I Hope Walden Never Gets a Stoplight

Hi everyone!

This is a reblog/repost from an article I wrote last year for waldencolorado.com.  According to my good friend Jamie who admins the site, it got thousands of hits in the first couple days.  I couldn’t have been happier!  Such a great place to grow up and some of the best people I still know!

walden

So please give the North Park website some love and click the link above!

Hewlett Gulch Trail

It all started with a $10 mountain bike I bought at a police auction from the university.

Or rather, turn back the clock about 25 years to a time when riding a bicycle was just about the only way I had to get around.  I started off with a steel frame BMX bike, probably built in the last 70s or early 80s.  It was a used Schwinn.  I had that thing loaded with bells, horns, a speedometer, and even a headlight.  Pedaling a heavy bike like that with a generator rubbing the front tire was something of a chore, but I used to put hundreds of miles on the thing in the summertime, just riding around my home town.  When I was 14 I graduated to a Huffy “mountain bike” which was more like a regular 10-speed with straight handlebars.  For the next few years, I continued to ride the heck out of that bike, even doing 50 and 25 milers for Boy Scouts.  I never wore a helmet and never thought much about riding once I got my license.

The day I turned 16, I got my driver’s license and didn’t touch that bike for two years, until college, where my roommate borrowed it most of the time.  For the next two decades, I always brought my bike with me with every move, but seldom did I ride.

In 2016, I acquired an honest to goodness mountain bike.  It was for sale at a police auction on campus where I work.  I started and ended the bid at $10.  The frame was solid, it had a disk break, 21 speeds, most of them low-end.  There wasn’t a manufacturer’s mark or serial number on the whole rig.  The only thing missing was a seat and a seat post, which I found a replacement for at a bike shop for $35.  With a tune-up and overhaul of the breaks and gears, I was into this bike for about $80.  Still not bad, considering my Huffy brand new was around $100 back in 1989.

Good tires, brakes, shocks, gears, and now a very nice seat, and I was ready to roll.  I added the bike rack to my Jeep and was ready to conquer some trails.

frankenstein
All this can be yours for $10

What they don’t tell you is that even though you might have pedaled hundreds of miles in your youth, and plenty of time at the gym, though beneficial, there is still no substitute for actually getting on a MTB trail and riding.  The first trail I rode was the Devil’s Backbone in Loveland, CO.  It was a challenging trail for a new beginner.  The terrain is a lot of volcanic rock that is exposed in striated patterns running diagonal to the actual trail most of the time.  There are lots of stops you have to make to accommodate hikers and dogs and other bikes.  I found that the twist gears on my handlebars, though advanced compared to the shimano thumb shifters on my ancient Huffy, were still not the best.  Bikes have advanced even beyond those devices in recent years, with thumb and trigger shifters which bring you up and down with a simple click, instantly.

After a couple scary moments on the trail, I decided that yes, I actually did need a helmet if I didn’t want my head cracked open.  I only rode a few miles, and felt like I was winded through much of it, but it was getting out more and I was ready to try out this new experience in other places.  I started switching my workouts over to stationary bike from eliptical and noticed muscles that hadn’t been worked in decades, screaming out in agony.

I started researching mountainbiking trails in Northern Colorado and came across a nice loop in the Poudre Canyon called the Hewlett Gulch Trail.  The following weekend, I loaded up my bike and headed over.  I probably looked out of place with what I affectionately call my Frankenstein bike against the Trek, Raleigh, and Giant crowd.  Which there were plenty of.  My bike likely has some of those parts. Someplace.  Acquired through questionable means I’m sure.

Starting out was easy.  The first 200 yards being downhill, until you hit the first water crossing.  When I was a kid and riding, if you needed more power, you only needed to stand up on the pedals and apply more force.  The problem with a decent mountain bike is the frame is so light that the added torque proves to be too much for the bike and it’s hard to keep the wheels where they need to be, which is on the ground.  You lose traction, you skid, you don’t go anywhere you need to go.  I learned this crossing the first creek. Then up the first hill.  What I had been missing at the gym during my training wasn’t building muscle to power through the hills, it was building endurance for when your legs just need to move that crank as quickly as possible in the lower gears.  This will let you creep up the trail.  It is exhausting.

