On Colorado’s Front Range, there really isn’t a weather-imposed “off” season. It gets a little bit cold, a little bit wet, for a little bit and then the lower trails closest to home dry up within a week or so. As a kid from Wisconsin, where winter’s gray, wet, colder-than-a-pimp’s-heart stranglehold is relentless for 8 months of the year, I am unimpressed. The good stuff, the high country is a different story and it’ll be 8 months before I’m descending above treeline on anything other than my snowboard. But in the interim, between then and now, Colorado’s chinooks and 300 days of sunshine burn off the snow and gloom. I have no real excuse for slacking off.
It isn’t the season that’s off. It’s me. For one thing, it’s time to pay the piper. All the little nags that nipped at me over the summer have now ganged up on me. The little mal-adjustments and loosenings, the wear-items left worn, all the maintenances and tunes that I blew by on my way out the door that I promised I would get to before the next ride. I see now, only at this late hour, the folly of my ways. None of by bikes work properly. My cyclocross urban-assault whip (a.k.a The Pipe Bomb) has a busted Dura-Ace shifter that will only shift down. My Nomad has a rear hub out of adjustment, 64 spokes on formerly brand-new wheels which never got their post break-in tune-up, and a Mallet DH flat-ish pedal that is so badly warped that I can only engage one side . Even my trusty IndyFab, my beloved Audrey, the Best Horse in the Barn, assaulted me with a flurry of mechanicals: Front bolt-on hub almost came unbolted mid-ride, the super-trick titanium hardware on the adjustable rear dropout is frozen, and I just noticed the outer seal from a White Industries freewheel dangling in the in-between space between the freewheel and the spokes. Et Tu, Brute?
I turn to my workbench and find no allies there. In the apocalyptic aftermath of a summer of road-trips and big rides lies the sordid evidence of the recklessness of a hack mechanic. The leftover bits and ends from each trip are scattered in the periphery; spent CO2 cartridges that didn’t make it into recycling. Half-folded maps. Four links of chain. A shortened stub of steerer tube from a fork install. A pile of various cleats and cleat hardware. Random GoPro elbows and mounts. Metallic shavings from the bench grinder like so-much stripper glitter: the day-after reminder on my shop apron of good intentions and bad choices. Most of my tools are AWOL. My toolboard looks down at me with contempt as if to say “Good luck, you sonovabitch”. Some tools could be in a variety of packs thrown together at the last minute, others are lost to a three-year-old’s use. I will probably find most of those next spring as they reach escape velocity from the lawnmower. I stumble over three or four 12, 16, 20 inch children’s bikes. There is a flash of panic at the thought that these bikes might be multiplying. I gasp at the realization that they are.
I am out of shape. In July, August and September I was 180 pounds of coiled steel and sex appeal. I could crush my 32×20 anywhere in Colorado and get to the top with enough masculinity left over to shoot whiskey and call my riding buddies sissies. My Nomad was a precision guided missile destroying enemy singletracks. The other day, I almost threw my back out trying to impress my kid with a wheelie in my driveway. I try to ride my familiar trails to build some confidence. I falter. I stick my front wheel and go over the bars. I have no rhythm. The playful dance of my former riding has been replaced by the gross missteps of a drunken clod. When I breathe, the cool air scalds my throat and it sounds like the desperate panting of a low-order simian lovesong. Come to think of it, my riding resembles quite closely a low-order simian intimately involved with non-spheroid athletic equipment.
I feel old, tired, disorganized, and mechanically decrepit. To put it succinctly, my shit is weak.
This is the peak of my “Off-Season”. This is about as “Off” as I get. It has little to do with the weather. No, these doldrums are the interval between bike adventures, and at this time of year that stretch is great. I rocketed beyond the immense gravity of my summer and slingshotted out of its orbit coasting weightless through Fall. Here in the vacuum of space it is difficult to perceive motion at all, let alone understand that I am hurtling toward something new at a ridiculous pace. Out there in the darkness of winter are nebulous destinations, primordial ideas; A trip to Phoenix, the Gunnison Growler maybe, Gooseberry Mesa… Who knows which of these celestial bodies will haul me into orbit. This is unknown astronomy, and I tumble, gimbals locked, into the abyss.