Butcher Paper: Aluminum Chronicles
By Kristin Butcher
Photo by Dan Barham
It’s hard to believe the 15-year old bike sitting in this shipping box is the same one from the photo featuring a teenage version of myself riding a brand new
Schwinn Moab. Before sealing the box with too much packing tape, I trace my finger along the Moab’s scratches as it tells stories— my stories —through its dents and worn-off paint.
Age 18: The bike in the window captivated me with its fat
tubes, shimmering-yellow frame and massive 3 inches of front travel. It even came with bar ends and clipless pedals—a sure sign this wasn’t some entry-level bike. This was the real deal; it was a mid-level bike. And it was awesome.
As a college student sustaining myself on ramen noodles and free sample days at the grocery store, the bike was nothing more than fantasy. Still, I found reasons to swing by the shop just to ogle the aluminum eye-candy in the
window, eventually leaving with nothing more than a patch kit. On my 19th birthday, the Moab was covered in a dozen handwritten gift tags from everyone who pitched in to put the bike of my dreams into my hands.
A few months later, my mom rode the bike on her one and only spin down a trail. She was determined to experience the ‘mountain biking thing’ I was always going on about—it didn’t matter that multiple sclerosis had made even the simple act of walking diffi cult. As wobbles of uncertainty steadied, swears were replaced by laughter and, for a few moments, my mom was mountainbiking her ass off—until a root threw her from the bike. With jeans covered in dirt and her voice shaking with adrenaline, she asked, “How’d I do?” My mom has never been a fearless person, but at that moment, she could have fooled anyone. “You did great, Mom.”
Age 23: W ith a fancy new job as a code monkey, I saved up for my first full-suspension bike. According to the hype at the time, my little aluminum hardtail was rendered useless unless I began racing or moved to a state where the word ‘hill’ wasn’t synonymous with ‘overpass.’ That’s when an article on do-it-yourself singlespeeds caught my eye. The notion of stripping
off all those fancy gears seemed silly and pointless. And absolutely perfect. A few beers later and I was the proud owner of a yellow-lime aluminum singlespeed. I learned a lot about bikes that night, but mostly I learned that Sheldon Brown was a great, bearded god. Under this incarnation of the Moab, I fell in love with dirt as much as anyone can without making it into an episode of ‘ My Strange Addiction’ .
Backyard trails that had been nothing more than a convenient place to ride when time was slim became a wooded playground of undulations. One morning, I ran into a guy doing trail maintenance. “Hi, I’m the one-man clean-up crew,” Harvey joked. In the two years he’d been volunteering at the park, he’d only seen a handful of other volunteers. I grabbed a tool and went to work beside him—with no idea what I was doing.
Over time, I found myself spending more time working on the trail than riding it. As my bike became one of many leaned against a tree for hours with no intention of being ridden, I discovered that, even in the act of giving back, the
trail still leaves you with more than you gave it.
Age 27: My quiver finally consisted of enough bikes to relegate the car to life in the driveway. On paper, I had it all: a house, a lucrative software engineering job and even a few patents under my
belt. But the only time I didn’t feel like a puzzle missing a corner piece was on the bike, which became scarce as workdays stretched into nights.
It was time for another game of bike Legos. The familiar beer-fueled transformation was underway, and, hours later, the Moab was dressed with
an eccentric flip-flop hub and skinny tires. On my new fixie commuter, days of monotony were bookended with 45 minutes of perfection and exhaust
fumes. Somewhere in the din of cars racing to go nowhere, I lost myself to the rhythm of my legs. It was finally quiet enough to think.
Each ride resulted in the same conclusion: I needed a change—and the I MBA Trail Care Crew was hiring. It would mean getting paid almost nothing and giving up everything—the fancy job, the house, all the stuff that seemed so
necessary in the IKEA catalog. My husband and I would have to live out of a car for two years, preaching the gospel of trails and teaching volunteers how to go buck with pulaskis. It should have been a terrifying prospect, but when all the
noise faded, it became obvious that the only terrifying prospect was doing nothing.
Age 31: The job took me on hundreds of trails, into the homes of strangers and on a few too many cliff-lined shortcuts. When nomadic life was replaced by one with roots, the aluminum chameleon emerged, quickly finding its home in the work stand next to a six-pack of non-alcoholic beers. It was fitted with gears, a shiny basket and a set of cruiser handlebars wide enough to accommodate my very knocked-up belly.
Life was about to become a rollercoaster, and the Moab had once again morphed into the best bike for the ride.
Age 34: With a toddler who has no idea that people park anything but bikes in garages and another in the oven, the Moab is ready to be
mailed a thousand miles away. It’s currently Frankenstein’s singlespeed, brought to life with a hodgepodge of parts. It’s being retired, sent off to live with my in-laws near some spectacular riding and free babysitting.
I won’t get to enjoy the Moab often, but each ride will remind me of falling in love with mountain biking, swinging tools until my arms ached with accomplishment, finding quiet in the noise and surrendering to the unpredictability of life.