Cycling is so great because, at least for Rodeo, it’s fundamentally about having fun and spending time with like minded people. Yes, it’s also about rad gear and exploring and racing and the outdoors, but who cares about any of that if you don’t have friends to share it all with?
Rodeo is fundamentally not “pro” in the traditional sense of the word. We don’t field the fastest race team, our feats will never come close to being mentioned amongst the top ranks of the sport. That’s fine with me. We are “pro” at a couple of less traditional things though. One of those things is having fun. We hold our w00ting skills in high regard. Bonus fact: Nobody wins or loses at having fun. There is no leader board, there is no way to accurately measure it. There is no KOM of fun. You just go out and do it and you know you’ve done it right if you come back from a ride and you feel like maybe you are levitating and you can’t stop talking to people about what just happened. When you’ve had fun you feel compelled to share it, and therein lies some of it’s value: Sharing our best experiences with each other is one of the simple joys of being human.
With that in in mind I hereby present a case study in fun, and how it brings people together.
Many people in the cycling world know Jered Gruber. Even if you don’t know the name you’ve probably seen his work. He is in my (and many other people’s) opinion one of the best photographers working in the sport. He shoots grand tours and spring classics and far flung events all over the world, and he also shoots his own rides with his friends and wife Ashley in-between. His shots almost universally show the passion, intensity, beauty, and yes, fun of the sport.
Jered sometimes swings through Colorado, and for some reason that I still haven’t figured out he shot me an email last year and asked if I wanted to meet up and do a ride. Shocked and genuinely stoked that he even knew I existed, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. We ended up going out on a couple of rides and each time had really great non stop rapid fire conversations for hours on end. What I learned is that we cyclists, whether big time or small time, can go from stranger to friend in a hurry simply because the sport provides such a great baseline of commonalities in what could otherwise be two very different people. I know other sports can be tthis way, but there aren’t that many sports where you can spend 1-8 hours in non-stop conversation with someone who was up until recently a complete stranger and come out the other end feeling like you kind of know them pretty well.
This year Jered and Ashley came back through Colorado again, and this time they were doing a shoot for Castelli. Once again, to my utter surprise, I got an invite to be in on the shoot, and I was able to also invite fellow Rodeoer Nick Gilroy along as well. Why would two completely amateur cyclists get to come along on and be involved in a professional catalog photo shoot? I’m not sure! I guess the answer goes back to what makes this sport so cool: If you ride your bike long enough you will meet great people and have interesting opportunities. I think another answer to the question is that sometimes you just find yourself on the receiving end of unmerited generosity. In this case it was from Jered and Ashley and Alvin and Castelli.
The shoot day was incredibly fun, and pretending we were super rad pro-ish cyclist for a day was definitely a highlight of the year for me. We can’t really show many of the images of the shoot yet, but we have a few. I guess the rest will be in the Castelli Winter 2015 catalog(?)
*side note, all of the great photos in this post belong to Jered, and the less great ones are probably mine.
We were in the hills outside of Denver for much of the shoot, but later in the day Jered suggested seeing if we could get some shots up on Mt. Evans because the vistas were so much more grand and… because it would just be really cool. Everyone was game so Alvin, Nick, Jered, Ashley, and myself drove up to Echo Lake Lodge, hopped on our bikes, ducked around the closed-to-cars gate, and struck out into the unknown. We had no idea if we’d get 50 feet up the partially snow covered road or a couple of miles.
We ended up climbing a bit further than we thought, roughly four miles up the road. We were struck but both the absence of snow and the absence of wind. Mt. Evans was frigid and hostile, but it wasn’t brutally miserable. Jered and Ashley got to work with the shoot, and the rest of us took turns huddling and swapping layers on and off for the photos. We were all fairly frozen by the end of two hours, but nobody regretted the views or the decision to explore. We were all having a ton of fun.
If that were the end of the story just that Friday would have qualified as a banner day for me, but when Sunday rolled around Jered pinged me and asked if I wanted to go BACK up Evans, just to see how high we could make it. In all honestly I was a bit horrified at the idea. My riding is ramping down for the year in general, and the thought of a big climbing ride with copious quantities of numb digits was intimidating. How could I say no though? We knew the weather was going to be good, we knew the roads were pretty clear, and the opportunities for fun and adventure and rad photos were too great to pass up. Little did I know that although Jered floated the ride idea, he had some general reservations about climbing and/or freezing all day long as well. Apparently both of us were bluffing when we said yes, hoping the other person would suggest something easier and warmer. That, in a nutshell, is how we ended up in the chilly parking lot at Evergreen Lake on Monday morning. Ashley looked quite content from the warm car as she watched us pile on the layers and jam extra jackets and accessories into our overstuffed pockets. I counted at least eight Trailnuggets (shameless plug) as I stashed them for ride fuel, and I crammed two more in my mouth for good measure. Content with our gear selections, we struck off upwards towards the mountain. I hadn’t really considered the full scale of the ride. Unknown to me we were in for about sixty miles (100k) with 8,000 feet (2500m) of climbing. More than enough for a worn out guy just finishing up an already long year of pedaling and another guy just about to get serious about getting into race shape again.
