In this issue of HighCountry, we explore a few of the more off-the-beaten-path places to bum around. Cool thing about bummin’ around is you never know what you’ll run into. Kids know this much better than older folks. They understand bummin’ around on foot is one thing; but on bikes – one of the best inventions ever, especially after a long winter cooped up in school – it’s time to roll. Spring… summer… the open road is calling. Kids never need an excuse to drum up adventure. We never did.
We weren’t just a rag tag pack of grade school gutter rats; we had style and rated ourselves pretty high on the cool scale. We had buzz cuts, heinies, no hair to slow us down, the perfect cut for cruising the ‘hood in summer. But cooler yet was when we geared up to get bike-wild. Find an old football or military helmet, rubber band your right pants leg to keep them from getting caught in the chain or sprocket, maybe some thin riding gloves borrowed from your sisters’ closet, shoulder pads, knee pads, elbow pads, anything to give you a little cushion. The bikes were all one-speed – no shocks, no handle bar brakes or gear shifters – with chain brakes where you press down backwards with one foot to stop or, if you really crank down, you could lock up the back tire in a skid. We rode whatever we had, mostly old junkers handed down from siblings. Anything was good enough. But no cards clipped with clothes pins to the spokes; even though it made a nice noise, that was kid stuff.
My ride was a “girl’s bike,” no top tube from the seat forward. Originally my mom’s ride, it had a big old seat built for comfort, a chipped blue frame, and best of all, super fat tires, the fattest tires around. Our dog Corky, a tire nipper, especially loved fat tires – a big target.
Sometimes we chased the mosquito fogging truck until we got too light-headed or we’d pedal to the gravel pits for a swim or we’d launch off the bikes into lawn bags full of clippings or leaves and it would make brilliant popping sounds when the bags exploded. One guy – who never looked where he was going – regularly slammed into parked cars, setting off a volley of laughter. We had enough laughs in us to supply the whole town. But one place we still wanted to ride was Gooseberry Park, a maze of wicked, hilly trails weaving through trees down by the river.
Older kids (12 and 13) used to ride there, flying off packed dirt jumps, sailing like E.T. through the trees. They’d always harass us, telling us we’re too young, that we’re gonna die if we tried what they were doing. And even though we half-believed them, it didn’t stop us; it made us want to do it even more.
So we went, warming up by gently rolling over the smaller jumps, getting a feeling for what it would be like to go faster and higher. A breeze came up off the riffles on the river, washing across our faces as we got braver and braver. After enough practice runs, we worked up the courage to ride over to Death Row – the longest bike jump, we were pretty sure, in the world. It looked big, scary big, bigger than we’d ever imagined. But we figured if we hit it just right and survived, it would catapult us straight into the Gooseberry Flying Hall of Fame.
Our first rider – knowing the longer you wait, the scarier it gets – shot off. He looked pretty good going down – not great, but okay. At the lip of the jump he lifted his front tire, barely: a whole lot of drama and theatrics trying to make it look better than it was. But we cheered; he made it. Funny thing about cheering: it’s not always such a great thing, as it may urge you to do more than you planned, take you past your comfort level and way past your skill level. But then somebody said Go for it, and I shot off, my heart pounding in my head. A couple of older kids snickered. They knew I wasn’t fooling anybody, especially myself.
At first it wasn’t bad – too steep and way too fast, a little weakness in the knees and queasiness in the stomach, but not bad. I was wondering what exactly the it in Go for it means. My mind was whirling as fast as the whirring of the fat tires on the packed dirt when I suddenly hit the lip of the jump and it became clear: It meant going for broke, shooting for the stars, going for all the marbles. I was flying so far out of my league I imagined kids talking about it for years, telling their grandkids about it. Then I remembered where I was, but it was too late. When I crash-landed, launching over the handlebars and augered into the dirt, I saw all the stars I was shooting for, marbles richocheting in my head. Just before landing, I had closed my eyes, not wanting to see how bad it was going to be. When I opened them, pretty sure I had escaped with only a concussion through my cracked helmet, the trees were spinning as fast as the tires on the broken bike. The frame was busted in half. I could feel the crunch of dirt and grit between my teeth – pretty good dirt, it seemed, if it were in the garden instead of my mouth. A bloody nose, scuffed up chin. Hard to believe one kid could create such a dust storm.
“Holy crap,” my friend said, pedaling up. “You really ate it.”
He was right of course, I did. But for a moment, in mid-air, I felt like I had touched something pure, something almost primeval – like maybe first flight. Or maybe even further back in time, like the first crash landing attempting flight.
Then, looking at the bike busted in half, he said, “Man, are you gonna get it.”
And as the dust and dizziness settled, I could see it all clearly. The it in Go for it isn’t far from the it in You’re gonna get it.
If I didn’t want my mother to kill me, I was going to have to come up with a whopper story.
Whether you ride the Rio Grande Gorge rim, rip downhill, cruise the South Boundary Trail on a super lightweight mountain bike or fly the friendly skies on your mom’s old junker, have a great ride.
Welcome to the southern Rockies.
— Joe Haukebo, Publisher
From HighCountry, summer 2015.