It’s All in Your Head

There are those certain special sections on your local ride. You know them well. They’re sorta scary, but not really dangerous. But the line is difficult to find. Often you pedal up to the first part of a series of obstacles–waterbars, rocks, roots, drop-offs, etc.–and you hit it, determined to fly over the damn thing.

But it never happens. You stall and clip out, or just fall over, or pitch backward onto your keester.

Probably your best chance of clearing this section of trail was the first time you rode it, because you weren’t thinking too much. About how difficult the section is. How you’ve never cleared it. How your buddy clears it all the time–taking different lines each time! (The bastard.)

It’s in your head. Failure. Deep in there somewhere, the idea rests: I will never clear this section.

This idea informs your body, which informs your bike, which makes you get right up to the spot and you spin out, fall over, clip out, smash into something, and so on.

There are some sections of trail that used to be challenging and seemingly impossible, but gradually you figured out a way to get through them. Because always in your head you knew you could clear it. Failure was not ingrained. But these other sections are different. They own you.

There are many places on the local trails around Denver that are in my head. And I wonder if they will always be that way. Someday I’m going to reach my pinnacle of physical power and balance, meaning if I don’t clear them soon–like before I turn 50 or something–then I’ll never clear them.

First, I have to get the idea of failure out of my superior thinking machine. I must refuse to be owned by these meddlesome sections.

Here are two pics of such sections. They’re both at White Ranch, in Golden Colorado.

This one is right in the beginning of the route from the lower lot (going down is easy; going up sucks, as you have to balance and ride up the narrow ramp).

And here’s another. It looks simple enough, but the entrance–where that little waterbar crosses over–has always stumped me. And after that, I haven’t even thought about a possible line.

Into the Woods

Riding on Wednesday afternoon, the sky hung low and there was a misty fog in the air, and it was cold, around 50 degrees. More like the east or west coast than the usually dry, airy foothills west of Denver, which was nice for a change.

There were a few other riders out, but not many, and only a handful of hikers, so the gray and the solitude gave the ride a dreamy feel–which didn’t make it any less painful–Apex trail is a long grind no matter how you ride it. The section called Enchanted Forest is deeply treed, smooth, and up, up, up, and just to get to the small bridge that serves as an entrance of sorts, you have to climb for at least 30 minutes.

It was nice to pedal and suffer in the gray quiet. It was nice to feel the cold on my face and hands and feel the warmth of blood coursing through me. It was nice to just ride and feel confident–something I haven’t felt for a while. Being alone was nice, too, and it reminded me of something fiction writer Chris Offutt once wrote:

My life’s progression had been a toxic voyage bringing me to the safety of the flatland, where I began each day by entering the woods along the river. I’ve become adept at tracking animals, finding the final footprint of skull and bone.

Many people are afraid of the woods but that’s where I keep my fears. I visit them every day. The trees know me, the riverbank accepts my path. Alone in the woods, it is I who is gestating, preparing for life.

—from The Same River Twice

Breaking The Law

Not to be paranoid or anything, but it seems like there are lots of people out there who don’t like mountain bikers–people who see us a lazy, dangerous, and dumb.

Of course, there are always a few bad apples to make it seem so. But I certainly don’t fit that label. (I’m not dangerous. The other two? Well….) I stop for hikers, I do my best not to rip up the trail. I say a cheerful Hello! to everyone I pass.

But sometimes, when hikers hear me rolling up to them (slowly, I swear) and they practically throw themselves into the brush, thinking I’m going to run them over.

Some dorks do try and run people off the trail, other bikers included. Maybe that’s why we have a bad rap. Nice going guys.

Last week, there was a major controversy in Boulder when a park ranger discovered a guy riding down an “illegal” trail on Flagstaff mountain. The video (see below), I love: how the ranger is inspecting a rock (Phew, it’s undisturbed!), picking up a large fallen branch to check for damage (it’s a dead branch, dude, don’t worry). The histrionics at play here are quite silly. And if Boulder ever relaxed some of its mountain biking restrictions–and maybe spent some time educating bikers on the rules of the trail–then stuff like this wouldn’t happen.

I mean, can’t we all just get along?

23 Things I Thought About While Riding Yesterday

The ride: Chimney Gulch, Golden, Colorado.
Temp: around 50 degrees.
Wind: howling with gusts at least 40 mph.
Start time: 5:07 PM. Finish: 7:03 PM.
Vertical climbed: 1,735 feet.
Total miles:7.05 miles.

