Big Fat Tire: Don’t take your time on a mountain bike for granted
September 16, 2016
I grew up in Indiana. It was a good place to grow up in a lot of ways: My neighborhood was full of kids and we played all the games you'd expect kids to play, running around until our folks would yell out the back door that it was time for supper.
Although we ran around, it had more to do with the energy level of youth than anything else. Indiana wasn't steeped in the same culture of physical fitness we see in Colorado, in general, and mountain towns, in particular. One of the first things one of my sisters remarked when she came to visit was (PC alert), "There aren't any fat people."
Here in the High Country, many of us (maybe most of us) wrap ourselves up in an athletic identity. It's not all of us by any means, but even if we're not racer types, we hike, we bike and we slide down (and often up) snow by our preferred method. "Sedentary" is not a descriptive word for most of us, and even those of us who are somewhat on the lower end of the sliding athletic scale are probably in better shape than the average person in this country.
Yes, many of us wrap our identity in what trail we biked or hiked or ran. Even the motorized toys some of us play with require a fair amount of effort. (I certainly got a great workout the last time I tried to ride a snowmobile — I got stuck or rolled onto the side so many times that I got a burley, all-body workout wrestling it upright and back onto firm snow). We don't need to be elite-level athletes to take pride in staying fit — and being unsatisfied when we're not.
Over the years, some of my friends have to come to grips with declines in athletic ability. Usually it's due to injury, sometimes it's due to advancing age (the statistics don't lie) and sometimes it's due to illness. My advice to those friends is usually sympathetic platitudes along the lines of, "You'll get through it," or, "Focus on what you can do," and things like that.
This summer, I've been the one facing some health issues that have me wondering if I'll ever think of myself as an athlete again. Like most times when we offer advice and empathy to our friends, it's not the same until you experience it yourself. You don't realize just how much your ego is wrapped up in this movie you've been playing in your mind for so many years, a movie starring you. I'm hopeful that with medical assistance — be it chemical, therapeutic, spiritual, or mechanical, as in surgery — my life as an athlete (such as I've ever been, which has hardly been elite) isn't over.
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But what if it is? For a long time, I've told myself how fast or how hard I've played isn't the point. I've had a lot of grand adventures in places so beautiful, so humbling, so awe inspiring that they took my breath away. No photos posted on social media can ever capture the feeling of those experiences. The point is just being outdoors, in a beautiful place with friends. That's easy to say until your healthy and fit friends are waiting a ridiculous amount of time for you on a ride. They're your friends and they're supportive, but still, it's all an ego thing, and the ego doesn't like being crushed. How does one readjust to a new reality? I have to say, I don't have any good answers to that question.
Now that it's me, I can say that I finally understand. I understand that it's easy to say, "You'll be fine," "You'll find other things to do" and the worst of them all: "Life goes on." Indeed it does, but it's not as easy as I'd like. One thing is for sure: I've always taken good fitness and good health for granted. I took youth for granted.
If I have a moral to this story, it's that we should never take our health, our ability to have adventures, or our ability to charge up and down mountains for granted. Soak in all those moments, drink them like fine wine or cold water on a hot day, but don't get wrapped up too tightly in an identity. Don't grasp at what you think you are, because it's all, as the Buddhists say, impermanent.
OK, enough philosophy and sympathy fishing. It's fall. The aspens are at their full, golden glory and peaks have been dusted with snow again. We have maybe a month left to ride here in Summit County, so get out there. Get out and ride an aspen-lined trail, especially in the morning or evening, when the sunlight diffusing through the yellow leaves practically permeates your pores. It's fleeting, it's impermanent — do it now.
Fall road-trip season will quickly be upon us. My fall workload is usually so busy that I don't get much free time for road trips until mid-October, which is about perfect for Fruita, Moab, Salida or the Front Range.
Fall trips are the best, at least in my opinion. They're the last hurrah — the final bow. One reason the fat-bike-in-snow bug hasn't bit me is I'm usually ready to get off the bike. This year has been different with the lack of saddle time, but usually, I'll have ridden so much that I'm ready for a break. Those fall trips are a sweet way to say to my bike, "Until we meet again in the spring, m'love." (OK, it's not as weird as that, but you get the idea.)
My soapbox polemic: Fall can be like melting-snow season, so don't forget your melting snow trail etiquette. Give trails that are vulnerable to damage a little time to dry out, or ride in the morning when they're still frozen. Most of our newer trails are designed well enough to take some use when wet, but if you leave ruts (or if you find yourself riding off the trail and turning the singletrack to single-and-a-half-track) it might be time to find somewhere else to go.
That's all I've got for now. Enjoy the autumn!
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