By the fourth time across the same creek, my boots were soaked and my legs were on fire.  There were plenty of ups and downs, and at my skill level, I decided there was no shame in stopping and even less in just walking your bike.  When I came to a crossroads, I asked another person on the trail, another mountainbiker, which was the best way to go.  They had just come from the right fork and said there was a pretty challenging climb to the top of the hill if I went left, but it was a good mile or two of downhill after that until the trail looped around.  I decided to pick that way and soon found myself in an endless series of switchbacks, most of which I pushed the bike up when my legs got too tired to fly around the crank.  The path was grueling and where the grade was easier, the rocks were usually loose and unreliable on the switchbacks.  I did a lot of pushing.  I was sweating profusely, burning through my first bottle of water pretty quickly and still the climb continued.

bike
Made it, Ma! Top of the trail!

I don’t remember when I got to the top, but once there, I stopped to take pictures.  Eat my PB&J, a bunch of grapes, cheese, snacks, and anything else I had packed. There was nothing left even for the ravens that were hanging out, catching thermals from the sunny hillsides.

The ride back down was amazing.  It made pushing the bike up the hill totally worth it.  The shocks from some unidentified donor bike took the bumps and ruts and rocks, the softer caliper brakes on the back wheel eased my speed, while the grippier disk brake on the front provided quicker grabs when needed and even quicker releases.  I found myself flying down the hill at around 35 mph or maybe even faster (the speedometer on my old Schwinn would have come in handy).  The run ended at a stairway of crumbling rock.  I pushed the bike down this section and continued onward, managing ruts in the trail, getting my wind back just in time to start carrying the bike across the creeks again.

The only time I went over the handlebars was a hard stop just before a creek crossing, where my wheel stopped and I didn’t.  I was grateful for the helmet.  I tucked and rolled and laughed it off.  I met the fork in the road again and missed the rush of the wind and the sound of blood pumping in my ears.  I returned to my Jeep and secured Frankenstein, having survived the trip.  A little under eight miles in around three and a half hours.  I was beaten to a pulp, but ready for the next ride.

hgthike
Kids are the ultimate all-terrain vehicle.

I have ridden the trail again on a Trek bike, and found it no easier than with Frankenstein. I probably pushed it more than my bike because it was heavier.  Around 13 pounds vs. the 20+ of the Trek. Also, the seasons were different, and with that came other hazards on the trail.  The creeks were lower, but the grasses were taller and the ruts deeper. Which is why I wrecked twice on the Trek as opposed to once on my bike.  I have also hiked the trail up to the fork with my kiddos and gotten to see it on a more personal level.  It’s a relatively congested trail, but a great ride on a bike once the crowds break up.  There is plenty to see on foot as well, and being in a box canyon, the have the benefit of sun and shade intermittently, as well as the chaos of mountain weather, which can change every ten minutes.  People are probably the biggest obstacle, other than the switchbacks.  And the likelihood of hitting a rut wrong and crashing, which I did on the Trek bike.

I think the point I am trying to make is that if you use your resources and find equipment at a reasonable cost, you can make the best of your situation.  You can still have a great time without going broke doing it.  I’m planning on another trip up the HGT soon, probably just using Frankenstein, and being sure to pack enough food so I don’t bottom out on calories again.  And as always, I’ll be sure to wear my helmet.

For others ways to get out more, I suggest checking out police auctions, Craigslist, eBay, and other resources for decent, gently loved equipment someone just wants out of their garage.  And if you get some cobbled together pile of bike, if it works, great!  If not, at least you have a great story to tell, and that’s the best part about getting out more.

mtbtrail, hewlettgulch, mountainbike, gettingoutmore
Near the End of the Trail

 

The Sledding Hill

Growing up in a small mountain town in Colorado spoiled me.  There were some things that weren’t all that great.  Some winters were very hard, with any of four roads in and out of the county either getting snowed in or buried in avalanche at any given time.  The good part was that when we got snowed it, it just slowed life down a little bit.  We either hunkered down and conserved our resources for a few days, or we took advantage of what we had on hand.  Only on the coldest days or windiest nights were we discouraged.  There is something about hearing that cold, howling wind blow against the side of your house for months on end that begins to eat at you.  Some don’t come back from that. sledding3

Today, I can look outside my window and see green grass emerging from the brown of dormant lawns.  In just a few weeks, the first leaves of Spring will be sprouting on the trees.  The rains will come, bringing with them the rumbling crescendo of thunder.  The soft patter on the roof as you lie in bed, as the streets will be slick and shiny, clean once again after the salt and sand of a pathetic Front Range winter.  In the Front Range, it feels like we get four seasons.  Winter is a periodic event, with only a few major storms leaving much accumulation.  School is canceled for the kids upon the anticipation of a blizzard.  I have only seen two or three in twenty years that would count as such in my book.  A few days of the jet stream dipping down from Canada in December might be enough to put the mercury down to -20 or -30, but I remember days when as a kid, we sat in our classrooms, in our coats and snowpants, huddled around space heaters because the boiler had frozen.