As we climbed the conversation swept us along and passed the miles. Many people might not know this, but Jered is an ex pro and animal on the bike, sporting no less than THIRTY FIVE PAGES of KOM’s on Strava including but not limited to The Real Koppenberg. Knowing this, I felt a lot of pressure to not suck on the ride, but Jered was a gentleman and didn’t crush me. He simply did most of the talking all the way up Whittier Gulch while I gasped single word responses in as relaxed a tone as I could muster. This theme continued up Squaw Pass, but on Squaw the gradients softened just a bit and I was able to string two, sometimes three words together at a time. On-bike conversations are pretty rad. You just spin your legs, swap notes on life, and let the miles fly by. We covered diverse topics ranging from international taxes, gear selection, most loved and most un-loved brands, mutual great people that we knew, our wives, battery powered heated gloves, Europe, Georgia, racing, cameras, RAW workflow… the list goes on and on.
Before we knew it we had arrived at once again arrived at Echo Lake Lodge. If it hadn’t been boarded up for the winter we would have surely stopped for pancakes or pie. We chatted with some tourists from Texas about how great Colorado is, piled on our remaining layers and the afore-mentioned battery powered heated gloves, and continued towards tree line. It amazed me that we’d already climbed 6,000-ish feet in 20 miles. Temperatures were dropping, the air was thinner, but the winds were again low and the sun shone brightly on the summit. We were stoked to keep climbing, driven along by the fun and beauty of it all.
As we rode further and further up Mt. Evans Road, we kept expecting to find snow drifts and ice on the blacktop, but with a few exceptions, the road stayed almost completely clear. This was almost unthinkable for mid-December at 12,000 feet, but we welcomed the opportunity to keep driving forward. We wondered aloud if the summit was do-able and resolved to go as far as physically possible.
Up high our pace mattered less and less. The alpine environment in Colorado is such a special place, and one simply can’t ride up there without allowing time to absorb the view. It’s difficult or even impossible to take it all in, but our frequent stops at least ensured we were trying.
Mild gradients passed, thin air entered and exited our lungs. Plenty of smiling happened. Soon we were within sight of Summit Lake at 12,800 feet. We rolled down the final incline into the high alpine basin filled with contentment to have made it this far. As we looked up towards the peak another 2,000 feet above us we saw the sun beginning to dip below the horizon. The road continued upwards mostly unobstructed and neither of us doubted that we had a strong chance of making the summit if we kept going. Thankfully caution and reason overcame momentum, and we decided that Summit Lake should be our turn around point. When at high altitude in the Rockies, even in the summer, temperatures vary wildly when the sun dips below the horizon or behind a cloud. You don’t want to get caught out or unprepared up high. Even though the temperatures were still manageable, we knew that it would take another hour to get to the summit and the sun would just be fully setting at that point. 10,000 feet of descending back to the cars from 14,000 feet, at dusk, in the winter is basically a hypothermia wish if not a death wish. We weren’t greedy. We’d already had more fun than we could account for and seen more beauty than could be properly described, so we snapped a few more shots and headed for home.
As I’ve mentioned, Monday’s ride with Jered up Mt. Evans one one of my favorites ever. It had that perfect combination of great company, great conditions, great timing, and great mountains. Speed didn’t matter, nobody was “training”. We were riding our bikes for the fun of it, and we pegged the meter at 11. A lot of our sport is modeled after what the pros do and how fast they are, but our sport is multi-dimensional. Pros are rad, but adventure and fun are also equally rad, and unlike being a pro they are accessible to anyone at any level of the sport.
As of right now (December 10th, 2014, 11:55am) the temperature is hovering at 58 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver, so it’s probably just around freezing on Mt. Evans. If you have any sick days or vacation time, it might be worth calling a friend, loading the bikes on the car, and heading above treeline in search of some fun. Maybe you could complete what Jered and I couldn’t by gaining the Mt. Evans summit, on a road bike, in December. If not, at least you tried and had fun.