Jon Maletz: The Hammer
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I’m nothing if not committed when it comes to tackling new endeavors.
The time I decided to try camping, I spent two long, slightly terrifying nights hunkered down in a tent in Canyonlands as what seemed like buckets of sand swept through the interior netting of my temporary abode, assaulting me on all sides. I was picking grains out of my teeth for days.
The time I decided to try photography, I felt oddly compelled to pull off the side of Highway 128 outside Cisco, Utah, one evening to capture shots of a large wall of sedimentary rock framing a deteriorating prairie schooner. (That is going to look perfect above by mantel one day.)
In the past, I’ve taken up roller hockey and kayaking, jumping rope and fishing. I once spent an entire summer building rockets, fashioning bracelets out of leather and perfecting my Devil Stick skills. Middle school was a very awkward time for me.
(OK, it was 2009.)
I’ve always been a little eccentric – heck, I used to organize Halloween candy in a shoe box according to size and shape. I’m convinced my behavior is some byproduct of underlying obsessive compulsive disorder.
When I make up my mind to do something, I dive in without reservation. I’m like the Jacques Cousteau of recreational pursuits.
My latest fixation? Mountain biking.
I recently spent weeks on end researching aluminum-framed 29ers on the Internet. Early morning hours were occupied by scanning websites debating the benefits of Kevlar- versus wire-bead tires, comparing RockShox and Cannondale’s Headshok; V-brakes and disc brakes.
I now know what butted and hydroformed tubing and cold-forged dropouts are. (In my defense, there’s really nothing on TV during the dead of night, unless you’re into Lady Gaga videos or Shake Weight infomercials.)
After much research and soul searching (soul searching = examining my savings account), I settled on a Gary Fisher Mamba hardtail with Bontrager wheels and a RockShox Tora 29 fork. This thing is a true work of art; it makes my 15-year-old, neglected Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo look like a heap of scrap metal.
I swallowed hard and handed over my credit card – I’ll be eating Top Ramen for the next month, but that is a sacrifice I am more than willing to make. As soon as I picked up the Mamba at the Hub of Aspen, I was itching to try it out.
Less than a week later, on a brisk, clear Monday morning, I was driving past school buses as I sped west on I-70, bound for the famed Kokopelli trails outside Fruita.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Mere moments after exiting at Loma, however, I realized I was completely out of my element – like Yo-Yo Ma at Bonnaroo.
This was like mountain biking base camp. A giant Yeti Cycles truck occupied about 10 spaces in the far right corner of the parking lot. Nearby, a group of four Lycra-
covered fat-tire enthusiasts with calves the size of Mini Coopers huddled around a large map, plotting their course for the day.
I stepped out of my Jeep wearing khaki shorts and a Red Sox shirt. I proceeded to spend five agonizing minutes attempting to squeeze into a pair of red and yellow bike shoes that are older than most of my coworkers’ kids.
While one Yeti mechanic toiled on a bike’s fork and braking system, I went to work installing a pesky water bottle cage while gnawing on an apricot Clif Bar.
These people were hard-core. I’m more like the nougat of a Charleston Chew.
The humbling moments continued. Not three minutes into my ride on Rustler’s Loop, a four-woman peloton started tailgating mere feet from my back tire. When there was room, they blew past me like I was standing still – apparently, I was riding as slow as an octogenarian after two total hip replacements.
That was fine by me. Once I crested the hill, I paused to soak in seemingly endless views of the surrounding canyons, rugged mesas and rock formations. Then, I settled into a nice rhythm, leaning into some banked turns on hardpacked singletrack that wove through dense brush. I lifted my fingers off the brake levers and let the wheels roll freely.
No more than 10 minutes later, I was sprawled out on my back. I cut a turn on slickrock a little too sharply, and the Mamba slid out from under me. I had no time to snap out of my clipless pedals and skidded across the unforgiving surface below.
“Maybe I should’ve started out on the Rio Grande Trail,” I thought to myself as I took stock of my appendages and inspected a gash on my left elbow, which had begun spurting blood.
I picked myself up, brushed some red dust off my shorts and climbed back into the saddle.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident – OK, not quite. There was the sunburn, the lung-busting climbs on loose rock, a few tense moments on Mary’s Loop, which hugs a cliff that hangs precariously over the Colorado River, and that flat tire at around Mile 20. (Thankfully, during the course of my research I came across tire levers and patch kits.)
Soon after, mercifully, I spotted my car a short way off. By then, my entire body ached. I felt like I had exchanged blows with Manny Pacquiao, or someone had tried to stuff me in a milk crate.
So, what did I learn from this little excursion? I’m not in as good shape as I thought (see nougat of Charleston Chew), but I think this biking thing just might stick.
Then again, there’s always scrapbooking …
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