Aren’t your tires too skinny? asks a woman who is anything but. I am furiously pedaling uphill and sweat dripping down my forehead seriously impairs my ability to fire a smart retort. Everything that comes to mind is flagged as rude by my internal filters. She looks like she has never been on a bike that hasn’t collapsed under her but we are in Steamboat Springs and everyone is an expert.
Our first encounter with mountain biking took place in Killington, Vermont. As hikers forced to jump out of the way of cyclists careening down a steep slope, we didn’t care for it at all. It took us ten years and a visit to Mammoth Lakes, California where we chanced upon an easy trail around Horseshoe Lake that we started to consider the challenges of dirt roads and single tracks. A trip to Sedona, Arizona cemented our new found enthusiasm: Red Rock Pathway is a veritable paradise for a budding mountain biker.
As much as I feel utterly original in my recent choice of activity, I am in fact a part of a growing trend of middle-aged people discovering mountain biking. What makes me stand apart is my apparel: an everyday tee and shorts instead of a neon Lycra outfit with obligatory tight pants. I also completely lack fat tires, specialized water bottles, full suspension and daredevil attitude. But as long as I don’t mind attracting unwanted attention on unpaved surfaces I am allowed to keep my touring bike.
In the meantime, finding ourselves in Colorado again and looking for a respite from hiking 14ers, we decide to give Hartman Rocks in Gunnison a try. I am a bit apprehensive since Gunnison is scant 28 miles from Created Butte that considers itself a birth place of mountain biking and descriptions of its bike trails have a distinct whiff of the younger sibling syndrome but Hartman Rocks comes with a warning to close gates to ensure proper livestock management and I am sold. We’ve hiked with cows before, but racing cattle is a new one.
Sure enough we meet cows on the trail called Sea of Sage but they are not inclined to compete. Instead they majestically walk away into shrubbery. I feel sorry for them as the name of the trail proves to be uncannily apt - there is precious little grass among sagebrush.
Check out this trip to see where we went for bike rides over the last 12 months. And take it from me: while acquiring all the cool gear might be fun, it is not a requirement for getting off the paved road from time to time. As long as you have thick skin you don’t need fat tires.