Free-wheeling in Steamboat | AspenTimes.com

Free-wheeling in Steamboat

Alison Berkley

The other day I’m riding my mountain bike down a series of steep, loose switchbacks listening to Missy Elliot on my iPod, screaming, “SEX ME SO GOOD I SAY BLAH BLAH BLAH. BOY OH BOY IT’S GOOD TO KNOW YA,” at the top of my lungs.I’m literally dancing on my bike, wagging my head back and forth and hoping the man of my dreams isn’t around the next corner (or better yet, hoping that he is). I love this image of me and the doggies hauling ass down a mountainside, screaming dirty rap lyrics that echo in the wake of our dust. It’s the first time since I can remember that I’ve had this much fun without a guy, a drink, an expensive bill, or a combination of all three.In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m up in Steamboat at my parent’s place for the summer. I rented my condo to a cute little music student from Juilliard with these big round blue eyes who didn’t even blink when I asked for a butt load of rent money, a lot more than I thought the place was worth. It didn’t really matter what it cost, he said, his parents would pay for it.My parent’s house is situated on a steep ridge overlooking the Steamboat Ski Area, and the lower Yampa Valley. My room has a deck and when I open the door at night I can hear Burgess Creek rushing below and listen to the crickets sing their lullaby, see the stars and feel the breeze tickling my skin. Sometimes the moon is so bright it wakes me up, bathing me in its light. I get between 8 to 10 hours of undisrupted sleep every night and have never felt better. I figure for every day I’m here I get about a month younger, which means by the time I leave at the end of August I’ll be about 12.Steamboat is a far cry from Aspen despite whatever similarities you would expect from two small Colorado ski resort towns.For starters, there are like, regular people here, with bad hair and cheap clothes and old cars. It’s not uncommon to see high-end mountain bikes on the roof of a beater that cost less than the bikes did. Instead of benefit galas and gallery openings, the big events of summer have been the Mustang Rally (as in the car, not the horse), the Rainbow Gathering and the Western Regional Little League Championships, bringing an interesting mix of people into town. I’ve seen minivans with things like, “MARIETTA BLACK HAWKS #1” splashed all over the windows, old hippie busses piled high with spare tires and bicycles, supped up muscle cars and pick up trucks with gun racks.In the classified ads, Aspen has Estate Sales and Steamboat has Livestock For Sale. There are still a lot of working ranches in the valley and real live cowboys dressed in tight, high-waist Wrangler jeans with their shirts tucked in. River sandals and shorts are acceptable eveningwear, and there are actually restaurants where you can get a burger and a beer for under $10.The landscape won’t blow your socks off when you first see it but will grow on you slowly, seeping into your soul in a way that matters. It’s like the difference between seeing a hot guy and finding your soul mate – it’s not the kind of beauty that strikes you right away. There are no rocky snow-capped peaks or quaint pedestrian streets. The ski resort is four miles from town, littered with a hodge-podge of high-rise hotels and ugly condominiums that lead me to believe strict zoning and covenants aren’t such a bad thing. Unlike the powerful Roaring Fork, the Yampa River runs shallow and warm, filled with tourists floating by in inner tubes, blow up rafts and metal canoes, hooting and hollering and towing six packs of beer in the water behind them.To really understand the beauty of this area, you have to be in it – go into the fern-covered aspen groves, overgrown meadows and up into the hills (which are always taller and higher than they look). The best way to do this is on a mountain bike. There’s an endless network of glassy single track as buff and smooth as the Noon Groomer at Snowmass.I never used to love mountain biking that much because I felt like it was scary and hard going up and scary and hard going down. But since the riding is so good here, I felt like living here and not riding would be like living at the beach and not surfing.After a grueling, hour-long climb of steep, relentless switchbacks, loose dirt and ruts up Zig Zag, one of the main runs on the ski area, I’m ready for the roll down. It’s a whole different trail on the downhill, though. I see loose dirt and instead of thinking, “hard” I think “soft.” The setting sun flickers through the leaves of the aspen trees, flashes of light dancing through this intricate menagerie of branches and leaves. Our border collie Sabrina is flying in front of me, always having to take the lead. No matter how fast I go, she goes faster. Whenever I speed up or she slows down I yell, “Go!” and she just picks up the pace, always choosing the best line so all I have to do is follow. I’ll admit I thought it was a little weird that my dad was so ga-ga over this dog, but now I sort of understand it. She is a phenomenal athlete and so spirited for such a tiny little thing.So life is pretty damn good. I’m feeling free to be me and me with nothing to worry about except where I’m gonna go on my next mountain bike ride.The Princess will be back home in Aspen before you know it. Send your loving email to alison@berkleymedia.com.

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