Sometimes that wind would drift the roads over and kids out on the ranches would have to bunk with us townsfolk for a day or two, until the rotary plows cut new paths through the drifts.  Even efforts to use industrial espionage to sabotage the possibility of school went unheeded, when some students unplugged the engine heaters on the school buses the night before a cold snap.  The buses started late that morning and school went on as scheduled.

On days when it was so cold that even gasoline cars wouldn’t start, we headed to the local ice skating rink, a vacant lot that the Town would flood with a hydrant and we would skate on all day and sometimes well into the night.  Broken telephone poles were our benches.  A streetlight provided enough light to see after the sun went down.  Shovels and a plow on wheels were left for anyone wanting to be their own Zamboni when the snow fell.

Outside of town, if you had the right toys, you could go snowmobiling. When I was older, I went cross-country skiing. Very few of my friends were skiers.  Even downhill.  For the most part, we were a poor town, and in spite of our snows and mountains, it was an hour drive to the nearest slopes.  Instead there was ice-fishing, sometimes dog-sled racing, and for kids like me you could build snow forts in your front yard that would last until March.

snow
November 2017, Walden CO

My kids struggle with the school allowing recess.  Then there is the matter of safety.  Children are treated as fragile little eggs, and part of me thinks this is sweet because adults don’t want the kids to be hurt, but in reality it probably has more to do with litigation and insurance premiums than kissing boo-boos and wiping away crocodile tears for skinned knees.

I’ll spare you more of the walking to school uphill in three feet of snow stories (even though they are true).  When I was a kid, our recess was three times a day of sliding down a 100 yard hill at 30 mph on a thin sheet of plastic.  Sometimes we rode on our butts.  Sometimes we flew down the hill face first.  Once we got to the football field at the bottom, we ran all the way back up and did it again.  As a kid, in the winter, I probably ran up that sledding hill forty times a day or more.  There was the sting of icy powder on your skin, the teeth rattling impact of going over jumps we had made from packed snow, which turned to ice from the friction of hundreds of passes every day. There were glorious impacts, collisions with other sledders, a game where the elementary kids tried to take out high school kids as they walked up the hill to the lunch room, and enough concussions to make a sports medicine researcher giggle in anticipation like a kid at Christmas morning. sledding2

Any who know Walden in the winter know about the school hill.  To this day, kids and adults still sled on it, though it is more regulated during school hours.  The population of town has dwindled and the old elementary building has been abandoned.  All grades fit inside what used to be the Jr.-Sr. Highschool building.  A fair walk up the hill and across the football field and then up the main sledding hill again to find that exhilaration, now limited by rules of conduct, numbers of times you can sled, and other lists which just suck the life out of everything.  It’s no wonder the kids use their recess to text each other instead.

I try to get my kids to the Hill at least once a year.  We like to use truck inner tubes.  Sometimes plastic sleds work if the snow is right.  Coming up to altitude is about a 3,000 ft. difference.  At 42 my body protests, but the muscle memory of hundreds of runs up that hill spur me on.  Even if my lungs don’t cooperate and my heart races and my head swims, my legs are pushing me up that hill, eager for the next run down.  Even my dad in his 60s will sometimes sled with us.  My mom too.  Times are different in good ways.  When I was a kid, the idea of my grandparents in their 60s sledding down a hill was unimaginable.  People got old younger and stayed there in those days.  My kids don’t know what that was like, thank goodness.  Or maybe it’s like my legs.  Once you feel the pull downward and you are racing down the Hill, the years just fall away like chaff.  sledding

My youngest makes friends every time we go.  He has never met a stranger it seems, and the local kids are welcoming.  It’s the love of the Hill that binds them all.  There is no rivalry or distrust of outsiders.  They know only one thing, and that is the rush you get when flying down that hill, en masse or alone.  They don’t even know each other’s names as they shout out to each other with every pass.  Even my teenagers loved the Hill.  They were pulled kicking and screaming from their devices and peer groups and their occluded teen worlds into an uncertainty of ice and snow and a blissful approach to terminal velocity.  You are reminded you are alive because compared to your daily life, you feel one step closer to death.  The phones don’t even compare.

Social media on the Hill is snow and gravity.