Banged Up: Greek Tragedy in Crested Butte

Who remembers what Achilles' downfall was? HInt: it wasn't his heel.
Who remembers what Achilles’ downfall was? HInt: it wasn’t his heel.

During a recent ride on the Carbon and Green Lake trails (where I had unfinished business of sorts from the year before) I clearly (so clearly!) remember having three distinct thoughts which would later prove ironic.

(I looked up ‘irony’ to make sure I was using it correctly and learned about dramatic irony, which is when the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. Not sure if anything out there knew if events would transpire as described below but if so it must have been a funny few hours.)

 

Thought number one: gratitude.

While pedalling up an easy incline leading to Ohio Pass I was thinking about the Breck 68, a race I was in three weeks before. During every prolonged climb of that race I experienced pain in my lower back, and the pain got worse as the race progressed until it was constantly screaming. It wasn’t bad enough for me to stop but it was extremely uncomfortable.

As I neared Ohio Pass it occured to me how lucky I am – that the pain I suffered during the Breck 68 was the worst pain I’ve encountered in years, and that I wasn’t experiencing anything even hinting at pain during the current climb. And that while at 42 I notice my body deteriorating, I’m still able to do most things pain-free. And, lastly, I thought about one of my best friends and how he’s experienced back pain since we were in high school.

I thought, “I am so lucky to not suffer severe pain.”

 

Thought number two: hmmm…

After descending from the Ohio Pass and being treated to gorgeous views of the Ohio Valley, I turned onto the Carbon Trail. Crossed some talus fields – expanses of ragged fist-sized rocks that do not make for the most pleasant riding – and began ascending. After a few miles the trail was unrideable – sometimes it was too deeply rutted, sometimes too steep – so I got off and pushed my bike onward and upward. I have grips on the end of my handlebars that extend forward. Here’s the left one:

Grip, or tree hook?
Grip, or tree hook / figurative heel spear?

The trail we (my bike and I) were slowly making our way up was overgrown in spots and every so often my handlebars would hook on some tree or bush and because of my fancy climbing grips I was forced to stop and unhook, as opposed to the trees just grazing past if I didn’t have the protrusive grips.

I wondered, “Might this at some point be more than a small annoyance?”

 

Thought number three: look at me! Look at me!

After an hour of pushing the bike we reached the summit of the trail. Excited both to be riding again and to be going downhill, off we went. There were a lot of loose rocks and the descent called for some skilled line-picking and I was doing a pretty good job, at a pretty good pace.

Pleased with myself it occured to me, “I am SO shredding.”

 

Tragedy, in the inevitable sense?

Flying down the trail at a speed that is one of the reasons people mountain bike, the fun stopped abruptly fewer than five seconds after that last thought as my left handlebar grabbed a tree. Thrown from my bike in a manner you can possibly imagine if you picture a left handlebar getting snagged, once I finally landed my right hip bore the brunt of the fall, slamming hard into the ground. I made an instinctive split second assessment of what just happened, then the pain began – or at least that’s when I noticed it. Once it began it was intense enough for me let loose a pretty loud cry, something like “AAARGGGH.”

And then another one, similar, right after that: “UNGHHHH.”

And then one more, slightly different: “FUCKING HUBRIS!”

Somehow even in that moment the correlation between my just-previous self-congratulatory thought and my then-current state on the ground was immediately obvious. It was definitely the worst pain I’ve felt in years and the first time I’ve eaten it like that in awhile (most of my spills are ridiculous slow motion affairs – too tentative going downhill or too unskilled going up). Although I couldn’t move my right leg, something told me that I was probably okay, relatively speaking. I pushed myself to sitting, repositioned my leg using my arms, and sat there waiting for pain to subside and movement to return (hopefully).

After a few minutes I found that though my hip and leg were not working as I’m accustomed, they were functional. My bike was fine, lying 10 feet behind me and apparently not suffering any pain at all. I walked it back a hundred yards so we could ride through the not-that-narrow opening between two trees where I had simply lost concentration.

 

Not-quite Odyssey home

The rest of the ride consisted of (too much) more hike-a-bike and some shreddable downhill (which I feel I shredded, hip pain and hubris notwithstanding – shredder’s gotta shred, right?), much of it through clearings full of the purple flowers that appear everywhere in Crested Butte. There was a hiking detour available to swim in Green Lake which I originally planned to do – I even brought a small towel – but by the time I reached the turnoff I was more concerned with getting home before dark, especially since I had taken my light out of my bag right before my ride, around 2:30. The Great Playwright didn’t end up incorporating that potentially juicy plot development and I got home without incident.

I saw zero other riders on the Carbon and Green Lake trails, most likely owing to the amount of walking involved. It was a ride worth doing once: there was a stellar view of Mount Crested Butte and the town itself; early on there was a plaque describing a stone wall visible way way up high on a ridge and its history as related to the South Park railway; I got up close to Whetstone Mountain…

Rising moon over Whetstone Mountain from the summit of the Carbon Trail
Rising moon over Whetstone Mountain from the summit of the Carbon Trail

…which I now see often from aways off and get to think, “I was there;” and the downhills on the Green Lake Trail were, as I mentioned, shreddable. But overall value was not enough to make a return trip, something I can’t say for other ride I’ve made in Crested Butte.

As far as riding goes, the next day I pedaled around a parking lot for a minute and determined I was in no shape to ride so I took the day off and limped around town. Did basic bike maintenance at the so-friendly Alpineer. Hung out at Camp 4 Coffee. Ate ice cream at Third Bowl (cinnamon cayenne honey, new all-time favorite flavor). Texted my acupuncturist in Boulder who recommended internal and external arnica. Discovered that in addition to the pain in my hip just about every muscle in both legs and both arms were sore, some sort of whole-body traumatic reaction.

And then the day after that I went for a bike ride and felt totally fine – great, even. Which brings me back to gratitude: the soreness I feel everywhere right now is a constant reminder to be grateful that I have a more-or-less fully-functioning body. And I am.

Cheers,

L.R.

Safely home, sliver of Whetstone and the moon up high
Safely home hours later, sliver of lower Whetstone and the moon up high

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