Bruised shins and a shy smile
I have a picture on my desk of Carol Bauer from the top of Daisy Pass, back in the late ’70s when mountain bikes were allowed in wilderness. Wildflowers color the picture with natural beauty but cannot compete with this vibrant, beautiful woman.
Skimpy bike shorts and a tight pink top with a plunging neckline gave Carol the look of an Outside Magazine model. She was one of the undisputed “bad biking betties” of Crested Butte and now she’s gone because of spinal cancer.
Despite her glamour on Daisy Pass that day, Carol Bauer was not what you would call glamorous. Her beauty was more homespun and earthy. Tight shorts and a tight top revealed her charms, but you had to look at her shins to see the real Carol. They were bumpy and bruised from pedal scars, bumpier than the Elk Mountains she so loved.
Carol wasn’t born in these mountains, but she was born for them and she rode her mountain bike with a contagious sense of adventure and discovery that made up for all the bumps and bruises. Those shins gave her character.
The picture on my desk is only part of my mental picture of Carol. She and I rode the trails of Crested Butte during the infancy of the mountain bike and we celebrated each and every ride. One of our favorites was the lunch ride to Marble over Schofield Pass.
“Goin’ to Marble for a beaver burger,” we would say, referring to lunch at the Beaver Lodge. Usually we would top off a lunch ride with a dessert of mushrooms, then ride back laughing our fool heads off.
Carol’s laughter came in a knee-slapping, belly-busting guffaw that was as big as the great outdoors. And we had plenty to laugh about since the two of us behaved like a couple of clowns.
Once, during a cold, hard rain a few miles outside of Marble, I stretched a woolen legging over my head and wore it like a stocking cap. Carol laughed until she peed.
Later, as the storm intensified with hail pinging off our bike helmets, we entered the deep canyon known as the Devil’s Punchbowl. “Don’t let that ole devil git you!” she cackled with her southern twang.
Suddenly, a flash of lightning struck over our heads and a clap of thunder exploded like dynamite. Scared half to death, Carol and I huddled together like lost children. When we looked at each other – wet, muddy and trembling – our fear suddenly vanished into peals of laughter that chased that old devil right out of the Punchbowl.
During the early ’80s, Carol was on the front lines dispersing anti-AMAX propaganda on the streets of Gunnison. That’s when we were fighting the big molybdenum mine and where I first appreciated her loyalty to Crested Butte and her commitment to her own values.
Carol believed that nature is sacrosanct and that it is our duty to slow down the iron glacier of capitalism. Her love for nature was imbued in her love for gardening and in her deep reverence for the mountains. She was a woman of the earth.
Inspired to further our activism against AMAX, I convinced Carol to join one of the “Save the Lady” ski tours led by the indomitable Roy Smith. Carol hadn’t done much backcountry skiing at the time, but she smiled her shy, accommodating smile and said, sure, she would love to ski to Aspen.
We set off on a cold, clear winter day and that evening, Carol was the last one to limp into camp in Cumberland Basin as the sun set and the peaks shone with alpenglow. The temperature was at least 10 below zero and Carol had only a snow cave to crawl into, but she still managed to smile.
The picture on my desk is a reminder of how fortunate I was to know Carol Bauer … to be her friend, to make her laugh and to laugh with her, often at myself. That picture recalls a time when we were young, fearless, idealistic, a little naive and a little reckless, and so full of life that it spilled over with love that was rarely articulated in words.
Instead, our love was shared in hail storms in the Devil’s Punchbowl, skinny-dipping in mountain lakes, sharing a tuna casserole at a potluck dinner and riding singletrack across sun-kissed meadows bright with wildflowers … Those are the pictures imprinted in our hearts and our minds, the ones that give us reason to love and live.
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