The first time I saw this impressive feat, I thought, "Wow! Great rider, cool dog." And then I learned that several kids, including Kip Albanese, my energetic young neighbor, were becoming skilled junior unicyclists. I hadn't picked up on the idea that unicycles were the "new-new thing," so, of course, this had to be something else. Who else but John Sapp?
You only have to drop by John and Katie's house, just a block south of Norwood's main street, to see why, for young cyclists, this part of town is a biking mecca. Directly across from John and Katie's house an open field has been transformed into a BMX track. On a recent late summer morning, two or three kids were already flying off the jumps. John said sometimes as many as a dozen kids girls included are there, laughing, riding and having a very big time on whatever sort of bike they can manage.
About five years ago, Darrell Carr, whose son Brennan was then 10, envisioned the acre-plus lot as the perfect spot for a critically needed bike track an established place where the community's youngsters could ride safely. Carr, whose family has deep roots in this region, spearheaded the drive to win approval for the project from its owner, San Miguel County. Other dads soon joined in to dig, contour, and shape the challenging dips and twists that keep young BMX-ers coming back for more.
The BMX lot is an acknowledged draw, but visitors there quickly pick up on the special something going on between John and these kids. It's his cycling expertise he's a former pro mountain bike competitor, plus his array of bike tools and the know-how he happily shares with the kids. Then, pour on the high-energy enthusiasm and huge sense of play that John radiates in every direction. No wonder youngsters like my 12-year-old neighbor, Kip, say he's simply "awesome."
It's been like that for a long time before John and Katie moved to Telluride from the Baltimore, Md. area about seven years ago. John's been riding unicycles off and on since he was 10 but when mountain biking began to sweep the country, John was so ready. He started as a cross-country bike racer before switching to downhill mountain bike competition. From 1989 to 1996 he trained and raced continually, mostly on the east coast, he says. John regularly placed in the top three, and Mongoose, a leading frame company and his top sponsor paid a "sweet" $300 per race.
At the time, John says racers could hit 62 mph "on the straightaway." He adds that mountain bikes and racing styles have changed since the days when mountain bike racing "was such a new sport." He was living in Baltimore, and even then he'd find a cluster of kids hanging around his apartment door, already drawn by John's special way with kids and bikes.
Sapp, now 35, still looks and moves like the trim, tough pro athlete he was just a handful of years ago. But what's more important is the sense of fun and full-out adventure that seems to glow from somewhere within this guy. And now, a skilled, hardworking carpenter-craftsman who specializes in renovations and historic restorations, he says with a broad smile, "I've never put down my toys."
John and Katie's small shed is stuffed full of those toys kayaks on the rafters overhead, a tandem bicycle, unicycles, vintage bicycles and things in the shadows I couldn't begin to make out. In their yard, John's built a series of connected steps, ramps, balance beams all painted a glorious bright green where John and his young unicyclists practice their "stunts."
Nearby, John shows me the air pump handily located so young bikers can easily air up low bike tires. In the shed, which is also a full-fledged cycle repair set-up, John shares his knowledge, expertise and his equipment with younger bike buffs, including my 18-year-old grandson, Kris Delgado, and his riding buddy, Mesa Hollinbeck. Under John's expert and enthusiastic tutelage kids learn maintenance, repair and rebuilding bikes. And from John's amazing used parts sources, kids build their own unicycles, road bikes and the occasional hybrid.
Like John, Katie is an outdoor enthusiast and athlete, and into kids who like to do the same things. Forty-nine-year-old Darrell Carr, who lives close by and still "loves to ride mountain bikes," recently joined John and Katie "cleaning up" a singletrack trail in the Lone Cone's Goat Creek area. John says they hope to make the track "better and more technical" with loops up to 11 miles long. Norwood, Darrell points out, is drawing more and more young people couples and some with kids who love to ride. Several semi-pro riders have recently moved to the Norwood-Wright's Mesa area as well.
John still makes time to ride the dozens of hidden backcountry mountain trails that only a few San Miguel downhill bike aficionados know about. He likes riding with others, to "hoot and holler" back and forth, sharing the fun. That means he often rides "'til sundown" after a full day's work. Sometimes he pairs up with other adult friends. But, more often, it's the kids and teens who can break loose to ride during the early evening.
And you should also know that when the expert Silverton Ski area opened its lift and trails this summer for five days of glorious downhill mountain biking, John and young Kip were there riding the challenging Silverton track on their unicycles.