Monday, September 17, 2007

Banana Belt Loop Race

Every September for the last 10 years, I have lined up on Salida's F Street Bridge over the Arkansas River for a tiny local race. Salida has been known as the Banana Belt for many years for being a town in the Rocky Mountains that has relatively dry, warm weather.

Eighteen years ago, a local mountain bike club started running a race every year at the end of the tourist season. The Banana Belt Loop Race, normally called simply the Banana Belt, became a rite of passage marking the end of Summer.

The Banana Belt was yesterday and there are still 5 days of Summer, but as I write this the tPOD's tiny furnace is running, taking the chill off the morning. I've been chasing mice out of the tPOD's cargo chambers--they're looking for winter quarters. Aspen are beginning to turn, and once the leaves start turning it happens fast. Then the trees are bare and it's time for snow to fly.

I raced the Banana Belt for the 10th time. I lived through the lung-searing climb up Bear Creek, I railed the now-familiar Rainbow Trail remembering the first year I raced when I saw it for the first time. I slid and rattled my way down the jeep road off Methodist Mountain, passing people from out of town like they were standing still. Got the 10th t-shirt.

Banana Belt Course Map

Banana Belt Course Profile

As I made my way around town during my post-race Sunday afternoon, I looked around wistfully. Ten years ago I looked at a town that I wanted to move to. It was love at first site. This would be home, if only I could figure out how to get moved here. That was late-summer 1998. By Spring of 2000 I owned a house here, with plans to get it renovated and ready to be a primary residence. I moved here with my ex during Christmastime, 2000.

Now I look at this place with a striking sense of ambivalence.

I know more people--have more social connections, than any place I've ever lived other than perhaps my hometown, Fremont, Michigan, a town almost the same size as Salida where I was born and lived for my first 18 years. I have some really close, dear friends here.

And then there's the wild country that surrounds Salida. Over the years I've become familiar with the mountains and piñon/juniper hills around Salida. The southern Sawatch Range, where the Vapor Trail runs, the venue of the Monarch Crest Trail, Starvation Creek, Greens Creek, Silver Creek, Blanks Cabin, the Alpine Tunnel. The northern Sangre de Cristo Range which gives Salida it's southern skyline--Simmons Peak, Methodist Mountain, Poncha Mountain. And of course the beautiful but understated Arkansas Hills, the piñon-juniper-ponderosa pine hills that separate the Arkansas River Valley from the South Platte drainage--namely South Park.

There are so many places out there that I love. And yet, given my lack of enthusiasm for winter sport, I rarely visit any of these places other than the local bits of the Arkansas Hills from November through April.

So then the downsides of my life in Salida:

I've come to dread the winters. I just wait them out. Damned wasteful way to use half of one's life.

The hourly-wage-no-benefits reality of work in Salida has been a threat to my savings since I was laid-off from Agilent (Flatulent) Technologies four years ago. I probably haven't been as creative about finding more lucrative work here as I could have been.

There really aren't very many available women here. I'm divorced. I've been on my own for nearly a year. I have hardly even dated here. There just are not that many opportunities.

Now that the Banana Belt is history it's just a matter of time before the really cold weather comes down. The days are already getting short. All summer it was easy to put off really thinking about what comes next in my life. But now it's becoming obvious that I need to leave Salida, at least for long enough to figure out what else is out there for me now that I'm single for the first time in a few decades.

Where'll it be? Someplace warmer, for sure. I've got some connections in Tucson. I spent a couple months there last winter.

I've lived in Grand Junction, CO (Grand Junkyard) and I have some fond memories from that place. Of course there's damned fine biking there, and it's almost year-around.

Then there's the question of what the hell to do, like, for money. So I'm going to a new place, a bigger place. Am I going back to IT? Back to school? Will I become a film and TV star? News anchor? Superhero?

Damned autumn. Why can't summer just keep on keepin' on?


Matthew Richards said...


sucks, HOWEVER: we're all miserable but what the hell, just keep on riding and why not try out the winter fun for once: them chicks in snow outfits can be real hot and they're more likely to get hooked on a tanned ski freak than a sweaty arse-sore bike man, tell you that!

Unknown said...

dang, Tom, that stinks! you better make it back in spring!

Grizzly Adam said...

I've been trying to make it into the super hero business for a few years now, let me know if you get any leads...


Dave Harris said...

Holy smokes Tom. What a captivating post...we have a lot in common.

In '96 I did the Banana Belt race and loved it, even though a flat on that dang Methodist descent cost me dearly...and your primary reason for leaving - winter dread - is why I live in St George, Utah now and not Durango. The riding is year-round here, in DGO it's the same as Salida.

I'm not sure if St George is big enough for your britches, but the riding is super and varied - several good long ones right from my doorstep. I've been loving it since moving Aug 1. Maybe another town to add to the list of potentials - shoot me an email if you have any questions.

Anonymous said...

I am doing research for my college paper, thanks for your excellent points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

- Kris