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Bad decisions can make good stories. Here’s one.
It was mid-summer and we’d set off to find bike trails at our local ski resort. Biking on ski runs? The contradiction was intriguing.
The resort had begun to operate year round. In winter, it offers traditional downhill and cross-country skiing. And now in summer, it had opened many of the ski runs for cycling. We wanted to explore their initiative. Turns out, most of those runs were for extreme motocross cyclists. We didn’t know that.
We drove up to the forested ski hill imagining trails suitable for seniors. You know, the gently descending or mostly horizontal kind used in winter for cross-country skiing. We’d been assured that such trails existed.
When we arrived, the Silver Star Mountain ski village was bustling with athletic young bodies, most of them half our age. All right, a third our age.
They were all padded up: helmet with facemask, knee and elbow pads, shin and forearm pads, thigh and upper arm pads, ankle pads and padded shoes, not to overlook chest and belly pads, back pads, toe pads and crotch pads.
Whew! It wasn’t clear which trails they were heading out on, but this nubile assemblage looked like a curtain call for a Star Wars episode. Whatever they were up to, they were serious about it. We learned their ‘rides’ ranged in price from around $3,000 for an economy model, to the equivalent of the down payment on a good used muscle car.
We self-consciously checked our helmets, and pretended to busy ourselves limbering up the old fashioned brakes on our bikes.
We were undeterred by those casting furtive glances at our 30-year-old solid-frame mountain bikes. So what if our bikes were older than most of the youngsters directing bemused looks our way?
“Well, hell,” I said to Sharolie. “We came here to find those trails on the cross-country ski runs you talked about, so let’s do it!”
We bought day passes. The guy behind the counter gave us directions to the first of the ‘easy’ trails we’d spotted on the map. He confirmed those were fairly level trails i.e., good ‘starter’ trails.
The guy (I swear, he’d just graduated elementary school) pointed on the map to a colored route close by. Sharolie confirmed it looked just like one of the cross-country ski runs she’d been on last winter. Seemed like a good place to start.
“Go out here and turn left,” the kid said. “Then take a right. Look for Easy Street. It’ll take you there.”
We liked the sound of that.
I’m just sayin’: if anyone shows you a map of Silver Star Mountain and points to a trail called “East Street”, don’t believe it!
We set off in search of “Easy Street”. After looking around for 15-20 minutes we stumbled upon a sign that said, “Easy Street”. Ah, finally! The fact is, we should have gone no further. We went on. Turned out to be one of those bad decisions.
Off we went along a well-worn trail covered in an inch of powdery ochre-colored dirt. It was fairly level at first. Then the trail turned down and to the left – that is, it banked sharply and dropped steeply, as in, a 45-degree angle, maybe more.
After easing my way around a couple more hairpin turns and down precipitous drops, I found a place to pull over. By then, I was walking my bike down and around the hairpin turns. I’d lost sight of Sharolie. I started back. Not smart.
Every so often, one or two capeless Darth Vadar look-alikes whizzed by, alarmingly close, their two-wheeled cannon balls barely touching the ground.
“What to you think, Love?” Sharolie asked when she caught up. “Should we turn back?”
Now, I wouldn’t describe that look in her beautiful hazel eyes as fear. She’s fearless. But for sure, it was a look of serious concern.
Being unwilling to give up easily (okay, stubborn), I made a decision. It wasn’t the right one, again.
“Maybe this is a link down to our trail,” I ventured. “You know, maybe this trail is one of those that funnels everyone away from the village and onto the various trails.”
Sharolie didn’t seem convinced. Frankly, I wasn’t either.
Another squadron of wannabe Darth Vaders went whooshing by.
Praying the Star Wars curtain calls were over, we carried on. In seconds we wished we hadn’t. The very next bend was a nasty hairpin leading to a particularly sharp drop . . . one of those no-return experiences you find yourself unwillingly committed to while mumbling a heart-felt, “Oh Shit!”
The purpose for hairpin turns was abundantly obvious. They’re banked steeply to prevent riders from going off the trail into the trees. Now, guarding this sharp bend was a grove of stout aspen trees, their trunks six to eight inches in diameter. Going off trail at a high speed and hitting them . . . well, it could spoil your whole day.
“Hey, look down there,” I said to Sharolie, pointing. “A level trail!”
Wow! What a novel concept!
Through the trees about 200 feet below we saw riders streaming along a level trail. We didn’t know where it went or where it had come from, but didn’t care. We set out to find it.
Down more steep inclines and around more precariously tight hairpin turns and suddenly we were on the level trail. We followed it down a few more mercifully gentle slopes and even gentler turns. Suddenly we came upon an opening in the evergreen forest.
A heavy metal railing appeared on our right. Good thing. Beyond was a 75-foot drop. The railing funneled us toward a large structure. Here, those Darth Vadar lookalikes were handing their bikes to attendants, who attached them to moving metal brackets. Then, they hopped into seats and were whisked upward.
