Mountain biking is a cruel sport. The uphills are punishing, the downhills are scary, and most of the gear is unattractive and smells bad. But still I ride for tangible rewards and the intangible magic that mountain biking delivers. Every. Single. Time.

But a few weeks away from this cruel mistress can sometimes mean returning to the starting blocks. To wit: Toward the end of July I was mountain biking twice a week and commuting over 50 miles to work each week. I got my cycling sea legs back after a two-year hiatus. I was clearing sections hithertofore uncleared and was (barely) hanging with some super-fit riders.

It felt good.

But the end of July signaled a trip back home to visit family and help out a little, and there would be no mountain biking. So I contented myself to hike a bit and swim a bit during my trip home. But I felt, as I bent down to help my niece tie her shoe, my fitness slipping away.

Shaded and partially shaded trail all along

Fast forward three weeks from my last, glorious ride at Buffalo Creek, perhaps the best 12 miles of trail along the Front Range to the short, intermediate but roly-poly fun at Lair O the Bear on a random Wednesday morning.

My girlfriends and I discovered this little training gem six or seven years ago and would frequent this nearby trail (about a half-hour’s drive from Denver, depending on where you hail from) during the day on weekdays, because Lair O the Bear and the Bear Creek trail are not the single and doubletrack one wants to be grinding up or trying to enjoy when the weekend warriors descend upon it. These warriors can get awful grumpy when you get in the way of their recreatin’.

So it was with some trepidation and anticipation that I headed out to Morrison, Colorado (home to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre) for my first ride with a new riding partner. As we drove west toward the foothills, he deadpanned, “Don’t you wish you were in a skyscraper right now?”

And we laughed smugly, because it was 8AM on a Wednesday and we were going out for a four-hour outing. As we arrived a few hard-core riders were finishing up, probably heading toward their respective skyscrapers.

Kind of like a Coors commercial, except it's real

We geared up and pedaled out along the creek, which frames the first mile and a half of the ride. The creek invites anglers and frolickers and is pretty tame by mountain standards. Riding along the creek is a cool way to warm up for the mile-plus-long climb up the Bear Creek portion of the trail. The temperature drop is refreshing and cool, and I’d close my eyes and inhale if such a move weren’t so damn dangerous.

And so we began the uphill grind, which is only unforgiving in its very few obstacles and no steep sections. Hence intermediate riders and above should be able to clear this trail, pretty much to the top, where views are less than spectacular and thus do not warrant a photo here.

But once at the top, you know you’re at the top, and you know that the super-fun part of the ride is about to commence. Miles 2 and 3 of the Bear Creek Trail are filled with off-camber, mini half-pipes, a rock garden or two, lots of shade, and plenty of rolling humps that remind me of a tamer, sandless version of Fruita’s famous Chutes and Ladders.

Coasting through a Wednesday morning

Wheee! Wheee! Wheee! This is why I ride. This is why I ride. It’s Wednesday morning at 9AM and the only decisions I’m making are which rocks to ride over. I’m twelve years old except I don’t have a curfew, and I’ve stopped dotting my i’s with hearts.

But physically I did not feel twelve. I feel middle-aged and creaky, and my chest is tight. Mountain biking is cruel that way, giving so much but with such great expense.

I asked my riding partner if we could cut the ride short by a half-mile or so, and he thought I was kidding.

I mentally prepared myself for the ride back, knowing where the downhill sections I had so enjoyed on my jaunt out would demand momentum from my legs and lungs on the ride back.

Hop in, the water's cold

But the thing about punishing affairs is that you’re sad when they’re over. You tend to only remember the good times and the adrenaline rush those times provided. In an effort to extend the affair AND cool down, I waded into the creek that alohas and mahalos you on this little gem just outside Denver. Waded and splashed and dunked.

And smiled.

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The famous venue, minus a famous rock band

 

The famous concert venue, which attracts so many music pilgrims, is also known as a killer, free gym to those of us who can’t stand the idea of working out inside. I’ve belonged to exactly two gyms in my life (the Y and Curves), and after a promise or two of showing me the weight equipment and not following through, I dumped them both.

I do not do elliptical machines. I do not ride stationary bikes. I do not get up before the crack of crack just to beat the crowds.

Instead, I pray for snow in Denver so I can cross-country ski out my front door. Then I pray for no moisture so Green Mountain dries up so I can ride my mountain bike there in the middle of January and not screw up the trail with deep tire tracks in the mud. I pray that last week’s snowstorm has left residual snow crystals at Matthew Winters so I can haul out my trail runners and get a good workout in.

In fact, the only time I like to work out inside is during the winter, in a pool. Otherwise it feels so…artificial.

So I leapt out of bed this morning around 7:30, resolved to hit Red Rocks for some stair running, interval training, and planter-climbing (more on that last one later).

New benches/seating is going in. Fabu!

Red Rocks is packed on the weekend, with some kind of fitness club and hundreds of people. It’s too crowded for my taste, so I prefer, like most things, to hit the Rocks midweek.

Concertgoers will be glad to hear that Denver’s tax dollars are going toward re-benching the stands. A few workout stragglers were there, as I arrived precisely at 9AM, 12 minutes after leaving my front door.

I ran to the stairs, down the stairs, and across the bottom five rows of stairs. Then, I beelined for the tree planters, where I do the only climbing I ever do: grab the top of the planter, plant a foot here and there in the flagstone, engage the core, and climb up the planter. I usually climb six or seven planters, steal a drink of water, then run back down the stairs and do it again.

Yoda says: "Climb up the planters you will."

Best 45 minute workout ever. Really.