With five hours in my legs from the previous day, I set out under a sunny, blue sky morning with nearly as many cups of coffee still percolating in my veins. I rode Hunchback of Notre Dame style, jackets upon thick gloves, upon hats and vests bulging out of my back pockets and stuffed down the neck of my jersey. The cold heights of tall mountains and lofty adventure awaited me and I came prepared. The first 10 minute climb disappeared behind me easily, unnoticed. My mind was buzzing with thought and creativity, now long lost despite neural-pathway-strengthening during endorphine release. Just like the pavement underneath, training and race memories fade with rapidity the faster you go, contrary to the most current brain research. For a cyclist there’s always so much to look forward to so it’s difficult to remember the past, especially when the present hurts so much.
I descended steep gravel, enjoying the loose dirt corkscrew bends and letting my rear tire slip out just a little. A few weeks ago I’d come inches from plowing into an aggressive dog right here. I do remember that. A Saint Bernard I think. A big dog on too long a leash in need of a strong kick to the nose to put him back in his place.
The next hill shot up into the mountains with dozens of steep switch backs crawling upwards. I too was turning the pedals over at crawling pace, grinding away in content with fresh legs at a strong tempo. Pines surrounded me as I picked my way among the grooves of the dirt road. It was pleasantly absent of cars and other humans, except for a few hillbilly shacks, which turned into mini mansions the higher up I went. Washboard sections turned into bike-swallowing holes as the road took on the form of a Jeep trail. I glanced over my shoulder down upon the ever deepening valley of green trees. I smashed it up the final couple steep switchbacks, one approaching 30%. I took the final turn just before the top with some speed, almost plowing headfirst into the one and only car I’d seen in the last hour.
The barren, windy top of the climb was just the beginning of round, brown, highland hills resting before the stunning white mountains beyond. I ate a half peanut butter sandwich, descended a few minutes, and then continued climbing off and on for another hour.
I reached the high town of Nederland, perched directly above Boulder, and stopped for a hot chocolate at the supermarket, sipping with speed, seated in a small plastic dining booth next to where they make sandwiches. I looked out the window to the parking lot. A strange place for a parking lot. 8,400 feet into the Rocky Mountains surrounded by wilderness.
I paid and vainly thought I noticed the jailbait cashier checking me out. She was most likely observing my snot, chocolate, and dirt-encrusted face with disgust, but that’s not what I thought at the time. A little modesty doesn’t hurt. But a shit ton of confidence will crush modesty any day. I got on my bike, jacked up on sugar and a rager and tore off farther into the treed mountains, searching for a new road that would take me to the Continental Divide. Fifty miles of dirt roads and 4,000 more feet of climbing stood in my way. Aint. No. Thang.
Another 20 minutes of riding and I came upon the turnoff, eager for the unknown and hoping to see a moose or something else cool. A cold river followed the dirt road, both cutting their way far into the slowly ascending valley. I was now nestled between steep, dark ridges that towered thousands of feet into the air. The temperature immediately plummeted as I made my way into the valley and the river to my right grew a thick sheet of ice. The gigantic white mountains came into view once again; all 14,000 feet of their magnificence loomed in front of me, making everything else seem puny and pointless. The steep walls closed in on the sides, narrowing my vision like the blinders of a horse to the heavy glaciers and jagged peaks. The ice was four feet thick on the river and my breath blew out in thick clouds.
I came to the end of the road at a gravel parking lot. At first my confusion lead me to believe that I’d have to trespass over a chain-link fence and enter a dark train tunnel that said DO NOT ENTER. It cut into the side of a cliff like a scene dreamt up by Tolkien. Unfortunately my Garmin told me not to go in there though. Instead, it said I’d missed a turn a half mile ago. I back tracked, happy that my adventure was going to happen. I’d find the top of the Rockies within an hour and a half and gaze down upon both sides of the continent as king. I’d take a piss to the east and a piss to the west and fill both oceans. But as soon as I turned up the road I’d missed a few minutes ago, I realized my plans were finished. Huge boulders littered the trail. Patches of ice in the shade were half a foot thick. I decided to push on ahead anyways and hope the steep road got better. It did not. I weaved up the trail, avoiding boulders and intensely focusing on not crashing. I needed full suspension, or just some hiking boots. I turned back after a kilometer and left the valley in defeat, adventureless. All I got was a taste. But when one road ends in a minefield of boulders, another smooth, hour long dirt climb presents itself. I descended way back down to 6,000 feet and climbed Fourmile to Gold Hill, reaching the top as the sun began hitting the tops of the mountains back to the west. I flew downhill into town and let out a few screams of excitement and pure joy as I carved the corners at 45 miles an hour. I know this climb like the back of my ha–what the hell is THAT??!!
Ride number Two, a week later, was entirely different:
After a few thousand feet of climbing on Sunshine I realized the snow was coming down too heavily for me to ride way up in the mountains. I went back into town and rode south to Flagstaff. While I was up on Sunshine in the snow,I’d noticed the sun was still shining (ironic) over on Flag. I climbed to the top at around 30 minutes. I descended. I rode up again to the top again, picking off riders as I went. I climbed it one more time to make it three ascents. Then I did one more to make it four for good measure. I still felt fine but I was out of food, so after my fourth climb I descended into town for gas station hot chocolate and a special treat. The dark storm, emerging from the mountains, was billowing over the last couple hills and moving closer to Flagstaff with evening approaching. I got back up to the top of Flagstaff one more time and devoured the gas station apple pie in record time and with record enjoyment. I barreled down to the base of the climb, and then, because six times is a good round number, I hammered up to the top once more, finally and suddenly feeling fatigued. My lungs were the first organs to go. The snow came down heavily during the last ten minutes of that sixth climb, so I wasted no time getting the hell down before the roads got slippery.
Because six is a good round number, like I said before, I took the long way home to make it as many hours. I struggled to hold my wattage above 300 so I could keep the average for the day above 250, because anything less than that is not a real ride. Hunger loomed as I pushed on, fully engulfed in darkness. With my legs shaking and mind numbed, I let out a blood curdling scream as I unleashed an all out sprint to a set of Christmas lights adorning a bush in the distance. I couldn’t get above 1,000 watts, meaning my legs were indeed shot and ready to be put out to pasture. I soft pedaled the last one minute home, now with six hours and 15,000 feet of climbing behind me and a house full of food in front of me. It was a lay-down-in-the-shower-afterwards type of ride, with my stomach being the only thing capable of lifting me up out of it. I felt sick and achey and I couldn’t stand for long without swaying. My entire body throbbed with fatigue. I was completely smashed. Beautiful mountain scenery and the excitement of exploration don’t hold a thing over utterly destroying oneself to the fullest extent. There are few feelings of contentedness that can match this. It’s a feeling that almost no one will get the pleasure of experiencing even once in their lives, which makes it all that more special.