Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Wedge Before Winter

Words and photos by Greg

From town I could see the golden fringes on the flanks of our huge local flat-topped mountain. The gold, I knew, would be groves of aspen trees, leaves changing with the season. It seemed like it would be good to get up there and take a look. I called a friend, and the next day he drove us up.

On top, we unloaded the bikes and set out. By some accounts, this is the world's largest flat-topped mountain. And this western end of the mountain is amazingly flat. Which means that it's miles of riding with no climbing and no descents. Just flat, sometimes bumpy trail. Not usually my favorite kind of riding. But the highlight of the trail is the view.

We'd passed through groves of golden trees on the drive up. But on top, the season had progressed further, leaving copses of mostly bare trees and dry beige prairies. Our trail wove through open country and dove into small groves of white aspen trunks, or into darker pine forests. The real draw, though was the edge. The trail repeatedly brushed near the cliffs where we could look down onto the gold of trees further down the mountain. And even further down to the slope and roll of the dry land below, to where rivers cut canyons, where farms cut patchwork patterns into the earth.

Further yet, and higher than our viewpoint, there were distant pointed mountains where snow had already left a dusting of white. I suppose that winter can come all at once, but this year it seems to be moving slowly downward from high places.

Where we were, the season's spent vegetation painted with muted colors. The bright sun washed the lichen-covered rocks to grey, the sage to palest green. The wide blue sky above seemed to draw all color with it except where it shared its color with the flocks of bluebirds gathering the last harvest. Around us there was a sense of anticipation. As if everything was waiting for the season to turn its final corner, for the sky to loose its color, and from that grey, for the first white flakes to filter down and blanket everything around us in winter.

We pedaled our miles and earned our smiles. My healing wrist rattled quietly inside its brace as our tires rolled along smooth singletrack or lurched over the corrugated stone. The air was autumn crisp with a slight bite in the shadows. Our pace was warm. And under the bright sun it was easy to remember how lucky we were to be where we were, high on the mesa and slipping like a wedge into the narrow space between autumn and winter.

Note my cybernetic right arm.

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