Mishaps make memories
The truck swayed and, feeling the wheel pull, I glanced out to see the roadside trees bending and whipping. Across the intermountain valley, lightning strikes lit the sky behind swaths of cloud and charcoal columns of rain.
“It’s so cool to see all the storms across the valley,” Mike said.
We were south of Alamosa, driving through the San Luis Valley on an annual journey to a mountain-bike race in Angel Fire, N.M. For our son Roy, 17, it was the “eighth, maybe ninth time.” My husband had been coming for a decade, from when our older son, Teddy, began racing at 10. It had always been a “boys’ trip” of sons and dads.
“It’s an experiment,” remarked Tanner, 17, whose parents would be meeting us there, “to bring any moms.”
Pointing out landmarks — the Gator Farm, the UFO Watchtower in a field — Roy, Tanner and Tyler gleefully recalled past trips: how Teddy got locked in a gas-station restroom; how Madison’s ebullient father Brian woke the boys each race day by blasting AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells”; how Madison skidded his bike on a rug in the condo building, and had to spend “every minute he wasn’t racing,” as Roy put it, lying on the floor cleaning it to avoid a several-hundred-dollar fine.
“Did he get it clean?” I asked Roy.
“Probably not,” Roy remembered. “But they didn’t make him pay, because he really tried.”
Teddy has always gone to Angel Fire but this summer hasn’t been racing, due mostly to work. Madison and most of his other biking friends, including a whole crew that used to come from Basalt, have dropped away as well.
South of Alamosa the rain hit us hard, slamming the windshield.
About 10 minutes later a silver-haired woman in a car interrupted our reveries, passing us, honking and waving me over.
“You lost something off the back!” she said.
Our bouldering pad! For rock climbing. A $150 value! The mattress-like item had blown off near Estrella, she said. “About seven miles ago,” she guessed. “I tried to catch up with you, but there was so much traffic.”
We thanked her and, in a stressed silence, backtracked. No more talk about cool storms. The boys grew increasingly nervous about getting in their practice runs as we drove slowly, searching the fields, for seven … eight … nine … 10 miles.
Thus began the good-luck-bad-luck weekend. Mike’s and my nice Mad Rock bouldering pad was lost and never recovered despite our search and several phone calls to police and CDOT. When we reached Angel Fire, the kids’ bikes sustained a total of four flat tires and one broken derailleur. The race schedule was screwed up, so that our 17-year-olds’ Junior Expert class was mistakenly scheduled last, after the pros, who normally comprise the finale. On top of that, the Junior Expert start, already very late at 3 p.m., was delayed by lightning for over an hour — while we faced a seven-hour drive home.
When the lightning finally abated and the 30 kids were allowed up the mountain, rain hit midway through their event, with mud and wet roots and rocks slowing the later racers.
My son happened to be one of the last few to run on a near-dry course, though even he started in hail. He knew others in his class were hampered. Sitting on his bike at the finish, he said, “I got lucky.”
We left the area way after 6 p.m., and when we reached the highway, our truck blew a tire, which had to be changed (the other dad, Kim, helped Mike with alacrity) in the dark and cold. We all arrived home at 2:30 a.m.
But all of our kids had talked all weekend about how much they liked the course and mountain, and they all finished upright. Angel Fire 2013 was a wrap, meshed into tradition. Funny how it’s mostly the mishaps we remember, though. The boys will always laugh about Madison cleaning the floor, Teddy locked in a gas station, and the time the bouldering pad blew away.
— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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