While the packing of my clothes before heading to Boulder was a process so hasty that it bordered on negligent, the decision of which of my two beloved bikes to bring was not an easy one. While a mountain bike makes more sense for winter in Boulder, my current athletic pursuits more frequently involve the skinny tires of my road bike. Back and forth I went, until I decided that leaving either bike back home would be a grave injustice both to the neglected bike and also my mother, who has been trying to get my stuff out of the garage/basement/living room for the better part of a decade. So it was that both bikes found their way to the roof of the car for the cross-country journey.
I had been out on the roadie a couple of times, but only in the past week did I head out onto a few modest dirt trails outside of town and rediscover my love for mountain biking. Last Friday I decided I had graduated from the trails skirting town itself, and took a drive into the mountains proper with my bike riding shotgun, looking for a little more excitement.
The ride at Betasso Preserve is a 3 mile (5 kilometer) loop carved into the mountains of the Front Range about a ten minute drive from town. It was near-freezing at an elevation of around 6200 feet (1,890 meters) when I parked the car, tightened my helmet's chin-strap and wondered whether wearing shorts had been the best idea. It was a bleak-yet-beautiful November afternoon. I was mostly alone on the trail and had stunning views of surrounding peaks, rocky and snow-capped set against the cold grey sky. I could see the city of Boulder six miles (ten kilometers) in the distance, neatly tucked onto the valley floor just beyond Boulder Canyon. Off I went.
I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. Awesome.
I planned to do the loop two or three times and felt especially vigorous early on my first lap. I screamed through the downhills and thought "Hey, this isn't so hard," until it occurred to me that since this was a loop and I was enjoying so much help from gravity on the first half, I would be in for some serious climbing on the second half. The lungs burned shortly after passing the midway point and starting the climb, not used to either the elevation or having to grind my heavy mountain bike up hills. Round about the start of the second loop, a few errant flake fell from the clouds that were starting to sock me in. Not really a bona fide snowfall, but enough that I could say that it was, in fact, snowing.
I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Awesome.
I entered the second loop and took it a little bit quicker, having scoped things out the first time around and feeling a little more comfortable in the saddle, even with some sudden drop-offs beside the single-track trail. I let myself bank a little higher in the turns and unlocked my bike's rear-suspension so that I could more comfortably bounce over rocks. As I did this, I noticed that my views of surrounding peaks were disappearing quickly as the snow fell heavier.
Wait a second, this has gone from novelty to gnarly pretty quickly. What had been a few errant flakes ten minutes before had turned into a real-deal, holy-shit-grab-your-skis-type of snow fall. It was coming down hard and I was right in the middle of it, with the dried browns of the elevated landscape turning to bright whites before I started climbing my way out of the second loop.
I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Hard. Awesome.
With my smile growing as the snow accumulated the ride became a little trickier. Rocks became slick. The trail was tough to find in wide-open spaces where the snow was piling up the most. And in every turn my tires would spray a stinging batter of gravel, snow and mud, like someone had taken the egg beaters out of the mixing bowl. Snow was so thick on my watch that I couldn't see what time it was as I was riding, and the white stuff was piling up on my glasses as well. Thinking it to be somewhat unsafe to not be able to see, I paused for a second to clean off the ol' specs. The problem was, gear-head that I am I was wearing only non-absorbent technical fabrics at the time. So rather than sop up the snow and clean my glasses off the way a cotton t-shirt would, my wicking top simply served to spread the wealth, so to speak, smearing the snow and mud all over the lenses ensure only the soupiest of visibility.
I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Hard. And my glasses look like the before picture in a windshield-wiper commercial. Awesome.
I spent the rest of the ride alternating between trying to see through my cataract-simulation lenses (dangerous because I couldn't see much of anything) and peering over the top of them, wincing like I had just taken a shot to the groin as my eyeballs were pelted with the icy snowflakes (dangerous because I couldn't see much of anything). The snow continued and I finished the final climb of the ride, my heart pumping and quads furious with me as I arrived back to the car, hoping that the snow caked to my bike would stay there so that I would look hard core as I drove down the mountain, through the canyon and back into town.
I often seek elements of the spiritual or sublime in my outdoor endeavours. Indeed, that search is what frequently calls me to the woods in the first place. And while there were flashes of the sacred in that high country bike ride, the best part of it was that it was, well, fun. I got dirty. I yelled "woo hoo". I went too fast and I loved the fact that it seemed like a bad idea to be out riding as the snow fell against my bare legs. If I can come away from every bike ride, run or hike with no greater insight than an appreciation of how much joy is to be found when traveling a dirt trail on a cool afternoon, then my debt to the mountains shall be endless.