Aspen’s other million-dollar asset: Cycling
About an hour into a stunning backcountry mountain bike ride off Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain Road in Colorado, my friend and I stopped in a broad valley to savor, well, everything: the rugged climb up an old dirt mining road, the meandering single track that led through verdant aspen stands whose leaves would soon crisp to golden, and the rip-roaring, steep descent into the broad valley where we now stood under a cool September sun and a clear blue sky. Endorphins surging, I raved about the quality of the mountain biking. The trails seemed to go on forever, the dirt was tacky and fast. There were no crowds. The scenery was sublime. And, best of all, we had a range of options that would allow us to lengthen or shorten our ride as we saw fit.
While I waxed on, my friend, who was born and raised in Aspen and is now raising his own kids there, smiled patiently. I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. What was, for me, easily the best ride of my summer was, for him, a jaunt in his backyard.
And when I say jaunt, I mean it. While I huffed and sweated up the climb, he kept up a steady conversation without any extra effort, reminding me that, in the hierarchy of fitness, there is “out of shape,” “somewhat fit,” “pretty solid” and “Aspen fit.” I fell somewhere between “somewhat” and “pretty,” and the effort was difficult for me. We planned to ride 21 miles, and I was worried about actually finishing. I was also determined to make it, in part because I was gobsmacked by the wonderful riding.
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