There’s a full moon, still chairlifts. People shuffle up the mountain on skis, little spots of light bob in front of them.
I get out of Randy’s truck and unloaded my fat bike. Nine other riders squeeze tires to check air pressure, pull on hats and gaiters, flick lights on and off to make sure they’re charged. A few handshakes, two guys with boomboxes on their bikes, one blasting weird club music, the other rock n’ roll.
We pedal up the snowy road, everybody’s light off. The moon makes the snow glow blue. Turn onto the ski slopes, down shift, and tack back and forth, slowly grind up the steep grade.
I’m following Randy up front. He stops. The rest of the group is scattered behind us, little black dots zig-zagging across the snowfield.
“Whiskey break! Owwoo!” he yells. A few guys catch up, and pull flasks off of their bikes.
“All right everybody, see those lift towers up there? We’re gonna head for the left of those, around that patch of trees, then cut straight across to the right and try to get turned back around. Then you’ll see Grizzly Road. Just try not to get too far over to the right, because it gets soft,” Randy says.
“Should I let some air out of my tires?” somebody asks.
“Are you slipping?”
“Then don’t worry about it,” Randy says.
He takes off, one by one people clip in to follow. I spin the pedals and head straight up the hill, my vision goes blurry, can’t breath hard enough. Goddamn this is hard work.
A few minutes later we turn onto Grizzly Road. Randy stops.
“Whiskey break! Owwoo! Chocolate cherry?” he hands out a bag.
The grade mellows a little, then pitches back up, then mellows again. We pass a few people skinning along up the hill.
More hard pedaling, stop to wait for everybody. Go again, then stop.
We’re up high now, the lights from Carbondale and Glenwood yellow down in the valley bellow. Giant Sopris almost looks small from up here.
“Getting a little chilly up here,” Randy says, “Oh, I know there was something we should be doing. Whiskey break! Owwoo!”
The wind starts to blow on the exposed slope. I put my hood up. Then we’re off again, almost to the warming hut and the top of the hill.
I drop my bike by the door, unload the six pack from my framebag, and step into the warm little shack. Pull off my jacket and hang it on the stove to dry. A bunch of skiers are resting in the hut.
We heckle each other good naturedly.
“Whatcha shooting with those arrows?”
“Hey, you douchebags know this is a ski hill?”
“Fuck you, go get a bike so you can have some fun on the way down the hill.”
I sit down on a bench next to a guy named Hump. He pulls out a Tupperware container of salami, cheese, and triscuits.
“I was up here last year, it was nine degrees when we left the parking lot. By the time we got up to the top, my Cliff Bar was frozen solid, and I was trying to thaw it out on the stove. Then NiRad pulls out this pack of salami and throws it at me. Said ‘Salami don’t freeze dude.’ So now I always carry some meat and crackers,” he says.
“Sage advise,” I say.
We hang out for a while longer, finish off some beers, then suit up to go back into the cold. Riders flick their lights on.
Then we’re rolling down, the wind rips at my face, damn we’re going fast. I follow Randy through a corner, sit on the toptube, stick my inside foot down to drag through the snow, and lock up the back end. The bike sweeps across the slope at 40mph, spraying snow.
I straighten it out, point the front end straight down the hill, and pick up more speed. Over a huge roller, then another. I feel my tires load up on the landings, man I hope they don’t burp and come off the rim.
I spin up the highest gear. The wind roars like a jet engine. My light casts long shadows on the snow mounds, can’t see what’s on the other side. Floating for a second, then into another turn, other foot down, rear wheel skidding. Holy shit this is fun. Then the lights of the ski lodge. Damn, it’s almost over.
Randy skids to a stop at the bottom of the hill, I follow, then the rest of the group comes sliding in. High fives, and everybody grinning. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.