In the Saddle: All downhill
August 31, 2011
ASPEN – Nineteen years ago, on one of my first times biking the Smuggler-Hunter Creek loop, I crashed, badly skinned my knee, picked myself up, continued the ride, and ran into Paul, one of the few people I knew in town at the time.
“Stewart!!” he yelled as he spotted the big splotch of blood on my leg. (It would be the first of many times Paul would respond to my ignorance, incompetence or idiocy with a “Stewart!!”). I didn’t feel embarrassed; I was new to the mountains then, and thought myself incredibly daring to attempt to ride a bike on one. The blood was my red badge of courage.
I have since become a stronger and more skilled biker, and a far less courageous one. Doing my once-a-summer ride of the Smuggler-Hunter Creek loop, I congratulated myself on the fact that, at 47, going up Smuggler has become a sprint – not the unconquerable quest it was when I first tried it, in my 20s. Doing the semi-flat section on a fairly wide trail shortly past the Smuggler deck, and the gradual climb after, was a chance to demonstrate my improved technique.
As I hit the downhill, though, my optimism dive-bombed. Those swaths through the woods looked narrower than ever, the trees sturdier, the curves sharper, the inclines steeper, the rocks bigger, sharper, more numerous and more cleverly placed in the precise location I had intended to steer. My bold self-image was replaced by cowering thoughts of ruptured internal organs, a hospital room, medical bills. I repeatedly walked my bike down sections I had once prided myself on at least attempting.
But my self-congratulation wasn’t wiped out entirely. I consoled myself that, if I wasn’t as brave a rider, I was a smarter person, able to consider my family, my physical well-being, and not just my desire to ride fast and conquer the mountain.
And I was, in fact, biking the mountain – no small feat, considering that, as I neared the end of the ride, I had not seen one other biker on the trail.
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When a group of four riders just flew by me. I might as well have been standing still. I did note that they had the advantage of having bikes far better than mine.
And I don’t think I imagined it, that they were a lot younger than me.