Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
There’s an exciting new government-sponsored game in town. It works like this: You ride Droste Trail between now and when it opens May 15 and try not to get caught. If you do, you pay a $100 fine. If you don’t, you’ll have an adrenaline buzz for a week.
It sounds like just another endurance event, but I can attest that the successful participant also will be able to sprint while reading topography on the fly.
My own try at it began after I climbed Droste from the Snowmass Village roundabout and was finishing the singletrack portion near the airport radar tower. I spotted the trail ranger there. It was obvious that he had seen me earlier and was riding toward me with purpose.
I flung my bike around, and he shouted for me to stop.
“Not for a hundred bucks!” I yelled. The adrenaline blasted through my veins, and I went instantly anaerobic. I could hear the fine-collector panting behind me and, recognizing the Doppler Effect, knew he was falling off the pace.
I caught my breath on the downhill and carved through the gentle turns draping off the ridge. When I thought it was safe, I stopped. Then, my heart did, too. I saw the pursuing ranger far enough back on the last high point, but what I saw him doing brought panic thicker than the ticks. He was holding a radio to his face, certainly calling ahead for backup.
I was in a pickle, to be sure, and the $100 looked lost. Then a question crossed my mind: I’m already breaking the law at the risk of losing a C-note. If I break it any more, can they charge me extra? I reasoned that they could not.
I jumped back on my bike and continued on. I’m sure the fine-collector laughed to himself, thinking I was speeding right into his trap at the end of the trail. Little did he know that I’m a longtime scofflaw up there and know the prohibited terrain like the back of a city of Aspen parking ticket.
I sped ahead over the rolling terrain for about another half-mile, where the trail dipped slightly into a draw before heading over the last knoll and then down the unseen steep descent into Snowmass Village. I saw the “closed” sign ahead on a fork to the left and started to set up my turn, knowing I was hidden from the fine-collector’s sight. I’d seen horseback riders poaching this old trail last summer, so I had an idea of how it meandered through the brush after passing the Bat Cave-like camouflaged entrance. I confidently hit it at near full speed and disappeared across a small, dried-up tributary of the Rubicon into the land of outlaws.
When the brush got really dense, I stopped, praying the dust would settle quickly behind me. I calmed my breath and listened. Not five minutes later I heard the purr of a bicycle’s free-wheel coasting past, a scant 30 yards above me. I froze, afraid to look. Then, I heard chain engage gears as the unobserved rider began laboring quickly past and up the last pitch beyond and then coasting again down the other side, his noise dissipating with increasing distance.
My heart pounded out of control as I waited to see if the pursuer would notice that my tracks no longer were in front of him and then circle back to find where they veered off the main trail.
My guess was that the fine-collector, discovering that he had been duped at the bottom, eventually would begin his ride back up to find and fine me, and he probably would have a decent idea where to look. I couldn’t get back on the main trail; surely both ends were blocked by now. If I followed this renegade offshoot trail out, I would end up right on Owl Creek Road as a sitting duck.
I did the only thing a reasonable person would do in the situation: I buried my bike under some branches and stuck small twigs and grass anywhere they would fit my clothes. I covered my face with mud and crawled stealthily down the side of the mountain like a bandito stealing nothing but thrills.
Did I mention that many parts of this story are not true? In fact, none is. I made it up to make a point, and that is: While it sounds super-fun risking $100 to ride the Droste Trail when it’s closed, with a ranger in hot pursuit, you shouldn’t do it. It’s just not the right thing to do. And if you end up having to crawl through the brush up there, you will end up being so covered with scratches and ticks that getting caught and paying the fine will seem cheap by comparison. You can’t win!
Of course, I’m not completely opposed to a little controlled experimentation.
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