In the Saddle: In perspective
September 2, 2006
It’s the altitude, not my years of channel-surfing and dough-heavy diet, that has me bent double on the first switchback of the Smuggler Mountain trail. At least that’s what I tell myself.Then she rounds the corner. Spandex-clad, jaunty step, arms pumping hard, and visibly with child.Pregnancy is not an “infirmity” by any means, I know, but am I wrong to think I should be able to mountain bike up a hill faster than a woman walking for two?I take a few more gulps of air and take stock. My first few weeks here in Aspen has me looking around and comparing a lot.I see the very wealthy. They laugh like Pez dispensers with broken hinges, tossing their heads back without a care. They glow with suntans earned in the tropics and use lots of hyperbole like “amazing” and “fabulous” in the snippets of conversation I hear along Aspen’s row upon row of ritzy retailers.And I see Aspen’s elite athletes. The super-fit. They’ve climbed and scaled every craggy peak in the Rockies, paddled every raging river and call jumping off cliffs “skiing.” I see them skirting mountaintops hanging from paragliders or cruising up mountain passes riding the middle cogs of slick racing bikes, muscles long and taut, faces chiseled.”There is always someone doing it better, faster or longer than you in Aspen,” said a longtime local I talked with this week.So, back on Smuggler, I take my last fish-out-of-the-tank gasp of air and drive myself up the next rise before she reaches me. I’m breathing heavy after just 20 yards. I round the next switchback and look back. She’s not there.Breathing heavier, I hammer on to gain ground, spinning that “granny gear” and moving at a snail’s pace. I make the next switchback curve. Muscles screaming. Lungs about to pop. Buddha said that “all life is suffering,” but this is ridiculous.I stop. Gasp. Wait. One minute. Two.Then she turns the corner.Dear God! I’m losing an uphill race to a pregnant woman.I’m determined now. Even before recovering my breath I’m pedaling again. When I can’t pedal I push the bike. Hacking and gasping for breath, 20 minutes running on quivering muscles. I don’t look back. When I reach the deck overlook at the top I am drenched in sweat, brown with dust, my chest heaving. I drop my bike and fall on the bench.”I smoked her,” I whisper to myself.My breathing returns to normal. No one is there. Who am I racing?Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.