Aspen, CO Colorado
All downhill my aching butt ” literally.
Still, it seemed like a good idea at the time ” signing on for last weekend’s Town to Town Tour through nordic hell, i.e. cross country skiing from Aspen to Basalt. Everyone kept telling me, “Oh, it’ll be easy, it’s all downhill.” I didn’t see any of those people actually participating.
As it turned out, though, skiing from Aspen to Basalt took only slightly more time than making the reverse trip via mass transit. Three shuttle/bus rides, two of which weren’t keeping their assigned schedules, put me at the starting point in Stein Park at nearly noon ” 2 1/2 hours after I left the midvalley. I should have just skied to the park.
I registered to start even as volunteers were beginning to dismantle the registration tent and set off under cloudy skies, having squandered the morning’s sunshine and blue skies on various buses or standing around waiting for them.
I was gliding across McLain Flats (not McLain downhill, but McLain Flats) before I chased down the remaining window of blue sky and shed my transit-fueled frustrations. At least the Rio Grande Trail wasn’t crowded. In fact, I didn’t even feel like I was part of an event, since most everyone else had a two-hour head start.
That made it all the more gratifying when I passed 10 people before I hit the Woody Creek aid station, where all but a few scraps of aid had already been consumed.
I managed to pass 20 more people before the finish line in Basalt. OK, two of them were on telemark gear, the cement overshoes of cross county skiing, and several more were old. Whatever.
A number of other skiers, starting even later than I, passed me up, though. They were skate skiers. Cheaters.
The 14.8-mile tour was definitely a stretch of my abilities. My 10-minute miles of early on began to lag like a day of jury duty.
By lower Snowmass Canyon, I’d hit the proverbial wall. I was herringboning up another short stretch of the all-downhill course, my feet were cramping, my buttocks were complaining and my wax job was failing, no doubt thanks to the deer poop embedded in the bottoms of my skis.
I tried to calculate my ski strides ” I’d counted 93 pole plants in the span of one minute earlier on ” when I was performing at what constitutes peak proficiency for me. If I finished the tour in three hours that would be how many pole plants from Aspen to Basalt? The answer: 16,740, along with one stride of a ski for each pole plant. All downhill my ass.
I could have counted on one hand the times I got to sit on my skis, double pole and glide down the tracks with little effort. I could have if my fingers weren’t freezing.
I thought about lying down in the snow and crying, but that seemed like poor form, so I pushed on into the biting breeze, gripped by a sudden fear that caught in my throat like bitter hops ” what if the beer was all gone by the time I reached the post-tour celebration? Hundreds of skiers had been drinking since noon and I wouldn’t belly up to the bar (God, there has to be a bar, right?) until 3-ish.
Reaching deep for a second wind, I crossed the Wingo bridge and slogged toward the home stretch, reaching the only true downhill pitch of the entire tour ” a sharp drop on the grounds of the Roaring Fork Club that the skier in front of me negotiated on his face. I opted to take off my skis.
The end of the day would bring a trudge up the hill on the opposite side of the highway to reach my car, but at least I got a cold brew out of the deal and a free, energy-efficient light bulb, compliments of the Aspen Skiing Co. It was environmentally packaged, I kid you not, in no less than three separate boxes and one sleeve, printed and presumably packaged in China (where the light bulb was made). In all fairness, the accompanying brochure, and possibly the containers, were printed on recycled paper.
Still, the bulb made me feel efficient by comparison.
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Though many are fatigued from the pandemic, rules for health and safety must be followed even more closely as winter approaches.