Fruita to Australia and back again: Mountain bikers swap houses
Free Press Correspondent
Lisa Connors loves living in Fruita.
Connors, a manager at Aspen Street Coffee, 136 E. Aspen Ave., enjoys the small town’s atmosphere and riding what many consider Colorado’s best mountain-bike trails. It’s no surprise she felt right at home across the globe in Melrose, South Australia.
Connors participated in a housing swap through Over The Edge Sports, a small international grouping of stores specializing in everything mountain biking — from top-of-the-line equipment to information on the best local trails. Over The Edge Sports Fruita, 202 E. Aspen Ave., was the original store and other locations have opened throughout the years.
“(Connors) doesn’t actually work at our Fruita store, but she’s a great friend of ours and she was interested in the swap,” said George Gatseos, who is Over The Edge Sports Fruita’s general manager.
Aspen Street Coffee’s staff and employees at Over The Edge Sports Fruita share a bond, Connors confirmed.
“We’re all really friendly with each other,” she said. “(The businesses) have a symbiotic relationship. People come to our shop while their bikes are being repaired or they’ll stop in after they ride.”
Connors, an avid mountain biker, swapped homes with Kerri Lee-Bruce and Richard Bruce, owners of the Over the Edge Melrose location, from the end of October through January. Kerri, Richard and their three children — Luca, 7, Che, 5, and Sol, 3 — spent a month living in houses in Hurricane, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona; then they spent one month in Fruita. The couple worked in the Fruita store during their visit.
According to the Bruces, they enjoyed their time at Over the Edge Sports, Aspen Street Coffee, eating at Hot Tomato Pizzeria (124 N. Mulberry St.); and they even took a few trips to Grand Valley Climbing (611 25 Road in Grand Junction).
Richard Bruce said Fruita bike trails were much rockier than those in Melrose. Luca particularly loved PBR at 18 Road, and Che’s favorite trail was Rustler’s Loop. The family said Sol was happy riding in a pack on dad’s back.
“We loved the community feel of Fruita and all the effort that has gone into creating the sculptures and metal works both in Fruita and Grand Junction,” Richard Bruce said.
When they weren’t working or riding, the family enjoyed plenty of Americana. They enjoyed Thanksgiving — especially the pumpkin pie, Fruita’s Christmas lights, Black Friday shopping, and the kids even witnessed their first snowfall. The family also visited Disneyland and experienced Halloween at Venice Beach, California, before driving from Los Angeles to Fruita, stopping in Yosemite.
“We loved having (Richard and Kerri) here,” Gasteos said. “It was fun to have different eyes and ears in the store. We learned a lot from each other. They loved chatting with all of the locals and they rode quite a bit while they were visiting,”
While the Bruce family was seeing the states, Connors served fresh brews to Melrose’s small town of 200 people and its tourists. The Over The Edge Sports Melrose store offers a built-in coffee shop.
“I got to know just about everyone in the community and they accepted me right away and included me in everything,” she said.
The locals even taught Connors about lawn bowling, an Aussie pastime. Connors said the game, similar to bocce, is surprisingly proper. Players dress in white from head to toe, including a hat, and the game even incorporates a tea break.
She also had a lesson in sheep sheering, which happened by chance. Connors rode her bike 13 miles to church on Sundays, and one afternoon a local farmer, Simon, asked her if she’d like to give sheering a try. She was proud to report she didn’t nick her sheep, but she wasn’t as fast as her farming counterparts.
And while in Australia, Connors also explored the area by bike. She said the Mount Remarkable Trail system was just half a block from Over The Edge Melrose, so an afternoon ride was usually part of her day.
“The trails are far less technical than what we have here,” she explained. “They’re far less rocky, but have more flow to them and there’s a lot of exposure on most of that trail system. It’s not nearly as scary as the drops here, which would leave you bouncing off rocks if you fell. The drops there will leave you rolling down a grassy hill.”
The trail features were a fun change for Connors, but the wildlife was something to marvel. She said it wasn’t unusual to find herself alongside kangaroos, emus, sheep and cockatoos.
About a week before she left, Connors was able to see a stage of The Tour Down Under, where she saw some of her favorite riders race, including Marcel Kittel.
“The entire trip was the experience of a lifetime,” Connors said. “I felt right at home.”
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.