Colorado is filled with extreme sports enthusiasts — marathoners, triathletes, cyclocross racers, river kayakers, rock climbers, mogul skiers, and myriad other endorphin junkies. Intrepid Coloradans trek up our 14,000 feet peaks each and every summer weekend because, well, they’re there. And everyday, run-of-the-mill, “normal” people take on day-long rides like the Triple Bypass where they cycle over 3 mountain passes, 120 miles with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain just to say they did it. What’s crazier than that? How about that people choose to do that same ride in reverse the following day to complete the Double Triple Bypass? With these things in mind, please understand that what I am about to relay regarding my adventure yesterday is not extraordinary at all. Oodles of people can tell the same story, so I am not being modest when I say that this is not a big deal at all. Except that it is…to me.
Ten years ago, we were driving back from a trip to Aspen and along the highway heading east over Vail Pass we spied some road cyclists struggling their way up the pass adjacent to the speeding cars on the highway. I remember hauling up the pass in our Jetta and remarking that those riders were insane. There is no way I would ever do that, I told my husband. Then, just five years ago, the darling man bought me a road bike. I went into the bike store dragging my heels because I was certain I was not a cyclist. Still I went along with it because I was 40 and I needed a decent form of exercise, one that hopefully would not tear up my knees or hips like running might. That year when we passed cyclists huffing and puffing their way up and over Vail Pass I said I could never do that. Simply putting in 15-20 miles was difficult enough. I didn’t think I’d survive a trek up a mountain pass. It seemed an insurmountable task. I had no intention of ever being that certifiable about exercise. Period.
Yesterday the unthinkable became reality. With three friends from our MS150 bike team, Steve and I rode from our hotel room in west Vail up to and then over Vail Pass and down into Copper Mountain before turning around and riding back up over the pass and eventually back to our hotel room. It was a 47 mile trek where we climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation in less than 4.5 hours. At times during our ride, the grade of the path hit a wicked 18%. That’s steep enough that even in my easiest bike gear I needed to stand up like a Tour de France racer to power my bike up the hill. I’ve never had to do that before. It was both annoying and awesome. We started our ride at 8,000 feet in elevation and climbed to over 10,600 feet so the air we were sucking was thin too. It was my longest ride of the season so far and the most challenging ride I have ever done.
As we flew down the last big descent of the day and my bike hit 34 miles an hour despite the headwind, I had a cheerful refrain echoing in my head. (It sounded exactly like this.) When we finally returned to our starting point at the Vail Cascade Resort I was Queen of the Freaking World. It is true. I had to chew up and swallow whole those things I’d uttered in the past about would never or could never. And while I normally don’t enjoy eating my words, yesterday I had no problem with it. Maybe it was simply because I was so hungry? I had burned over 2500 calories in 4 hours, right? Truth is, though, I have rarely felt as strong as I did when I clipped out of my pedals at the end of that ride. Not only had I done something I previously believed I physically and mentally could not do but I did it less than a week after turning 45. I never had to get off and walk my bike. The altitude never got to me. I fought the urge to give up when my quadriceps were screaming at me and I stuck it out. I rode my bicycle like a cheap, show pony. And while I may not be better, faster, stronger, or in any way more impressive than any other Coloradan who completes that identical ride, I do not care. I did it. I earned the right to eat my words and I still had enough room left over for a post-ride celebratory dinner at Terra Bistro. Suck it, 45!