Aspen Princess: Fat chance this reunion with an old friend goes wrong
The Aspen Princess
After a four-year hiatus (birth of baby, care of baby, spending a majority of my time and energy on baby), I was reunited with my mountain bike last weekend.
I’d bought my old mountain bike in 2000 with a tax refund right off the rack. It was a fairly high-end bike at the time, and I think I paid around $2,500 for it. The kid who sold it to me suggested the frame was a little too big because I could barely clear the top tube, but it was the first bike I bought for myself and I didn’t care. I’ve had that bike for 19 years and it’s worked out just fine.
In college, I had a boyfriend who was a die-hard cross-country mountain bike racer. Early in our relationship, he took me on my first trip to Moab with a custom bike he’d built for me from the frame up. The manufacturer of this ridiculously small, black, 11-inch aluminum frame was a small boutique company out of Massachusetts called Fat Chance. Let’s just say the name was somewhat fortuitous.
I didn’t like that bike from the start. It was ugly, for starters; black with yellow lettering, small and squat and more like a BMX bike than a burly mountain bike. Then, for my birthday, he bought me my first pair of clip-in pedals and these ugly yellow bike shoes that were at least one size too small. He insisted I keep them and tried to stretch them out by putting beer bottles in them and sticking them in a hot shower.
It didn’t work.
Then he took me to Moab and decided my new setup would make its debut on the world-renowned Slickrock trail. For someone who is relatively new to mountain biking with new equipment, throwing me on what is essentially a skateboard park for bikes was like some form of torture. The bike was too squirrelly, too small, lightweight and responsive for a beginner rider. My poor feet, now stuffed into these impossibly tiny shoes, were cramping up and what’s worse, I could not for the life of me extract them from the clip-in pedals, which had been set way too tight for my weight.
Up I went, trying to brave some impossibly steep feature as Mountain Bike Boyfriend cheered me on from behind. Just as I was about to crest the top, the resistance on my pedals became too great and I froze, then teetered, then fell. I cartwheeled down that rock with my bike still attached to my feet and landed at the bottom in a twisted, mangled pile of metal and limbs as MBB stood over me, trying not to laugh.
“I hate mountain biking!” I shrieked a little too loudly, holding back tears as I struggled with total and utter futility, to extract myself from this bike.
“No, you don’t, you love it,” he said, his voice bashful as he stooped over me and helped get my feet out of my shoes when the pedals simply would not release. “You just need to give it some time.”
I suffered dozens of horrific, humiliating wipeouts that summer, my legs and arms decorated with cuts and bruises. I was scared all the time. It was hard going up and terrifying coming down. Once, I would hear dozens of spectators cheer, “Go, Fat Chance!” during a mountain bike race after I’d crashed, ripped my bike shorts, and rode by with half of my butt cheek hanging out, unbeknownst to me.
It took many years to learn to love mountain biking, but the first step was getting on a reasonable bike that provided me with some stability. The second step was riding a lot, and on terrain more suitable to my skill level so there was more fun than terror, more smiles than tears. It took a long time to figure out the right center of balance, how to pressure my tires correctly, how to lean into a turn, and how to navigate a tight switchback or let go of the brakes on intimidating terrain.
Earlier this week, an old friend who was visiting from out of town convinced me to join him for a ride, even though I hadn’t ridden for years, and my bike was old, and I’d switched out my clip-in pedals for the flat pedals we used on our road trip to the beach last year.
But I agreed, and I was so winded within the first 20 seconds of the ride I wasn’t sure I’d make it a mile. But then I went another mile, and another. I was rewarded with the kinds of views that are so idyllic, pristine and magical it’s almost impossible for your brain to process; yellow Aspen leaves illuminated by that low autumn light that gives everything a dream-like glow, scrub oak in an artist’s palette of reds, oranges and browns woven together like some exquisite fabric, blanketing the hillside. My lungs burned, my quads ached and my arms fatigued as I jerked my handlebars awkwardly, straining against gravity to make my way up the ridgeline.
Finally, we crested the downhill that lasted longer than anything pleasurable ever should, miles of singletrack that carved its way down the hillside and eventually to the valley floor where we’d pedal, slowly but surely, back up the paved road to our car.
Sometimes it takes a little nudge from an old friend to get you out of your routine, to give you that little push to explore something that has been in your wheelhouse all along; to get back in the saddle, as it were, after baby (who isn’t a baby any more) and to be reminded of what you are capable of.
Even though it was hard, and humbling, and even though I could still hear the crowds cheering “Go, Fat Chance!” it was, in fact, just like riding a bike.
The Princess is in the market for a new bike. Email your suggestions to email@example.com.
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