This is a repost from 2013 while we get 2014 up and running.
By my own measuring stick I’ve been training a lot this year. It is funny because each year I can look back at whatever I accomplished on the bike and hopefully feel pretty good about it, but then I think about the next upcoming season and think “how can I top or even match that?”. I ride for fun, and training isn’t always fun, so when one season ends and the next one starts I’m left looking for ways to keep the pursuit of speed on two wheels enjoyable.
In January everything about cycling is fresh after a minimum of a month off the bike. If the weather cooperates then the sheer joy of being on a bike again is enough to motivate me to put in a good month or two of solid base mile rides.
Then March comes. March is fun because that is theoretically the beginning of being able to turn up the intensity beyond “base”. March also brings the beginning of the Meridian race-pace group rides and even the onset of the early season crit and road races.
April is a peak month, at least in theory. In April I should be firing on all cylinders and hopefully causing some damage out in the Spring road races and crits.
May brings burnout and the onset of a seasonal existential crisis as a cyclist. The novelty of racing wears off, the discipline required of my weekly mileage goal fades, I start to think “why am I even doing this?”. At about that moment, it’s time to give it a rest for a bit. I don’t believe in riding beyond the fun. When the fun runs out, stop.
This May has been a bit different for me. April was full of very poor weather. Races were canceled, mileage was reduced, the flu was rampant. I never really got to run the horses fully in April, so May’s burnout got a reprieve. I’m still having a lot of fun, I can still ride pretty fast, and I still love being on two wheels.
With all that in mind, I went to bed on Monday night thinking that I might ride the Park Hill Peloton ride the next morning. I thought it would be good to do the usual 25 highly combative miles with the guys, then tack on another 50 or so and head up Mt. Lookout (and still be home by 10am!). It would be excellent maintenance for extending my fitness as long into May as possible. I’ve been doing a bunch of 30-40 mile flat rides lately and I felt the pull of getting back up into the hills that drew me to Colorado in the first place. When the 5:30 buzzer went off and it was time to kit up, I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to get out of bed. Many would call me a pussy because of this, and I’d plead guilty to the charge. Sometimes the alarm goes off and I visualize crawling downstairs, getting dressed in the dark (so as not to wake the kids), shoving some food into my gut, and rolling out into the morning chill… Sometimes I just can’t do it. So I hit snooze and decided I’d come up with a plan B ride later. After I had successfully awoke, I considered the day. Work was slow so I wouldn’t be missed in the office. The DS was in a good mood because I had spent the previous day decimating her honey-do list. A light went off in my head: Nobody had dibs on my time today! I was a free man!
It was then that the Wanderlust struck.
At that moment I knew what I must do, I must go “cycling”. For me riding a bike involves either “training” or “cycling”. Training is a disciplined activity. Any road will do, scenery does not matter, the soul must not be fed. Training is about watts, kilojoules, and statistics. Training can be fun, but many times it isn’t. Training is about having fun in the actual races, not during the in-between times. Cycling however, is quite the opposite. When cycling, watts do not matter, intervals don’t matter, and discipline doesn’t matter. Cycling is about a certain road or mountain that is calling your name, and about answering that call. When the Wanderlust struck on Tuesday I knew that I needed to go cycling, so I did.
I didn’t have a full route in mind for the day, but I knew of an exact road that I wanted to get to: In Golden Gate Canyon State Park there is a small, almost one lane road that climbs through glades of aspen trees. It’s pitches hover near 20%. The road hurts, the road takes a lot out of me, but the road gives it back because just being in that exact spot makes me feel very alive. It takes a decent effort to even get TO this road, but the effort is rewarded with a full dose of God’s creation and many miles in which to contemplate the state of one’s life. As of late I’ve been feeling the overload of stress and burnout from work, so some contemplative miles were very welcome indeed.
As I rode along the thought that I had literally nothing that I had to get home to sunk in. The rarity of this reality wouldn’t surprise anyone with a family, a job, and all of life’s responsibilities pulling at them constantly. To be free of that, even briefly, was thrilling. I realized at that moment that I needed to make this ride exceptionally long. An opportunity like today may not come along again for a year or more. Today I needed to set a new high water mark for on-the-bike adventure, and because I had no ride mates, I needed to do it all by myself.
I arrived at Peak to Peak Highway feeling fairly tired. I was about 35 miles into the ride. The elevation was about 8000 feet (2438m). I wondered to myself if I was really up to pulling off a long distance adventure. The answer though was that it didn’t matter if I was up to it because it didn’t matter how fast or slow I went. I wasn’t training, I was cycling, and cycling is good at any speed.
