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Spokeheads Anonymous: Aspen Chapter, Episode One

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

It started innocently enough. What could really go so wrong on a family vacation, unless you’re rafting on The River Wild, and Kevin Bacon is your raft guide? He wasn’t, and we weren’t. I had no reason to fear an identity crisis; that someone might look at me and think I was a bike rider -or Spokehead, as we climbers affectionately call the majority of the population that mountain bikes or road bikes, up and down and all around the Rocky Mountains around Aspen, Colorado.

I blame my upbringing.

Growing up in Davis, California, there wasn’t much to rebel against: college town, Earth Day celebrations, flat as the world was once thought to be, with more bikes than cars; pretty clean living during those formative years. Bikes were the mode of transportation, but ever since my first Go-Kart, at age 9, I liked to drive. So I decided to rebel against biking; though I don’t think anyone really noticed. I felt free driving out onto those county roads into the farmland and rice paddies and nothingness, listening to any manner of 80’s cringe rock and thinking I was way cooler than I could have ever possibly been, in 1986. I never really took to the whole biking thing. I’m a runner, I’m a swimmer, I’m a skier, I’m climber. I’m not a Spokehead.

I blame the family reunion.

There were these beach cruisers at the condo in Sunriver, Oregon. They came with the house and there were enough for all 8 of us. Then there were these super -cruisy bike paths that took you to the river, the stables, the marina, the pool, the bar…pretty much no reason to drive, or walk, anywhere. And they weren’t even mountain bikes, so I had no real reason to fear their impact on my sense of self.
But after a few days of tours around the roundabouts - look, family, Big Ben. Parliament - I started to veer the beach cruiser towards the mountain bike paths. There were a few rocks on the trail to the waterfalls and I stood on the pedals, up off my seat, occasionally getting off the bike and walking. That’s the beauty of not calling yourself a biker - you can do things like walk your bike at the slightest provocation, and ride beach cruisers in dresses, on mountain bike single track, without losing face.

Truly, I blame it on the single track.

We took a guided tour, called the Paulina Plunge, to various natural waterslides across river rock and dirt trails via a 6 mile downhill “ride”; the ride consisted of controlling your speed on 5 miles of downhill, and not hitting the person in front of you. I mastered the subtleties of rear and front braking – but so did my 6-year old nephew. It was a “ride” for the whole family. You did not need to be a Spokehead to get to the cooler full of Dr. Pepper waiting at the end.

But then the guide stopped us, just before the last section. The next few miles would require actual leg motion, vs. masterful speed control. He told us that single track was a mountain biker’s dream, that they live for that sort of thing; and he prefaced the next section of the tour with words like “nature” and “stillness” and “enjoy.” Then he let us loose, one at a time, to ride this last stretch solo with enough distance between us that we felt we were communing with the dirt and the rocks and the meandering and not simply avoiding the tire in front of us.

I found myself strangely fascinated. I still had to focus on the brakes and my hands hurt from overgripping - kind of like in climbing - and I needed to mind the occasional rock tributary; but the overall zoning-out let my mind relax and wander. I started to think about many things, most of which had nothing to do with the ride. I noticed tree limbs, I heard birds and the occasional mysterious rustling, I saw chipmunks and butterflies darting across the airspace and I felt clouds; and the fact that I didn’t have to totally concentrate- like I do when I’m climbing - allowed me a sort of surround-sound meditation.

By Day 5 with the family, I needed some alone time. Everyone did, actually. My 6 year-old nephew said to my 70 year-old mother: “You should go for a ride along the river, Nana. You might find it relaxing. No one complaining, saying, ‘I’m tiiired!’” Aside from the fact that he’d changed his name to “No one”, the nephew formerly known as Nate has some keen insights; “No one” is an old soul, and I decided to take his advice.

We were to reconvene in a few hours for a final family outing to the waterfalls, this time via car. I opted to ride the bike, solo, and meet the crew at the bridge.

I retraced the beachcruiser-unfriendly jeep road, from the first trip to the falls, and then hit the same rocky single track that wound by the river. Solo this time, I went a little faster, and didn’t dismount quite as much. And on the way back, I decided to follow the trail all the way along the river instead of cutting back on the road.

It was some blissful single track. No hills, up or down, just a straight line through the woods, deeper and deeper into single track country. There was no need for gear changes, a good thing since the beach cruiser knows not of shifting, and I soon felt something remotely akin to runner’s high. For awhile I thought I might be lost, but I didn’t really have anywhere to be and long stretches of daylight to get there; so I just kept riding.

Beachcruising in the MountainsBeachcruising in the Mountains

The track finally spilled out onto the paved and orderly bike path system that winds around Sunriver. I felt a little disappointed. I kind of wanted to be a little lost, a little farther from the condo, wondering where the next bend might go and having no choice but to keep riding. And, I wanted to get to the bottom of the next mysterious rustling sound.

Home now in Aspen, Colorado, I haven’t told my fellow climbers about the whole bike thing. I’m still not sure what to make of it. I’m not overly concerned. I haven’t noticed anyone yelling obscenities -Spokehead! - as I ride to town. Or to the bike shop to get a tune.

And a new bike chain for my 12-year old Bianchi Timberwolf that I leave outside all winter and forget about until summer, when it’s fun to pedal around in my flip flops.

When I rode my bike to town the other day, I bought a bike lock.

Just because as little as I use it, I’d hate to have to buy another 12-year old Bianchi Timberwolf rusted to the gills but still miraculously able to shift into whatever gear I might need should I ever, you know. Veer onto an actual trail.

Now I do own more than my fair share of neon, and spandex - but for a totally unrelated reason. Called the 80’s. Come to think of it, aside from the occasional White Trash Party or Guns and Roses tribute band, these blinding traffic-stoppers just don’t see enough daylight.

Hmm.