ from Imaginary Elegies. It was just this euphoric expression of the whole being of an artist, and I thought, ‘Oh that’s cool.’ So, that night I decided to become a poet.”
From that point on, DeSilver threw himself into the world of writing; he attended reading events, checked out more and more books and became actively engaged in the Bay Area literary community (even joining the open mic scene).
So, when a friend of his approached him about a teaching opportunity in Marin for a summer program, he naturally agreed. “I didn’t have teaching experience, but I had a deep passion for poetry,” he said.
DeSilver found that teaching was not only rewarding, but an excellent chance to learn from the children he taught. And, when the summer program was over, he joined a program called California Poets in the Schools, an initiative that brings professional poets to teach children the fine and fun art of writing poetry.
“Children are just innate geniuses, and I can say that in broad terms because that was my experience teaching them,” he said. “When you go into a classroom and remind them they have this innate capacity to create beauty with language, they create amazing stuff. Through them, I was being constantly inspired to create amazing works because [the children] were totally in connection with their imagination and don’t have the restrictions that come with inhibitions.”
DeSilver’s involved approach toward community engagement in the Bay Area’s poetry culture, and his well-regarded published works, made him a natural choice for the inaugural poet laureate of the county. So, when the Marin Arts Council decided to award the title to a local poet in 2008, he accepted the honor and held the title of Marin poet laureate until 2010.
“Poet laureate-ism was a culmination of the previous decade of work,” he explained. “I had been with the local schools and was publishing a lot and was just participating and engaged in the culture of poetry. I don’t remember throwing my hat in the ring for poet laureate, but I suppose I was an obvious choice because of my engagement and participation in Marin.”
DeSilver has now lived in West Marin for the past 30 years and, alongside poetry, has used this time to explore his many other interests, including nature, photography and mountain biking.
“During the pandemic, one of the great outlets was riding my mountain bike in West Marin,” he said. “I’ve ridden for years, all over Marin, and I just had this idea about riding point-to-point in the Point Reyes Peninsula, from the very tip of the point all the way to Bolinas.”
The ride ended up being the longest single day of riding in DeSilver’s extensive mountain biking experience and added up to a grand total of 43 miles, with 6,000 feet of elevation climbed. He rode across fields, pavement, fire roads and single track trails from point-to-point in a ride that inspired first the story for Adventure Journal and now an entire book.
“I wanted to include all the things I love in one little book,” said DeSilver. “My love of nature and of the Earth wisdom writing of Dolores Chappelle, who wrote a really amazing book about deep powder skiing—it was just this philosophy about being deeply engaged in the Earth while on skis. In those writings, I experienced the same kind of flow experience on a mountain bike, flowing through the woods and mountains and hills and getting into this rhythm in nature.”
The contents of Singletrack Mind: Finding Wisdom & Poetry of Life on Two Wheels take the reader on five mountain bike journeys with DeSilver through Point Reyes, Sedona, Lake Tahoe, Slovenia and Croatia. Not only did DeSilver see this project as a way to pursue his love of mountain biking, but as an homage to nature, flow, photography and to those who rode with him in his adventures (especially those who will not have a chance to ride with him again).
Photos for the book were provided by the world-famous adventure photographer Mattias Fredriksson, who has had his photography on the cover of almost every major ski and mountain bike publication in the past 25 years.
The release date of Singletrack Mind: Finding Wisdom & Poetry of Life on Two Wheels is set for March 15. There will be a celebratory event to mark the occasion at Splitrock Tap & Wheel in Fairfax from 7 to 8pm on Thursday, March 30. This event will include a slideshow and, in tandem, is a benefit for Access for Bikes, a nonprofit that advocates for mountain bike access in Marin County.
“My book is for anyone who loves adventuring in the outdoors, and particularly if you love connecting more deeply with nature and with the Earth on a bike,” concluded DeSilver. “[The book] is about mountain biking, but also not—it’s about poetry and the reaffirmation of life.”
For more information, visit DeSilver’s website at albertflynndesilver.com.
as long as we don’t forget that treasured locals Robert Hass and Kay Ryan were prior U. S. poet laureates…