In the saddle: Caution! Do not stop on trail | AspenTimes.com

In the saddle: Caution! Do not stop on trail

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – For some years now, my routine has been to bike the Smuggler Mountain-Hunter Creek Loop once a season. (Those who would accuse me of wimpiness, point taken. But I will note that I got my aggro-biking streak out of me early on: My very first mountain-bike ride was over Pearl Pass to Crested Butte and back, and for the price of a burger, I will relate the story in detail.)

Every ride over this recent stretch, much of my time is spent pondering just how cautious I’ve become. As I’ve climbed into my late 40s, rocks look bigger and downhills steeper; the cliffs a few feet to the side seem certain to inflict irreparable bodily harm. Mortality has gotten closer. My badges of honor used to be broken skin and blood; now I take pride in silent self-congratulations for being wise enough to dismount and walk my bike a ways.

On Sunday, I wasn’t even sure I should be on singletrack at all. The day before, I had wearied myself with a long run/hike, and my legs were heavy. As I approached the top of Smuggler, I told myself that it would be no biggie to turn around and head straight back down that smooth, wide road. At this point, opting for the easy way while maintaining a clear conscience is second nature.

But after a short rest by the Smuggler platform, I continued on up toward the Hunter Creek trail. The day was gorgeous; biking season was coming to an end. And yes, if things looked scary, there was always the option of stepping off my bike.

Wonder of wonders – I breezed through that first set of steep ups and downs like they were nothing. Barely touched the brakes, deftly skirted each rock – not that they even seemed like obstacles. Whoa! Had my youthful impetuousness – and skill – returned? Sure, there were humbling moments ahead. A biker flying by me – while we were both going uphill – was one. And there were a few spots where I dismounted. But man, I handled those first few steeps better than I had in years.

I understand there have been crews working in the Smuggler-Hunter Creek area the past few years, removing logs and installing signs. If part of their work has been smoothing the trail, making it a bit easier on judicious bikers like me, please leave me in my cloak of ignorance. I haven’t felt this pleased with my biking abilities in two decades – since that day I made it back from Crested Butte, body intact.

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stewart@aspentimes.com