Hartley: Saving me from my suspect cycling skills

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

I want to take this opportunity to wish my mother, who turns a year older today, a very happy birthday, although I fear she won’t have one. You see, my poor mother just had surgery the other day on her shoulder, and pain is one of her least favorite feelings but most favorite conversation topics.

On that note, I’d also like to wish my poor father good luck. Pop, make sure to get Mom a birthday present that is way over the top, like morphine or maybe the cast of “Downton Abbey” to wait on her hand and foot as she recovers.

Anyway, happy birthday, Mom. I love you. All that pain will be worth it when you can finally shave your armpits again. (Just kidding, I think.)

My mom’s impending operation was very much on my mind recently, particularly two weeks ago when I signed up for a downhill mountain-biking clinic in Snowmass. I thought for sure that was going to end in some sort of surgery for yours truly.

The last time I rode a mountain bike down what honestly could be considered a hill was years ago in Aspen. I huffed and puffed my way up Smuggler Mountain Road, cursing with every pedal stroke, and then I headed downhill into the Hunter Creek Valley.

I actually managed to complete a couple of sharp turns without taking my feet off the pedals, and so, feeling cocky, I reached a meadow on the valley floor and started across it more vigorously than perhaps I should have.

There was one small puddle in the trail, and for some reason I decided the smart thing to do would be to charge through it at top speed. I tried to do that, and the front wheel augured in to the mud and stopped abruptly, launching me headfirst over the handlebars.

I flew about 15 feet or so and crashed down in a rocky field. My right arm slammed into a boulder, coming as close to breaking as it likely could and leaving me bleeding profusely. All I could do for the next 10 minutes was sit in the grass cradling my arm while I rode out the waves of pain.

When I could finally move again, I picked up the bike to find — adding insult to my injury — that the fork had broken in the crash, meaning I had to walk the stupid bike the last 2 miles back to town.

So now you understand why that was the last time I rode a bike down an unpaved hill. Like my mom, I’m not a big fan of pain, and that’s pretty much what I expect each time I go mountain biking.

Thankfully, in the brave new world of downhill mountain biking, it seems they’ve figured out a way to take a lot of the pain out of crashing. And the best part is that it involves cosplay, which, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is the practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to dress up like a Star Wars stormtrooper, and downhill mountain biking let me do just that. I was decked out in a huge helmet with a full face guard and visor and head-to-toe body armor. They even gave me special shoes. I was ready to go invade Hoth and crush those pesky rebels once and for all.

I rode up the gondola with my rented downhill bike, which has big shock absorbers and is much more forgiving than a regular bike, and then I underwent a half-hour or so of instruction on Snowmass’s nifty skills park.

The instructor pointed out some things I was doing wrong that involved my elbows and shoulder blades, and by the time we headed out on the trail back to the base, I was feeling like I might just survive the ride.

Between the specialized downhill bike, the instruction and the feeling of invincibility engendered by my stormtrooper getup, I did a lot better than predicted and reached the bottom without a single fall.

As nice as that sounds, though, it does leave me in a bit of a bind. You see, I was planning to give my mom a fellow surgical patient to swap war stories with, but surprisingly I didn’t injure myself.

Sorry, Mom. I guess you’ll just have to endure the suffering alone, in your own stoic way. Here’s hoping it’s all downhill from here.

Todd Hartley owns Hoth’s largest tauntaun ranch, and he passes the savings on to you! To read more or leave a comment, please visit


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