Competitive in nature
The old saying goes that if there are two bicycles on the trail, it’s a race. It’s the same old saying, slightly modified, for two boats on a lake, two runners on a path and two skiers on the top of a mountain, etc. I’m not sure whether this saying speaks to any universal truth about human nature, but I know that it yells about me.Anyone on a local bike path is fair game. If you’re ahead of me, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure you aren’t for long. I’m shameless. Once, riding home via Owl Creek Trail, I spotted a cyclist rounding a corner about a half-mile distant. Being familiar with the course that doubles as my daily commute, I mentally gauged the ups and downs of the trail ahead and made a calculation.”I can catch him before the Divide,” I vowed. The challenge was on! I lowered my head and pedaled with all I had. I pictured myself on the Alp d’Huez in the Tour de France; ad-libbing a heroic story about falling far off the pace and now having the leader in my sights after fighting my way back to through the peloton, my veins freshly loaded with an injection of “vitamins” in the back of the team van. I don’t ask what the stuff is. I just take it like everyone else. All I know is that it makes me strong, and I’ve never failed a drug test! My fantasies have always been vivid, if not realistic.Anyway, I reel in my prey with distance to spare. It’s clear now that “he” is a “she” and pulling a kiddie bicycle trailer. Never mind! All challengers in my quixotic fantasy are worthy opponents. I draft her for a moment to catch my breath and then surge past the dynamic duo, mother and child, at my maximum heart rate and anaerobic threshold.Alright, so I’m not normal.I have worked hard to reign in my competitive instinct. When you are young, that insatiable drive to be the best helps you to make the traveling team. When you get older, it just makes you into a self-important ass.Before I got wiser, I got wobbly knees standing over 6-foot putts with $2 on the line. My pulse raced standing in the start gate for the 16-second-long NASTAR giant slalom course. I habitually ended dinner parties with ex-friends by turning the rules for board games into hairs and then trying to split them.My punishment, reward and therapy for such past displays of zeal is to now participate in most activities with objectives by myself.So it was last Saturday afternoon that I headed out to Burnt Mountain for a peaceful mountain bike ride. I left my watch at home and picked the Stark King Trail for my diversion because of its infrequency of hosting other travelers. My only aim was to spin gently up the mountainside, letting my mind wander freely, hither and yon.I intersected the Tom Blake Trail and headed up the Powerline. I made the first switchback and then heard the odious sound. A rear derailleur shifting down a cog makes as distinct a sound as any ever heard in the woods. I glanced over my shoulder and spotted some cad turning off the Tom Blake to give me chase. He was dressed in garnished gold Spandex, obviously a sponsored team rider, or someone who buys cycling clothes on closeout over the Internet.Could I have quickly snapped out of my toe clips, I would have kicked myself. I had inadvertently provided the bait for this hunt. Having just finished mowing the lawn and not wanting to sweat up another pair of shorts, I was ridding in a pair of black, baggy surfers with wide, white stitching. For a shirt, I wore an old favorite cotton T with alternating 2-inch stripes of yellow, peach, lime-green, sky-blue and lavender – not too racy. I looked like a dork, easy to show up.Now, I know that admitting a problem is the first step in recovery. I also know that it’s one thing to chase and another to be chased. And, by golly, I’m man enough to admit that I’ve got a problem, but I’ll be dipped if I was going to let this racing slick pass me without at least his tongue dragging in the dust as he did, and a good stretch up the trail, too!To make a long story short, I rode so hard that I thought my spleen ruptured. My nemesis was right on my wheel the whole way. Halfway up I was sure he was just toying with me until I heard him wheezing, too. By the time we got to Government Trail, and a fast, technical downhill section with plenty of prospects for crashing, my thigh muscles were burnt to the core, barely functional and oddly numb.The two of us made the turn, shifted to the big chainrings and hurtled toward disaster. The only question was who it would strike first. At the first stream crossing I hit a submerged rock and nearly took flight. A moment later I herd a tinny ping, a short yelp and then a large splash. I stopped long enough to see a golden figure rising from the small stream, dripping water and stringing curses. He was fine.I quickly regained my momentum and listened carefully for the approaching clatter of bike parts stressed to their threshold. I didn’t know where the finish line was, but I wasn’t going to wait for someone to show me. The adrenaline flowed until I coasted into the driveway at home. I would have congratulated my opponent in this spontaneous race, but I never saw him again. I wouldn’t recognize him now. I know nothing about him except that he rides damn nearly fast enough.The rest of that afternoon, I was in a hurry to relax. Lying in the hammock, I thought of how foolish two mountain bikers tearing through the forest would have looked to any bystander. I vowed to forsake such foolishness in the future.My goal now is to become the least competitive person on this planet … ever!Roger Marolt writes hard and fast every Friday, right here in The Aspen Times. 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