Thoughts, in no apparent order:

1. Dammit, it’s cold.

2. I can’t believe I forgot my socks and have to ride in argyle dress socks, not argyle bike socks.

3. I can’t believe bike clothing manufacturers make argyle biking socks.

4. Actually, argyle bike socks are pretty cool.

5. I’m actually singing a Taylor Swift song in time to my pedal strokes. My two daughters have got me hooked. (“I go back to December all the time….”)

6. I wonder if the garbage disposal is going to clog again any time soon.

7. I have a lot to do at work. Don’t think about work! Man, I have a long to do list. Stop thinking about work! (Repeat 147 times.)

8. I think there’s too much air in my tires. Funny. The English spell it tyres.

9. I need a quick release seat clamp. If only I knew how to measure the size of my, er, seat clamp.

10. Damn, it’s cold. And windy. I’m gonna blow off the trail and die!

11. I wish I could clear that long rock-step section. Someday. (Hope springs eternal doesn’t it?)

12. Man that’s a scary switchback. (Ride over it.) Man that was a scary switchback.

13. I can’t feel my toes in their thin wool argyle dress socks.

14. I’m glad I bought those new boxer shorts to sleep in. They’re really comfy.

15. I shouldn’t have spent money on that chicken burrito (black beans, medium salsa + corn salsa, cheese, no sour cream) at Q-Doba today. Ah what the hell. It’s payday! You deserve it, Mikey!

16. I wish I could sell my memoir/poetry book/novel idea/essay about trees/essay about going fishing with my grandfather.

17. Why the hell do we still have to be paying student loans? I hate hate hate student loans. (Pedal faster.)

18. Man, that’s a fun section of trail. I like how grippy the rocks are. I like that word. Grippy. Wonder if it’s in the OED.

19. I’m going to make this nasty switchback going up. I think I can, I think I can…. I can’t.

20. I wonder what I should have for dinner?

21. Chicken wings. Mmmm. Chicken wings. Now all I see in my mind’s eye is Homer Simpson. Mmmm. Donuts. Chicken wings and donuts. Mmmm.

22. Ride like freaking wind. No brakes–roll over it, dumbass! (No fear. No fear.)

23. Jesus, I’m cold. I can’t feel my fingers and toes. I can’t wait to get the car heat cranked. (Shiver, shiver.)


Last week I got the results from a recent blood test and found out that I have a cholesterol problem, which came as a total, utter, shock.

A problem to the tune of 240 for an overall reading; 170 for the bad (LDL) cholesterol reading.

It’s not like I’ve been eating 2 pounds of bacon dipped in mayonnaise daily or anything. My first reaction: WTF? I’m a healthy eater! I workout! It’s not fair!

Second reaction: I got a little bit scared.

What if I’m in the midst of a long lung-busting, heart-thumping climb and I have a massive coronary and keel over right then and there? I thought. No one should die wearing shorts with a big fluffy pad between their legs.

And then: on Sunday, March 20, while riding the Hogback/Matthews-Winters trails, my riding buddy Ed and I came to a particularly gnarly section that runs downhill toward Red Rocks. I came to a switchback that I never try to ride–I scoot up to it, then stop and dismount, then walk down–as Ed cruised around the switchback and kept descending.

“You’re crazy, you’re amazing,” I said, because I sometimes see what he does and still I can’t really understand how he rides over the stuff he rides over. He’s really an incredible talent. Honestly.

But then, something impossible happened.

As I was walking my bike down the series of rock ledges, I heard a weird noise ahead. When I looked up, I saw Ed endo–his legs flying up and over, followed directly by his rear wheel. I could tell that he was going relatively fast (but not out of control) and he’d crashed.

In 12 years of riding with Ed, I’ve seen him crash once. Until Sunday.

He was alive–and conscious–when I got up to him, but he was grimacing and holding his left arm, which he said hurt a bit. He couldn’t move it, he said.

Three hours later, in an ortho emergency room (brand new, about two miles away from the trail head–a brilliant decision by St. Anthony’s Hospital to build it there) I watched as two docs first put him out with some wonder drug–though his eyes were still open and blinking occasionally–and then they grabbed his arm and roughly, powerfully, “reduced” his dislocated elbow. (Basically, one doc held his shoulder steady while the other yanked the hell out of Ed’s forearm by interlacing his fingers with Ed’s and levering it out, with his elbow against Ed’s biceps.)

The sound I heard during the process reminded me of the sound my collarbone made when I broke it skiing some 18 odd years ago. A gravelly, crunching sound, which was both cool and totally horrifying.

