Thursday, September 02, 2010

Alden

This is Alden. He's 68 years old. He's a recently retired professor of computer science at the University of Montana. And he's just about the toughest mountain biker you'd ever have the pleasure of riding with. He's mountain biked in Missoula for a couple of decades and ridden every single span of dirt in a 20-mile radius, every single one ... or at least he has the reputation for it. He raced the Butte 50 and then attended his 50-year high school reunion on the exact same day. How many people can write that in their yearbook? His trail knowledge is as deep as Hellgate Canyon, his calves are as rippled as an Olympic sprinter's, and he won't tolerate sandbagging from anyone. Don't ever step off your bike if Alden can see you. Even a near-vertical, loose-gravel-strewn uphill headwall is no excuse. You could be on your knees and Alden will spin past you, grinding his meticulously slow rotations, admonishing in his gruff and friendly way, "If I can ride it, you can ride it." And, really, who are you to argue?

And what Alden dishes out, Alden can take. He even has his own trail, "Alden's Bear Right," which is really just the rugged profile of a long-ago logging road cut with the faintest hint of singletrack. He'll tear through the weeds and alders and it's downright terrifying to even try to keep up with him - so much so that only a few in the Thursday Night Ride group were close enough to witness Alden smack a well-hidden, cantaloupe-sized rock and cartwheel several yards, breaking the high-speed fall with his face. Blood gushed from the bridge of his nose and upper lip and he stood up and calmly announced that one of the lenses in his glasses popped out. A half dozen people scattered to search, but he ended up finding it on his own, pulled his toppled bike out of the embankment, accepted the application of a band-aid, provided satisfying answers to every head-injury question, and walked down the rest of the trail with a big smile on his face.

Oh, he's going to be in trouble tonight," Julie whispered, referring not to Alden's rather painful-looking injuries, but to his wife.

Alden's my hero.