Fiction excerpt: Aspen author Pete Holman’s ‘Cruz’
316 pages, paperback; $22.95
Available at Explore Booksellers in Aspen and on Amazon.
Q&A WITH AUTHOR PETE HOLMAN
Pete Holman has lived in Aspen since 1996, when he did a clinical internship at the Aspen Club. A physical therapist, entrepreneur and inventor of fitness products, Holman recently published his first novel, “Cruz.” Set in Aspen in the 1980s, the book tells the story of a boy emigrating from Mexico to the U.S. and finding hope, solace and purpose through cycling.
Holman recently discussed the book, excerpted here, with Aspen Times Weekly editor Andrew Travers.
Aspen Times Weekly: What inspired you to write ‘Cruz’?
Pete Holman: I was working with a fitness company called TRX and traveling around the world delivering education on strength, conditioning and core performance. I often researched and wrote articles on human performance during these long trips, but on one particular flight home from Japan, I had a burning desire to write something other than non-fiction. I grew up in Colorado riding road and mountain bikes and was on the U.S. National TaeKwon-Do team, so the protagonist had to be an athlete. Additionally, I was badly bullied in middle school and wanted to write about overcoming adversity, perseverance and the underdog story. Finally, throughout my career I trained with, competed against and befriended many Hispanic and Black athletes. I was often appalled at how my friends and teammates had to deal with racism. I wanted to highlight racial injustice and how through connection, understanding and belief, all races and ethnicities can learn from and elevate one another.
ATW: Who do you hope reads the book?
PH: Although “Cruz” was set in the ‘80’s, it is a story of our time echoing the racial divide in America and the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. For teenagers coming of age, this book reflects some of the horrific struggles, yet bold opportunities adolescence presents. It is also a tremendous read for those who enjoy road cycling and honing a competitive mindset. “Cruz” will help you get in touch with your inner warrior, remind you of the importance of mentorship and instill in you the construct that anything is possible as long as you believe.
ATW: What kind of research did you do for the book? Is your main character based on anyone in particular?
PH: Most of my research focused on competitive biking. Although I raced in a few biathlons and criteriums back in the day, I was a fairly inexperienced rider and needed to learn about high level cycling. I also had fun researching Cruz’s road bike which he received as a gift from his uncle: a 1986 Colnago Master designed by the famous Italian engineer Gilberto Columbo who had also designed cars for Maserati.
ATW: You spent seven years writing the book. What was the process like?
PH: The best thing about writing fiction is that you can write about whatever you want; however, the worst thing about writing fiction is that you can write about whatever you want. I can’t tell you how many times I re-read, re-wrote, changed storylines, deleted characters and polished this book. With the help of Kelli Watson (editor at Scriptor Publishing) and Ellie Scott (of Aspen Words), I am presenting something that I am proud of and a true bucket list accomplishment.
Although my uncle worked for them, I had yet to meet any of the family that lived in the Red Mountain mansion. I often came home after dark and used the back entrance to the cottage. All I knew of the family was that Mr. Campbell, the owner, was a right-wing Colorado State Representative and had recently voted in favor of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Domingo would often mutter spiteful things under his breath about Mr. Campbell, but was also smart enough not to bite the hand that fed him.
One Saturday afternoon, Dom needed help preparing the grounds for a big political rally Mr. Campbell was having at the residence. I worked diligently, aligning parking cones, organizing tables and blowing debris from the driveway. As more cars entered the residence, the 1984 Bruce Springsteen hit, “Born in the USA,” began to blare from a PA system, and some anti-immigration signs were lifted into the air by spectators.
Dom and I finished working and stood around the corner watching the rally in disbelief. The crowd grew to over 150 people in the next hour and eventually, a town car arrived with a very special delivery. Mr. Campbell greeted the car and opened the rear passenger door. Out stepped Summer.
With a thunderous roar from the crowd, Mr. Campbell grasped Summer’s hand and kissed her cheek warmly. Lightning coursed through my veins, and my heart felt as if it was being compressed by the weight of thirty stones. “Summer is Mr. Campbell’s daughter?” I asked Domi with a mixture of surprise and disgust.
“How do you know Summer?”
“From school. I had no idea she was Mr. Campbell’s daughter,” I answered.
Mr. Campbell wasn’t necessarily a bad man. We were just so dissimilar. I guess in some ways he represented the American Dream of opulence, decadence and excess. He had clearly raised a beautiful and respectful daughter, worked hard to obtain a prominent position in the government, and lived in one of the most beautiful houses I had ever seen. I just didn’t understand why he was so against immigrants. Did he care about his Mexican employees like my uncle who so arduously took care of his property? Did he see who we were as a people; our work ethic, our love of family, our humility? Would he have me deported or jailed if he found out about my illegal status? Most importantly, did his daughter share his beliefs? As Summer stood next to her father in solidarity my lovesick heart quickly filled with confusion.