At mile 37 I arrived at the road that had set itself in my mind early in the day; called somewhat boringly “Mountain Base” road. Mountain Base didn’t disappoint. It’s pitches turned my legs to jell-o and that was okay by me. Instead of hurling myself at the road and trying to set some sort of Strava PR, I stopped to soak it up. I pulled out my camera and tried to photograph the road the way I saw it in my head. I’m not a photographer per-say, but I’ve always loved taking pictures. I haven’t done much photography in recent years because – once again – with family and work, hobbies are the first thing that have to give. More recently though I’ve started taking pictures on my rides because the advent of decent cameras embedded in cell phones has shrunk things enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Chapeau, Apple.
On this ride I brought along a mini tripod. I pulled it out and got to work trying to synchronize the self timer with when I would be passing by. It was a process fraught with error, but during what eventually became a set of hill repeats I shot a few keeper photos.
Once up Mountain Base I emerged out of breath on Peak to Peak highway before mostly descending to the high mountain town of Rollinsville. At the Stage Stop store I struggled to find the right combination of salt and sugar to satisfy the $5 minimum debit purchase, but struck gold by adding a pack of gum for my kids when I got home. While I refueled once again an inebriated man engaged me in a twenty minute conversation about “crazy cyclits”. “Don’t they know that they will lose a fight with a car even if the law is on their side?” he asked. “Their spandex and turtle helmets won’t save them from a car”. Having been hit by a car myself, I assured him that yes we do know that. He asked why all cyclists ride three abreast and yell at him so much. Embarrassed, I told him that they were probably just scared and that no matter if it is drivers or cyclists, there are bad apples in every bunch. By the end of our conversation his aggressive tone had mellowed and he said he was glad there were smart cyclists out there. “We need to take care of the smart cyclists” he concluded.
Once refueled with a mystery energy drink and a king sized Snickers, I pulled back onto Peak to Peak. Soon I arrived at my planned turnoff down Coal Creek Canyon. Just as I made the turn I noticed a sign: 40 miles back to Denver. I did some quick math. I was at mile 48. 40 more miles would only make 88 total. That number wasn’t epic enough! I did a quick U turn and saw that it was 3 miles to Nederland and 20 more to Boulder. I knew what I had to do. I felt a small pang of worry at the fact that I was quite tired and still heading further away from my home, but the thought of turning back towards Denver felt very wrong. I pushed ahead, excited to continue and telling my fatigue that it wasn’t my first priority, my Wanderlust was.
After arriving at the healing crystal capital of the Front Range I turned east and descended Boulder Canyon. It felt so great to be past the high point of the ride and to let gravity do some work for the change. The scenery was energizing and those 20 beauty-filled miles in the canyon passed in a blur.
In Boulder I felt refreshed and rested. I wasn’t sure exactly what road to take home so I headed south on the Broadway bike path until it became a highway leading out of town. It was surreal thinking that I had ridden all the way here, and that I was going to ride all the way home. By this point my mileage was at 70 and I knew I must be at least 30 miles from Denver so my goal of setting a personal distance record was within reach. The ride back towards Golden was mostly uneventful. I very much disliked the first climb out of Boulder on the Foothills Highway because the shoulder was small to nonexistent, but once at the top of the main climb the shoulder widened up to about 6′ and stayed that way all the way to Golden. Perfect.
Riding south on Foothills Highway I feel the euphoria of knowing that I had the strength to make it home. My legs had recovered, possibly due to the increased oxygen now that I was back at the base of the mountains. The wind was in my favor and I was pushed along towards Golden by a gentle tailwind which I was quite grateful for. A headwind at this point would have been murderous!
Once in Golden I knew I could do the remainder of the ride in my sleep. I’ve ridden those roads so many times. I continued along, feeling absolutely excellent and thrilled. I watched my mileage tick up towards 100, and when it did I took this picture. I found the location surprising and even fitting for the 100 mile mark, even if I’m not quite sure why.
Six miles later I was done. When I arrived home I gave my wife a big thank you for the day off. I gave the kids their gum. I tried to relate where I’d been and what I had seen. It was difficult to do. My adventure lasted around six hours. What had I daydreamed about that entire time? I have no idea. It didn’t matter.
Another ride like this will not likely come along again soon. It doesn’t need to. Most of the time I’m very happy to be able to squeeze something shorter into life’s mix. When the opportunity to do go on a Wanderlust ride does come along though, I think it’s important to seize it. Training is good, discipline is necessary to grow as an athlete, but just “cycling” and going on a big ride restores things that training erodes. If you do it alone you will find yourself to be great company. You will learn about yourself a little bit more. If you go with others it will strengthen bonds or create new friendships out of your saddle mates. Both are suitable outcomes.