I haven’t gone for a technical trail ride since, and I am wondering how it’ll go when I do. Part of me thinks I’ll be scared. Way scared. And tentative, which is always bad. And part of me thinks I’ll just be my old self–and if there’s a section that’s dangerous, I’ll maybe try it on the way up, and probably walk it on the way down, if I’ve never ridden it before.

But then again, the stakes are high and I am suddenly more aware of that fact with everything I do (and eat, for cripessakes). I have kids, a wife, a mortgage. I’m getting older and am probably losing some strength, power, and flexibility. And I have freaking high cholesterol.

I am, as the saying goes, trying to embrace my mortality, though I really don’t want to. It’s not the sweetest of hugs, I have to say.

I’m popping my omega-3 pills and I’m wearing my helmet, that’s for sure.

Here’s a pic of Ed in the emergency room.

And here’s one of Ed a few days before, on a climb.

Mixed Taste, Deconstructed

Two Saturdays ago I had the wonderful privilege of being a speaker at Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Mixed Taste—On Ice” lecture series. Simply put, two speakers on vastly differing topics are randomly chosen to pair up and talk about their stuff. Then at the end, during a Q&A session, the audience and speakers are free to try and link them up. Which sometimes is a no-brainer, and sometimes a real stretch. (Last time, I spoke on Sylvia Plath and my partner talked about snub-nosed monkeys. The best question of the night was “Do monkeys ever commit suicide?” Brilliant! And weird.)

So the talk I’d prepped and obsessed and researched over was: Deconstructed Mountain Biking. Basically taking the idea and sport of mountain biking and attempting to find a true definition of it, and in that process uncovering the true meaninglessness of it. Once you deconstruct something, it ends up being rendered totally empty and devoid of knowledge.

I was paired with a UC Denver professor and expert on Frank Lloyd Wright.

Some basic truths I posited, then tore apart:

  • Mountain biking used to be a utilitarian act;
  • Mountain biking is language;
  • Each mountain bike is ride is a journey, during which you see miraculous things.

And so on. These statements are true, and also not true. After all, it’s just riding a bike, usually in a big loop. You never really get anywhere. And that’s where the beauty of it rests.

So, for your completely out-of-context enjoyment, I give you some powerpoint screengrabs.

My favorite made-up mountain biking words are granny, puckerfest, tacoing, and, of course, garaging (see earlier post).


The fathers of mountain biking. From left to right: Gary Fischer, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey. Groovy, eh?

Lastly, my riding bud Ed, cranking up a series of stairs at a local ride–the HogBack. Impossible for me, very possible for Ed. (I need to log more hours, I guess.)

Bike Sharing is Fun!

A few weeks ago, while in Washington, D.C. at a conference, I had the great joy of finally trying out a bikeshare bike, DC-style. They were around all summer here in Denver, but I never got around to it.

Too bad, because it was a blast. It’s like becoming a green, carbon-snarfing, cool-nerd traveler. What a great combination of personalities.

Of course, it was freezing cold, and of course, traffic was gnarly. And of course, one time I had to grind it out a long steep hill—in corduroys, with a scarf around my neck.

But I got where I wanted to go within the 30 minute-time limit, and so I owed them nothing. Well, nothing except the $5.00 one-day membership to the program.

The bike itself rode totally swell. They’re heavy—or shall I say sturdy—and have a simple three-speed shifting pattern, though I kept forgetting which way went high or low. This engendered some pedal stomping and some crazy-legged speed pedaling at a few points.

But if you’re ever in a bikeshare city and need to get from point A to point B, I highly recommend trying out a bike. It’s so much more pleasant than a cab. And you don’t need a lock.

And you’ll be a totally cool green nerd. Like me.

January is Warm–and Arty

I rode Green Mountain yesterday around sunset–it was 68 degrees in Denver, which is absolutely nuts–and found myself viewing every panorama as contemporary art. Seems like I saw some Pollock on the trail, some Warhol in the parking lot, some Dali in the sky.

Maybe I’m art-obsessed because I’ll be giving a talk entitled “Deconstructed Mountain Biking” at Denver Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Mixed Taste–On Ice” lecture series this February 18. The web site says it’s sold out, but I don’t believe it–if it is, it’s due to my partner’s lecture topic. He’ll be talking about Frank Lloyd Wright, which is wonderful because I love Frank Lloyd Wright, and used to live down the street from one of his houses in Buffalo, New York. One of my cousins currently lives directly adjacent to the Darwin Martin House.

Here’s some photo-mountain-biking-Jackson-Pollock for ya, which I’m calling “Pollock In Weeds”:

And here’s a shot of the sunset.

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