The single most magnificent woman I had ever seen was not who I thought she was. Domi saw me pacing behind the cottage, fists clenched, and nostrils flared. “Are you okay, son?” he asked.
“Do I look okay?” I snapped back. This was a feeling I had yet to experience in my seventeen years on this earth. I wondered if this was what Pops experienced before he stepped into a boxing ring. A primal rage coursed through me. My internal organs twisted into knots, and my head felt compressed, as if it was being squeezed by a vice. My heart raced and I couldn’t stop moving. I began to feel unhinged.
“I have to get out of here,” I thought to myself. I needed to get far away from the sign bearers, away from the Congressman and away from Summer.
I ran back to the cottage and not sure why, but I swiped Mama’s cross pendant from the desk lamp and put it around my neck. Wearing jeans, a loose T-shirt and tennis shoes, I grabbed my bike and rode towards the only place I knew that could calm my spirit — the place where the hawks fly, the rock radiates maroon and the water glistens. My brain seemed to shut down, sound disappeared, and my vision tunneled. The only thing that I could truly feel was my connection with the bike.
As I rode, an image sequence began to play in my head like a movie on the big screen. I saw the Diaz family shake in distress as they were closed-up in a crate, the unforgettable crackling of gunfire appeared as orange flashes of phosphorescent light, and then I saw myself from above, running for my life into the abyss.
My mother’s necklace gently bounced off my chest like a metronome, helping me keep a heartbeat-like cadence. Unlike the Sierra Gorda range, the pavement was smooth and consistent, and my riding felt effortless. Ahead of me was an echelon of bikers on their way up to the Maroon Bells. Someone yelled something out to me as I flew by, but I had my rhythm and was locked in. I barely noticed the group as I punched past them.
Delatori laughed aloud, snapping Manuel back to the present. “That’s incredible,” he said. “I would love to have seen the look on their faces when you blew past them wearing jeans.”
Manuel laughed as well. “Me, too. Of course, they were behind me, so I couldn’t see the look on their faces.”
Both men smiled. “I later learned that the group was the seven-time State Champion Aspen High School Cycling Team, coached by Chris Carmouche. He was a member of the first U.S. Cycling Team to compete in the Tour de France earlier that year. Chris was following the team in a vehicle providing extra water, energy bars, replacement wheels and coaching tips. Coach Carmouche later told me that when he and his assistant witnessed me rip by their A-Team like they were standing still, they looked at one another like they had just seen an alien!”
Delatori chuckled again, “Little did they know, you actually were an alien!”
Manuel, grinning widely, nodded and continued.
My new bike was smoother, lighter, and twice as powerful as The Red Rocket. After four years of hammering up the Sierra Gorda mountain range on an antiquated, limited gear Schwinn Sting-Ray, my Colnago felt like a NASA-designed rocket ship. Sustaining 96 rpms in an aggressive gear, by the time I reached the top, I had put significant distance between myself and the Aspen Cycling Team.
I set my bike against the fence and stared up toward the Bells. I felt light, elevated and euphoric. The sun, which had just descended behind the mountain ridge, thrust pink and orange hues of light across the dome of the sky. The Aspen High School bike team and Coach Carmouche pulled in about 45 seconds behind me. Johnny, the team’s captain, was so fatigued that he struggled to dislodge his right cleat from his bike pedal and nearly toppled over behind me. Surprised by the loud scraping of his cleat on the concrete, I turned to see the entire team staring at me.
Coach Carmouche got out of the truck and studied me from head to toe. I originally couldn’t figure out why he was so focused on my tennis shoes, but I noticed his team were all wearing expensive-looking cycling cleats.
Coach Carmouche’s eyes shifted upward; my baggy blue jeans contrasted starkly against his team’s tightly sewn and brightly-branded Lycra bike shorts. My loose-fitting shirt, which I had failed to tuck in prior to the ride, had been flapping in the wind throughout the ascent.
“Who are you?” asked Coach Carmouche.
“I’m Manuel Cruz Delgado,” I said emphatically.
“Cruz is right! You just ‘cruised’ by some of the best high school riders in the state wearing tennis shoes and jeans!”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I was in a zone,” I replied. Johnny watched as Coach Carmouche, clearly impressed, eyed me with curiosity.
“How ‘bout you join us on the Aspen High School Cycling Team? We are training for Nationals, and I think you could really help our team.”
“No, thanks,” I replied. “I train Aikido. But good luck at Nationals!” I added with a slight wave.
I mounted my bike and offered Johnny a smug smile as I passed the team. I pulled my mother’s necklace out from under my shirt and kissed it. “I will never leave your side again, Mama,” I thought to myself as I headed back home.
Pete Holman is an Aspen-based physical therapist, personal trainer and entrepreneur. “Cruz” is his first novel.