Nature, of course, is enjoyed in countless fashions; regarding immersion, there are no hard and fast rules.Still, after a lifetime spent exploring the outdoors, I would tender one exception. Nature is best experienced slowly and quietly, allowing one time to saturate in the thrall of subtle things.
And so I pedal slowly. Very slowly. I do this because, as a professional outdoorsman, I understand the soul of slowness.
Of course, it's also possible I ride at a mall walker's pace because, at 11,000 feet, my lungs feel like they've been stuffed with cotton.
Here in the central Colorado Rockies not far from Vail, I am wholly enmeshed in nature's glory. Along this corridor of fire road on which we ride, climbing through a tunnel of aspen and pine, fallen leaves are scattered like gold doubloons. Now and again a gentle wind, having already traversed distant snowcapped peaks and burbling streams, touches down on the road and the leaves rise up suddenly and chase each other in circles like frisky puppies. I can taste the air - cool, sharp, seasoned with ice and pine, a draught made all the more tantalizing by the fact that it comes to me as if drawn through a flat straw.
Riding a mountain bike uphill at 11,000 feet requires some adjustment, and on this, the first day of our guided hut-to-hut mountain biking adventure through the Holy Cross Wilderness, I am adjusting. Now and again, along with the whisper of the wind, I hear an odd wheezing.
Like any good guide, Don Shefchik is a keen observer, and diplomatic, too.
"The altitude kicks everyone's butt, so it's best to go slow," he says, riding casually beside me. "We're in it for the long haul. The long haul is going to dump us in Leadville, not five miles up the road. Set a pace that works for you."