“Hey, it’s the six-man chair lift!” Sharolie exclaimed while I was trying to make sense of things.
Both of us were coated in ochre-colored dust, but relieved to be on our own two feet. We made our way to some people who looked to be employees. We began explaining how we got there. All but one drifted away – probably to share a private ‘guff-haw’ with others. No matter.
“How do we get back to the village?” I asked our contact. He’d introduced himself as Rudy. He seemed to be in charge.
“That’s it,” he said, pointing to the chair lift. “You need a pass.”
“It goes all the way to the summit,” Sharolie said helpfully. That would be 6,300 feet.
“How do we get back down to the village?” I asked again. It seemed like a logical question worth repeating.
“The ski trails,” Rudy answered matter-of-factly.
That brought no joy to my heart.
We were standing near the metal rail. I looked over. Far below, dump trucks were going back and forth on a gravel road. ‘Why not a couple of bikes, too?’ I thought.
“What about that road?” I said.
“Afraid not,” Rudy said. “Bikes aren’t allowed on the road. Too dangerous.”
‘Tell me about danger,’ I thought.
I began plotting how we might sneak away from the ski lift into the bush and find our way down to the road. Screw permission; I’d worry about forgiveness later. Sharolie wasn’t keen on the road option. Reluctantly, I agreed. That was a good decision.
I could see Sharolie was excited about the prospect of using the chair lift.
“How do we get on?” she asked.
“A pass,” Rudy repeated.
“We don’t have passes for the chairlift,” I said. “We got day passes to use the easy trails,” I said, emphasizing ‘easy’. “Someone sent us down here.”
Judging from the map, it was probably a 500-foot climb back up to the village. Evidently, the only option was to climb upstream against the steady down stream of pseudo Star Wars traffic. Oh yes, and that would be while lugging our bikes.
“Can we buy passes here?” Sharolie and I asked as one.
“Nope,” Rudy replied. “You need to have your passes when you get here.”
Then, his eyes flashed one of those, ‘Oh what the hell!’ looks.
Rudy shrugged his shoulders. “Forget the passes,” he said, sending a hand signal to a couple of young employees. “Do you know how to get on?”
“No,” I said, truthfully.
“Yes,” Sharolie said, truthfully. She skis, I don’t.
We watched as two attendants took the bikes from others in line ahead of us and loaded them. The owners jumped into the seats that swept around next. Then, it was our turn. Almost immediately we were a few hundred feet above the mountainside.
Within minutes we were at the summit of 6,300-foot Silver Star Mountain, astride our reasonably serviceable but admittedly aging mountain bikes. I glanced quickly over my shoulder, in time to see the chair lift disappear down over the side of the mountain. There was this odd feeling of abandonment. You know, like those nightmares you had as a child of being abandoned by your parents on a street corner?
Now, the only route to safety really was biking all the way down the side of the mountain. Mixed feelings about that. It would be a long walk if one of our bikes failed.
Ahead of us was a huge billboard showing the various ski runs in winter and those converted to bike trails in summer. Most looked much too vertical.
“There,” said Sharolie. “That’s the one I told you about. The Paradise run.”
We got closer. I was a tad skeptical after falling prey to ‘Easy Street’. We scoured the map. Yup, the Paradise run seemed the lesser of the evils. It promised to bring us to the ski village in just five miles.
The first couple of switchbacks brought a feeling of relief to both of us. Half way to the next turn the trail turned soggy. We looked into the bush on the mountainside to our right. Huge banks of snow. Hey, this was mid-July. The forecast high for the day in town was 95 F (35 C). It would seem that snow’s mighty tenacious at this altitude.
Then it started.
Swoosh! Thump! Swoosh! Thump!
“What’s that?” Sharolie asked.
We looked up into the trees above our trail.
There they were again. The Darth Vadar wannabes in action!
Turns out their multiple extreme trails would intersect our trail many times en route to the village – theirs mostly vertical, ours mostly horizontal.
We had to listen very carefully. Especially for the occasional single motocrossers. Those were the dangerous ones – hard to hear them coming.
Mostly, they came in tight squadrons of threes and fours:
. . . the sounds of them swishing down the almost vertical trails that intersected our trail, and then landing jumps above us . . . or below us . . . or both.
And then they were gone.
Or were they?
Mercifully, the village soon came into view through the forest.
Would we do it again? You bet! We’d have to pay the $20 lift charge, though. But it gets you three trips. Well, yeah, okay we’d do the three trips. Maybe more!
Crazy seniors? Yup! Whatever!
“Comin’ Down The Mountain” is Copyright 2014 by James Osborne. All Rights Reserved
Photo Credits: TheProvince.com, extrememountainbiking.net, skiing.silverstar.com, Tim Fitzgerald