Butcher Paper: Lessons from strangers

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By Kristin Butcher
Photo by Kevin Lange


I’d never shuttled a downhill before. Or hitch hiked. Or knew how inconvenient non-flammable fee envelopes could be. It’s amazing how much I learned in 12 hours. When I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and friends suggested shuttling Sandia Peak, it was a no-brainer. Neither my ego nor my Floridian lungs minded getting a lift to over 10,000 feet before descending the mountain’s impeccable blend of tree-lined trails and lava fields.

It was a warm spring day when I crowded in the truck with my husband, some locals and one insanely happy trail dog. Watching the pup’s eager eyes and the way his draping tongue lapped up the increasingly crisp mountain air, I saw a slightly hairier version of myself.

At the top, I was thrown off by the sudden appearance of windbreakers
and knee-warmers. Confident in my Florida gear, which included a tank top and cycling socks that read ‘BEER: 30’ on the side, I reluctantly took the spare jacket offered to me. Our bodies sliced through the brisk air infiltrating the trees. Pedaling until our skin steamed, we didn’t notice how much colder it had become until flakes fell from the sky so slowly they seemed to hover. The trail dog bounded through the ethereal scene, encapsulating the moment in a way that can only be done properly with a pair of big, floppy ears and a snow-covered nose. My lips chapped in the wind and I relished the feeling; this was one of the few times I’d seen snow that didn’t originate from a can. But the Thomas Kinkade painting we’d been riding through was soon crusted in snow so thick it
erased all signs of the morning’s warmth along with the trail in front of us.

Our thin windbreakers floundered in the frigid surroundings and spirits dropped along with the temperature. As my feet turned to pins and needles, it occurred to me that I really needed cycling shoes that weren’t mesh. Stupid Florida gear. The only smile left belonged to the dog who was preoccupied with chasing snowflakes, only stopping to give us a look that clearly said, “Why the hell are you going so slow?” Or maybe he was just thinking about something shiny. Either way, he was having the time of his life while we were riding with purpose—and that purpose was to get out and get warm.

We needed to descend a few more miles before we’d be able to bail out on the road, but first we had to navigate through the glistening river of babyhead rocks that I was looking forward to when I could still feel my extremities.

I’ve always been partial to the way the rocky terrain forces decisions at every crag and chainring scrape. Fast or slow? Left or right? Commit or hesitate? Choose your adventure. But this wasn’t a simple rock garden anymore; it was a field of ice-covered bowling balls. Riding meant falling. But walking meant burying my feet in the snow and still falling, so I threw a leg over my bike. At every loose rock, my icepacked cleats slipped off the diminutive pedals, an event soon followed by the dull thwack of a spinning
crank stopping at my shin. Pain blended with relief as the trickle of blood warmed my skin. And so the next hour went: Ride. Dab. Bleed. Repeat.

By the time I’d made it past the babyheads, the ‘BEER: 30’ on my socks was tinged with red. My

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