Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Shorter of Breath

When I was in college, I tried to read one hundred pages per day. Occasionally, however, I started a book that was so good that I forced myself to read it slow, put it down every ten pages, and bury it under schoolwork so I wouldn't be tempted to read more. Those were the books I loved, that changed me, that I wanted to read for a lifetime and never finish.

Until recently, no trail has moved me in the same way, but I've spent four days in Crested Butte pushing my easiest gear, covering ground as slowly as possible. I was a saturated sponge trying hopelessly to suck in more, to internalize a liquid that was somehow making me a better sponge.

Four days, countless miles, many pizzas, more beers. Flowers. More flowers than can be described. I rammed the things I saw and the smells of the forest deep down into myself like a ball into a musket in order to keep time from passing, and yet here it is, the weekend's end, time to return to the city. At the thought of this, something about the size and density of a musket ball catches in my throat.

I had many favorite albums before I bought Dark Side of the Moon in eighth grade, but none that I'll admit to liking. Dark Side of the Moon was the first album I loved for its own merit and not because I was a weird kid who liked pretty bad Alternative. In Crested Butte, I've encountered Dark Side of the Moon everywhere. In other words, if I hadn't already fallen in love with this place, the sirens are singing. Everything under the sun is in tune.

Snodgrass: Pause
If other mountain bike trails were candy stores, Snodgrass would be Wonka's factory. A part of me will never finish that trail, and is sitting there still, amongst aspen and lupine. My trail partner and life buddy Rebecca addressed me several times on that ride, but I could not hear her. There were too many flowers. All of that said, don't get too distracted by the scenery, as there are a few aspens that will help you trim those 785 handlebars down to about 730.

The Lower Loop: Rewind
When my trail partner and life buddy Rebecca and I made it to Crested Butte in October, the Lower Loop was the only trail we rode before an impending snowstorm let loose. It was every bit as beautiful the second time, only this time it was lupine blue instead of aspen orange. It was on this trail that we experienced our first Crested Butte traffic jam, which is where you encounter other riders on a trail after five o' clock on a weekday. It was just like sitting behind a bus on Speer Boulevard for forty minutes. The trail put me in a state so intensely zen that I actually enjoyed watching an NBA game while eating a burrito as big as my head.

The 401: Fast Forward
On the second day, we rode a trail that I've read about but was not at all prepared for. This is not kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown. This is climbing on a dirt road through a valley so scenic it would kill those weak of constitution to above 11,000 feet and ripping a mountainside open with one long gash that's less than one foot wide, traversing a sixty-degree slope. On one hand, it's paradise.

On the other hand, paradise just isn't this good.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort: Play
Forty-pound bike. 200mm of travel. Ski lift. I learned more about steering and jumping a bicycle in one day than I had in three years. It was:

Lupine: Skip Back
Day four began with an endless two-mile descent through Elysium on the way to breakfast. The only thing better than riding your bike to breakfast is riding your trail bike to breakfast. The trail is similar to Snodgrass, with its gentle decline and purple flora. When you arrive in town, whatever is not right in your life will be lost, just another flower in the dust behind you.

Doctor's Park: Record
About twenty minutes southeast of town, this was the ride I most often heard talked about by the locals. "It's worth it," they kept saying. "It's worth it." Worth what? "The Jedi Trees make that trail so worth it." The Jedi Trees? I remember a lot of Stormtroopers dying in the forest of Endor. Death by impact fireball puts a sour cap on a pretty good long weekend.

What are those Jedi Trees worth? One hour climbing on a washboard. Another thirty minutes on a "fire road" that is more difficult to climb than a descending escalator. False summits. Sand. More climbing. Then the climbing gets steep.

Was it worth it?

Jedi Daniel is ready for the swamp. The force is strong with this one.
Suffice it to say that I didn't have the willpower to stop and take a picture. Even though I knew I would want to write about this trail more than any other, I could not force myself to stop. I've recorded images of every inch of this trail in my brain, and you are free to use your Jedi mind tricks to view them.

Here's how my trail partner and life buddy Rebecca described the ride afterwards.

"Well first there was these pointy rocks that were all covered in powdery moon dirt, and I was up in the air forever because of the whole moon gravity thing, and then I finally landed and there was this part like fishooooo fishooooo fishooooo where things went by that I didn't know what they were, and then there was this wreck I almost had, and then those trees where all the Stormtroopers died were flying by so fast, and then we were going even faster so fast that we went to plaid, and that unicorn with the golden horn appeared, and then there was that part that was like buddabuddabuddabudda and I ate this bee because I was trying to slow myself down with my mouth like a parachute, and the bee didn't even care, it was like, hey lady! but I couldn't hear it because I was going so fast!"

I grew up in a small Colorado mountain town where there wasn't much to do other than read and explore the wilderness. Watching the mountains change color as the sun rises, or a bird pin a spot in the air on a gusty day--these are activities familiar to me. Maybe it's that I've been away for too long. Maybe it's my age. Whatever it is, as I inched through the mountains of Crested Butte, I couldn't escape the feeling that, for years, someone else has been living my life in this small mountain town while I've been captive elsewhere. There isn't much I can do about the dirt from which I came, but it'll be my failure if this dirt I am covered in now at the end of a very long weekend isn't the dirt to which I'll someday return. 

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