Princess: All of Aspen’s a stage during Pro Challenge

“Hey, do you mind if we grab a quick interview?” the guy with the camera crew said. The cameraman already had homed in on my pug, Gertie, his giant lens stuck in her face as we walked down Main Street.

Granted, I’m bound to get some attention when I have a pink bike with a dog that looks like a stuffed toy riding in the front basket, but television exposure was beyond even me. Thank God I’d worn the perfect bike-race-spectating outfit, a Roxy sundress with shorts underneath and the polka-dotted Wayfarers I got off the sale rack at Free People. I was having a good hair day, and for once I didn’t have any visible zits, with just the right amount of makeup. I was ready for some airtime.

“Why did you come to watch the race?” the guy asked me. It was only then that I realized he was from Fox News, which isn’t really my thing, but still. Who’s going to turn away some free publicity?

I proudly told him I’ve been living in Aspen for 11 years and think the USA Pro Challenge is the best event of the year. It’s true, I might have gotten a little caught up in the moment. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it’s definitely great. (Will someone please bring back the HBO Comedy Arts Festival and the 24 Hours of Aspen? Now those were the best.)

First of all, Ryan got the day off on account of the highway being closed, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people were in the same boat. So it was like a holiday and, better yet, a holiday without cars. It was like a Mick Ireland wet dream, everyone on bikes cruising all over the place without a care in the world, the roads all their own. In the wake of my dad’s accident, this was as blissful as it was somehow fitting: to take a day to celebrate something so simple and joyous as cycling.

“I haven’t ridden my road bike since my dad’s accident,” I told my friend Brad as we were pedaling back toward town after watching the riders come down Cemetery Lane on their last lap out to Snowmass.

That was more than three weeks ago, the day my dad was hit head-on by a truck on Highway 131 just north of Wolcott, but many feelings still linger. He broke nine bones and spent a week in the intensive-care unit as we waited for his lungs to stop bleeding. And somehow he’s still alive, and he’s already back on his bike. It might be a stationary bike in his bedroom that’s connected to a computerized trainer, but still. He can barely walk, but he’s alive, logging 15 miles a day, trying to get his strength back.

Needless to say, this has given me a different perspective on not only the dangers of road biking but the frailty of life in general. I suddenly am aware that life can change in a split second, just like that, and there is nothing you can do to prepare for it.

So as I stood behind the boards on Main Street watching the riders go by, the sheer speed of the peloton blowing my hair back, I had a much deeper appreciation for what these guys are doing. They were like one big organism moving through the mountains like water in a river, somehow in sync despite the obvious obstacles in their path. Then came the support vehicles, jockeying for position all logo-splashed and topped with thousands of dollars’ worth of bikes, and for just a moment I felt like I was in Europe, tempted to yell, “Allez, allez, allez!” at the top of my lungs as I passionately rang my cowbell.

We had a small posse and rode all over town on our cruiser bikes from one vantage point to another, drinking beers like a happy hour on wheels. It was so carefree, the beauty that surrounds us impossible to ignore as we whizzed by, thinking of nothing but pedaling and coasting and pedaling again, the sound of the wind and our breath in our ears. It was like being a kid again, long before a car or a driver’s license was part of our reality, when the only personal realm that existed was the one within biking distance of your house.

It also reminded me of my first year living in Aspen, when I lived right downtown one block off of Main Street, when going out simply meant walking out the front door. No plans were necessary, no texts or cellphone calls or meeting times or places. We’d just cruise around town from one hangout to another, where we’d meet up with friends who moved in the same rhythm we did. That was when afternoon beers turned into dinners and drinks and a few games of pool at Eric’s and dancing at the Regal and, suddenly, last call. Then we’d head to New York Pizza before jumping on the last Hunter Creek bus and staggering home, bleary-eyed and full of booze and greasy food, finally ready for bed.

Don’t ask me how my train of thought has gone from something as wholesome and pure as a pro-cycling event (at least now that the dopers have been cast out) to the benders of my Aspen youth, but it’s not really about that. It’s about this town and the feeling of having a whole world at you fingertips, where adventure and fun have absolutely nothing to do with getting behind the wheel of a car.

Gertie and I did make the evening news that night in a piece about the first stage of the tour. I thought we looked pretty good on TV — not just me and my designer dog but also Aspen.

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