Last time we spoke I gave you look into the experiences that drive my life on two wheels. Goals and pushing physical boundaries is a big part. Laying out the training plans, watching fitness numbers climb, and the results that follow; all completions in their own right. But when the training wheels came off 3 decades ago what compelled me to the bike?
Sure I had family members that rode, not competitively, but I do hail from the state that brought you RAGBRAI. But my young brain didn’t make these connections, at least not consciously. Then what did that pint size me gain from that old red Schwinn? Freedom, adventure. When you are small you have just quintupled the speed of exploration by moving from a bipedal to just pedals, your whole world grows. As you get bigger so does that world, you get a bit faster, you are allowed to cross the street, leave the neighborhood. Your circle of exploration continues to spiral outwards until it all seems so big and you couldn’t possibly explore it all.
Sure I have motorized modes I could rely on but those don’t allow an intimate connection; but I am removed, senses guarded, scenes move too quickly for consumption. Going by foot does promote greater connection but speed is limited. I read somewhere that 17 mph is the perfect speed of travel, the bicycle hits this sweet spot.
My entire race calendar is now stripped bare until September; at least hoping cross is still coming. I look to different goals now, the training plan is still there, I still follow it, but I’m getting creative. The last 2 weekends of June I explored routes I have had on my list for almost a decade. The list is always growing, has never stopped, now I’m just afforded the capacity to make them a priority.
The first was Old Fall River Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve only driven through the park once, without stopping, the first year I arrived in Colorado. This experience by bike was much different, the pavement gave way not long before a gate stretched across the road, closing the next 11 miles to automobiles. I headed up and up, for what seemed like forever. Being exposed to the elements: I could smell the warming environment, hear the wildlife, and feel the temperature drop as elevation increased. Before I knew it the landscape changed, ripped bare of all protection, now just the small ground covering and lingering snow piles dotted my view. I saw the Alpine Lodge off in the distance, what I thought was the top.
Departing the lodge at 12,000 feet I felt exposed, unprotected. Winds whipped across the alpine environment, testing my handling and resolve. I respected the place I was traveling through, it had a power over me which I could acutely feel with every gust. It could hurt me.
The following weekend, I went south to investigate a route: up Phantom Canyon, down Shelf Road. The climb up was 30 miles, it held a timid grade of 2%, rarely passing five. I saw an old schedule for the train that once chugged along this same route, I would have beat it by 20 minutes.
The dirt turns to pavement in Victor, a mining town with plenty of claims to fame. I should have stayed longer, I regret that. I did meet Wayne who I saw further down the canyon gathering aspen boughs. We chatted on his project du jour and I got a cup of coffee a spoon could stand in. It was the town you see when you think of what a slow, slightly sleepy eyed mountain town would look like on a Saturday morning before the tourists come through. Main street was an interesting mix of present day signage mixed with 1900s era buildings. I could smell tamales when I first entered town and on my departure smoked meats hit my nose. I moved deliberately through town, taking in what I could through every sense.
The exposure the bike can give you to places, to people, the perspective it allows and enables is one of my whys. Ten year old Andy saw beyond concrete and backyards, to the timber and trails at the dead end of civilization. Seek those out, it is where your senses and mind can be flooded by experience; more powerful than what you could ever just see behind a windshield.