May 27, 2013

Choose Your Own 21st Birthday Adventure. ~ Brandon Figliolino

It was a special day, one worth celebrating. But I had different plans: breaking normalcy, fielding beauty and getting rocky.

Most people in my situation would have recruited their buddies for a typical bar-hopping adventure. Each friend’s endurance and will power would be challenged. Who could get up and talk to a woman at the bar? Who could bring her home? Who could consume the most alcohol? Who would stave off the inevitable vomiting or unconsciousness the longest?

Yes, that’s how most people celebrate their 21st birthday. At least, that’s my perception of a stereotypical celebration.

With a day free from work and responsibility, aside from dinner obligations with my family, I could do whatever I’d like. Just like the novels of the same name, I could choose my own adventure—make my own decisions and choices that would affect the outcome of my ride.

Sure, I could have made plans to bar-hop, but on this beautiful day, all I wanted was to go out.

The weather was warm. It was the perfect temperature to keep you cool while riding, but not so cold you’d need layers and a backpack to store them. My enemy, wind, was blowing off steam in some other land, leaving nothing but the occasional breeze on gentle descents. White clouds dotted the sky. The stately mountains stood with their ridges and trees sharp and clear in the sunlight.

What choice did I have but to take advantage of such a spectacular spring day?  

My usual cycling route takes me through my hometown of Arvada and occasionally Boulder, mostly due to time constraints that allow me only a few hours of riding per week. But that day, I didn’t want just another ride. No, I wanted to explore.

I wanted to allow the trails to lead me to new places and new discoveries.

Dressed in cycling garb promoting my alma mater, I mounted my only bike at the time—a mountain bike—and started towards Golden, Colorado.

To assist me on my adventure, I had a mountable GPS unit to keep track of my pace, distance and location. Using Highway 93 as my central guide, I’d look for a trail or road, break away from the quiet two-lane highway, and pedal away. When I came across a fork or intersection, I’d take a quick glance at either option and make a selection on a whim, leaving the path’s surprises to chance.

Choose Your Own Adventure books allowed readers to affect the outcome of the book by giving them options.

I liken that day, and recreational cycling in general, to that concept from those books of my adolescence.

I’d make a choice. If it didn’t lead to a satisfying end, I’d double-back around. In the books, some outcomes weren’t very pleasant. Truth be told, I’d always cheat the system by flipping back and re-choosing if my first choice wasn’t satisfactory. The same rule applied for my ride. Just because I had made one choice, didn’t mean I couldn’t go back and try another.

One route took me through lush fields where cattle were grazing. I dismounted, hydrated myself, and took several minutes to admire the simplistic beauty of a field, a wooden fence and some cows.

On that route, I came across a group of cyclists. Their jerseys radiated the color of sunshine. Seeing them going in the direction I was pedaling towards reinforced the fact that I’d made a good choice turning right instead of left at my first fork.

Another route took me closer to the mountains. I passed rock faces that towered over me, following a windy road that dropped off at a dirt parking lot and bike-free trail head. I made note of it so I could come back another day when I had my bike lock available and I pressed forward.

Time passes, unnoticed.

My adventure totaled six hours. At the fourth hour, I got a phone call from my father asking me when I planned on going home, since we still had to go to dinner. When he called, I was exploring a trail that followed a creek. The clouds had become more imposing. My GPS was completely dead and I was feeling a bit hungry. I told my father I’d be right home.

I was about twenty-five minutes away from my house by car.

The shortcut home, which I had to create based on instinct and my limited knowledge of geography and maps, took an hour and a half.  But it was entirely worth it, having gotten to visit new places like the grazing field and trail head.

Even the places that I had already seen, like the Coors Brewing Company and downtown Golden, were seen from a different perspective: new angles, different heights and different circumstances.

Cycling gives you the chance to slow down and enjoy the scenery. You can’t do that in a car driving 65 miles per hour.

Yes, cycling is just like the Choose Your Own Adventure books but with a positive spin. You get to choose your route which will affect the intensity of your ride, the duration and ultimately, the beauty. If you reach a dead end, you double back and take another route. Only when the weather becomes poor or your legs become exhausted will the cycle end.

In Colorado, every cycling choice you make will lead you to somewhere extraordinary.

I’ll drink to that.


Brandon Figliolino, a cyclist who works just outside of Boulder, enjoys spending time outdoors. He’s a recent graduate of the University of Colorado’s English and Political Science Departments and hopes his writing can be interesting and insightful enough to catch people’s attention and praise.

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Assistant ed: Catherine Monkman

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