Mountain Characters: The world according to Charlie Tarver
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Or, in Charlie Tarver’s case, the pink elephant in the room.
Tarver, you see, loves the color pink, lives the color pink and rides the color pink.
“For boys, red and blue used to be tough,” said Tarver, the owner of The Hub of Aspen bike shop. “Pink was different. Girls liked it. I loved it.”
This comes from a self-described contrarian, now 52, who laid comatose in a Grand Junction hospital for one week after he crashed a bike on a speed-skiing course at Snowmass Ski Area. It was Feb. 26, 2002, when Tarver neared 100 miles per hour down the Slot run in a special demonstration leading up to the U.S. National Speed Skiing Championships. He flipped over his handlebars in a violent crash, breaking nine ribs and a clavicle and suffering a collapsed lung.
“When I first woke up (from the coma), I didn’t know what a fork was,” he said. “Everything was gone. The oldest memories come back first, it was second grade then third grade, fourth grade.”
The video of the harrowing crash went viral. Tarver, who was released from St. Mary’s Hospital after four weeks, said he has viewed it more than 1,000 times.
And it gave Tarver — a mountain-biking pioneer whose feats the previous summer included a fourth-place finish in the Leadville 100 and third-place efforts in the 24-Hour Solo Mountain Bike Championship and the Vail 100 — a newfound take on pushing his physical limits.
“Honestly, I didn’t care or think about getting hurt,” he said. “But I didn’t realize how much it affected other people.”
His father, who has since died, was in Grand Junction while he lay in coma.
“All the badass daredevils in our valley who have no fear of what they’re doing, you have to think about your actions and the people around you,” he said. “Just be aware of how your mom, wife and dad will feel. That’s why I couldn’t die: My dad was still alive. Kids should never die before their parents.”
Two months after Tarver was released from the hospital, he participated in Ride for the Pass, the annual 10-mile trek up Highway 82 to the Independence ghost town.
“I did it just to let people know I was still alive,” he said.
When ski season rolled around, he got in three days before blowing out his knees. Nevertheless, Tarver remains quite active these days, more than most folks. As a full-time telemarker, he logged 120 ski days this past season.
“It’s so much fun. I can’t not ski. It’s too much fun, like heroin,” he chuckles.
The aftermath of the crash, however, still has its impacts. Tarver said he has double vision — imagine skiing moguls like that — and his speech can be slurred when he’s not engaged in a conversation.
“If I slow down and if I care about who I’m talking to, my speech is fine,” said Tarver, who is divorced and has no children.
He explains his vision like this: “My phone is good. Your phone is good. But the telephone line got cut.”
Tarver spends most of his time at The Hub or outdoors. He rides his pink bike to town everyday from his North 40 home, a place where he said he only sleeps. Automobiles, he said, are the “worst thing” to happen to humanity.
“The most privileged people, the people with the most, have the ability to take another 10 minutes to get into town,” he said. “I have the ability to not be at work by 9.”
Tarver no longer is involved in public service like he was before the crash. He once ran for mayor, served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, was involved in drafting the Aspen Area Community Plan and was — and still remains — an advocate for a light-rail system between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.
Voters have rejected light rail, something Tarver said was “the most short-sighted thing we did. But it’s OK. You move on.”
His civic involvement also included the launch of the Aspen Cycling Club and a stint on the Neighborhood Advisory Committee.
“Every bike path you ride on now,” he said, “came from that group.”
Aspen residents come and go, often thinking they know what’s best for the community without doing their homework or volunteering on boards, he said.
“If you really want to serve the community, sit down, shut up and listen,” said Tarver, noting that he used to serve as many as 30 hours a week on civic boards. “Everybody comes in saying they know something. They don’t know crap.”
Tarver, who played soccer for Purdue and LSU, recently listed his Hub of Aspen space, located at 315 E. Hyman Ave., for $3.9 million. He bought the business in 1991 and the building in 2000. It’s a successful venture, he said, because it’s unconventional.
“We do nothing that any successful business does,” he said. “We don’t know anything about our clients. We don’t do anything we’re supposed to do. But it works because we really know business.”
He calls Aspen “the greatest place on Earth” and rarely leaves town, unless it’s for something special such as the LSU-Alabama football rivalry.
“All you have to do is go to the airport and talk to people who are returning,” he said. “They always say ‘I’m glad I’m home.’ Leaving Aspen is like cheating on your wife, and you say, ‘That was stupid.’”
Tarver, who came to Aspen in 1984 chasing a girl, said he’s content with his life, chiefly because it’s defined by spontaneity.
“My life on my worst day is better than all but 11 people in the world,” he said. “Even after my wreck, there are only 11 people who have better lives than me.”
And just who are those 11 people? Tarver couldn’t say, but he seems perfectly comfortable at No. 12.
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