It’s been just over two years since the car accident and a year since the incident at Coors Field where a drunk fan fell on my head from two rows up. Alcohol maims, even when you’re not the one drinking.

So it is always with trepidation that I return to the sports I love–mountain biking, snowboarding, surfing, trailrunning, cross-country skiing, and kayaking. I can last a few hours snowboarding, but I’m always wondering what kind of back pain punishment awaits me the next day, what kind of pain bill will I have to pay for a few hours of playing in the mountains or the ocean. Getting out of bed the next day can be a challenge.

But I’ve been feeling incredibly strong lately (even with the 10 extra pounds I’ve been carrying around) and have been able to swim, hike, bike, and even run without the dreaded lower back trouble that I’ve unfortunately become accustomed to in the past two years.

The Devil's backbone

But Friday was different. I could feel it as I drove to Devil’s Backbone in Loveland (the town, not the ski area) with my Yeti on the roof, all pretty and ready to go. I got that Christmas feeling of happy anticipation in my stomach, the kind I used to get when heading off into the wild asphalt wonder for days on end in search of new or thrilling (or both) singletrack.

I ran into the park ranger and inquired about the trail. When he asked me whether I was an “avid rider,” I confidently replied “yes” and meant it for the first time in years. It felt good. I could handle the rocky sections, he told me.

The trail, the ranger informed me, is pretty crowded on the weekends, and I could see why. Great, rocky double and singletrack leads all the way to Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins, a recreational paradise.

The ride starts out easy, and trail/park organizers were smart enough to put mountain bikers on one side of the loops and other trail riders on the other. It’s roly-poly in the beginning with few technical or aerobic challenges. A nice warm-up.

Wee bit o' rock on the doubletrack

At a few points one rides a nice, smooth singletrack, flanked by cattails on either side.

It’s pretty scenic, although there is absolutely no coverage, save for these two trees, which provide the only shade in the first 5 miles and mark the midway point of the Blue Sky Trail.

Lone shade along an exposed route

It was here where I ate some lunch (orange, Odwalla bar) and the insects ate me. Two hearty benches and a fallen tree make for excellent sitting in the shade. Lunch and heat and a dwindling water supply intimated that this, indeed was the turning point. I would miss out on the fun of the Indian Summer Trail, but wisdom beat out hubris for once and I turned around.

I knew I had done a fair amount of climbing (elevation stats were not available, but my lungs knew). Hence it would be downhill fun and a chance to float over rocks on the way back as long as I didn’t run into any rattlesnakes.

Thanks for the warning

The view from the top is excellent, and the snow-covered Rockies are peaking out in the distance.

The foothills' scenery can rival that of the mountains themselves, sometimes

And then the real fun began…

Real fun

More real fun in the rattlesnakes’ territory…

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks!

The key to sailing over terrain like this is to do the following:

1. Get enough speed up

2. Look 12 feet ahead, pick a line, and stick with it, regardless of what it looks like up close

3. Sit way back over the seat

4. Release your death grip on the handlebars and just sail over

5. Ignore the flying rocks denting your rims

6. Do not stop. Once you do, you’re dead in the water. Pictures of the super-technical sections are missing from this blog post is because I would rather ride over the demanding sections than take pictures of them.

That clunking and clinking sound is the cost of new rims

The eight miles took just over two hours, but length and time don’t matter. In riding this short, technical trail I overcome rocky, physical, emotional, and psychological obstacles. At ride’s end, I knew that what I’d told the ranger was true: I can ride.

SheSpoke is back on the spokes.

If you go: Avoid the weekends, if possible. Twill be crowded. Set out early in the day, as there is almost no shade. Turn down the iPod so you can hear rattlesnakes should you need to.

Check out the trails for mountain biking at Devil’s Backbone.

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