A healthy dose of ‘cycletherapy’ | AspenTimes.com

A healthy dose of ‘cycletherapy’

Paul Andersen

As soon as I started pedaling last Sunday, I knew what I needed from the bicycle and that I would find it on this spectacular day. The weather was archetypal autumn, an L.L. Bean-catalogue-cover kind of day … cool with warm sun and blustery breezes.

I rolled out of Basalt with a cluster of thoughts swirling counterclockwise in my head: a low pressure heading toward a tropical depression. Weltschmerz had been giving me the old one-two in psychic the solar plexus, and the plight of humanity left me feeling, in the words of Tom Lehrer, like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

Thank God for cycletherapy. With every spin of the pedals, dire worries were flung off by centrifugal force from their elliptical orbits around my soul. Soon, the dark satellites of mortal angst were as detached as Pluto ” marginalized to the outer reaches of my own personal galaxy.

Spinning up the Rio Grande Trail, I gazed at the Roaring Fork River, where rapids, riffles and eddies marked the swirling, changing current. Here was the Zen component of my external world, a metaphor if I ever needed one. Flowing beside me was the stream of eternal fluidity, a winding, meandering thread made serpentine by the Coriolis force of planetary revolutions.

Gradually, the peaks of the Elk Range rose up in snowy ramparts projecting into thin cirrus clouds dotted with occasional cumulus puffballs. A new storm front was moving in and the sky heralded its arrival with vaporous flags and markers.

As I passed Red Butte a gust of wind delivered a blizzard of yellow cottonwood leaves that pattered against me like a shower of confetti. I looked up into the swirl of color and grasped the chaos theory. I smiled hello to a few hikers enjoying the same ephemeral show.

Recommended Stories For You

During a quiet lunch on a picnic bench, I scanned the papers with disinterest. My sights were on Smuggler Mountain, and soon I was there, shifting into low gears and climbing above the valley, above the yellow treetop crowns that formed a gilt canopy over Aspen.

The town was quiet from the overlook at the Smuggler deck where I recounted the places I had lived in town over 20 years ago. I numbered them as I numbered the years, musing on the easy tempo of those times. Soon I was riding single-track, contouring into Hunter Creek through a mosaic of red, orange and yellow foliage.

The steep grind up from the valley floor of Hunter Creek brought back the familiar discipline of mind over body. Then the body took over to lead the mind higher with endorphin-enriched blood and giddy oxygen debt. At the Hummingbird Claim, I sat on an aspen log and took in the rugged panorama that Ferdinand Hayden, in 1874, referred to as the “geologic jumble” of the violently birthed Elk Range.

I hadn’t seen anyone since Smuggler, but there were several old bike tracks I followed through the deepening snow on the trail to Four Corners. At the top, the ground was snow-covered, and the air had a wintry coolness and the flavor of fast-coming change. I ventured into the woods to a favorite spot, sat on a stump and listened to the creaking of trees as the wind pushed through. A hawk cried plaintively somewhere in the forest.

The snow was deep where the trail dropped toward Lenado, and elk tracks occasionally punctuated the snow. Melted off at lower elevation, the trail became carpeted with an assortment of brightly colored leaves and the air was redolent with the sweet, decadent smell of fall. I felt the closeness of winter more than the fading nearness of summer.

A headwind buffeted through deserted Woody Creek Canyon, then calmed by the time I reached the Rio Grande Trail. I sat on a big, round river rock and let the sun warm me, feeling the restful ease of physical fatigue and the resultant peace of mind that took only a few thousand spins of the pedals to achieve.

This was no grand epiphany, and there was nothing solved and nothing resolved, just another great session of cycletherapy to alleviate the crescendo of stress that puts kinks in my brain. Comfortable with the momentary respite, I oiled my chain, swung my leg over the saddle and headed for home.