Last ride of the season
Of course something is up. It’s Saturday morning, and the dog is sleeping in. I open my eyes, and for the first time in weeks the sun is up before I am. It feels like summer again, which this time of year can only mean one thing – it’s over.The kids eat quickly to get out and enjoy the warm morning, leaving my wife and me to enjoy warm cups of coffee. In the paper, she reads about the grand opening of a big-box retailer in Glenwood. I read about the approaching winter storm.”We better get out today,” I say. “The end is near.”She’s unconvinced. “Naw,” she says. “It’s just the beginning. I’m going to Target after the kids’ soccer games.”I decide to ride my mountain bike on Government Trail and meet them at the fields. Starting out on the Tom Blake trail, damp, golden leaves formerly green with life pave the lower switchbacks, and my pulse rises with the temperature and steeper incline. I turn onto the Aerobic Nightmare, which is shaded, wet and slick. With each turn of the crank, my wide, knobby tires slip before gaining purchase.Even before starting the real climb, I come off the pedals. If I didn’t think this was my last ride, I would turn back. Instead, I remount with determination. As my legs burn and heart pounds, I remind myself that I won’t get another chance at this thing. I crest the last hill with sweat cascading from under my helmet. My tires were so unsteady on the greasy mud that I feel like I’ve ridden it twice. Finally on Government Trail, I coast across a wide-open meadow, letting my body recover. Soon I’m even with my breath again and believe that I actually enjoyed the hard effort. I think of school. It was a lot of work, but now I recall only good times. I wish that I could remember the last time I walked out of Aspen High School, off the baseball field at the University of San Diego, or through the campus at CU before heading on to grow up. But I can’t. I was anxious for the fleeting celebrations to mark the ends, missing the moments that gave reason to them.I ramble back and forth, up and down through the woods. I climb a steep, loose side-hill that I haven’t made all summer. A few moments of pain and I am sure I will get it this last time … This last time. I flash on the last time I spoke with my father. “I’m proud of you for a lot of things,” he said. “Mostly that you’re a good dad.” Man, do you think that’s had an impact on me? Neither of us knew it was our last moment; we were lucky. I’m anxious to get to the soccer fields now. I want to tell my family that I love them. You never know. I shift into a higher gear, building momentum. I get through the loose section and then muscle around the rocky turn at the top. My legs are heavy.I ride easy before coming to a fallen tree across the trail, another obstacle that I’ve made a habit of dismounting for. Not long ago it stood tall, before it became an obstacle. I spy a broken branch and wonder, if I hit it square and fast, can I ramp my front tire over the trunk with enough speed so that the back will clear it, too? I look to where I want to land. I hit it right and sail smooth. Two tricky rock bridges pass underneath my treads. Nice. The last real obstacles in my way are the gate in the Rock Garden and, of course, the “big root” on the face of Buttermilk. There are plenty of other smaller obstacles that can trip you up on Government, but I’m not concerned with any of them this day. The dry air is clear, and I see nothing but the beauty that surrounds me. I’m riding this day as if it will be my last.I cross the frosted stream before Rock Garden. Ahead I see that the dreaded cattle gate is open. It’s up to me now. I ride this trail more often from the opposite direction, so this look at it is less familiar. There are two large rocks between the gateposts that you have to get past without wedging your front tire between them. It’s all about momentum and keeping your fear off the brakes. It’s a lot less about finesse than you think.I hit the first rock too hard and bounce too much. I feel my forward progress begin to die. I shift my weight back quickly. It’s just enough to lighten the front end, and I’m through the gate. The rest of Rock Garden is a challenge, but not big enough to get me down today. I’m finally going to clean this whole damn trail!Then I remember the “Big Root” up ahead. I’ve never attempted to ride it. I’ve heard of riders who’ve made it. I’ve seen one try, badly. I’ll do it today! I’ll creep up to it slowly, get my rear end over the back tire, and let it run. It’s a steep landing on a sharp switchback and I’ll have to get it under control quickly to make the next turn … I can do it!I roll through the easy terrain across West Buttermilk, the switchbacks on Buttermilk, and then the aspen forest toward Tiehack. I’m close now. I won’t make it unless I’m committed. I’m committed. I round the corner and there it is, larger than last week. I’m hard on the brakes, barely moving, I smell the nervous sweat, which is different than that which comes from mere physical strain. It makes me think. I inch closer. I get to the first stepped root, and … and … and I bail out. I head to the left, the familiar route. My right foot hits dirt for the first time since leaving home. I pivot and jerk past the tree. Am I disappointed? Did I miss an opportunity, or did I avoid a disaster that could have cost me the ski season, or worse? I’ll never know. What they never tell you is that some chances of a lifetime aren’t worth taking.The rest of the way down, I wonder. When will I hit my last 300-yard drive? When will my eyes see their last golden leaf? When will each of my children sit on my lap for the final time? I get to the soccer game in just over an hour of real living. If I wasn’t perfect today, at least I was fast.At home I clean my bike for storage. We’re finished. Only then do I remember coming off of it at the beginning of Aerobic Nightmare. In my enthusiasm I had forgotten. My ride was doomed nearly from the beginning. It wouldn’t have been perfect even if I had made “the root.”Huh … what do you know? It was a hell of a ride anyway. Roger Marolt is fond of the “big root.” Part of him never wants to conquer it. Contact him at email@example.com
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