Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 Wrap-up (part 4 - cycling edition)

Cycling has become a big part of my life. A big, important, happy part of my life. When I used to run a fair amount, I'd be driving around and see a runner and think, "Good for you. Keep at it!" But I'd also be relieved that I wasn't the one out (especially when it was like 90 degrees out which, here with our intense sunlight, feels like 110 on a sunny day - and how many cloudy 90-degree days are there?). Now when I'm driving around, even if I've just finished a 40-mile ride, if I see a cyclist I think, "I wish I was doing that." Only once have I shuddered at the sight of cyclists. But I'll get to that later. So, in preparation for our big season, we took to the open road.

This is Joel at the top of the hill I love to hate. I think I may love to hate it even more than the road here aptly named "High Grade" (which, as the name implies, is a high grade over a distance of about 6 miles. This after already having gone a good 8 miles uphill). This is not that road. This section of the road is shorter, but harder. This road makes me spit and think up combinations of colorful words. This road made my friend nearly puke. The upside is after summiting this hill, it's a blast to cruise down, winding through the mountains. We can always count on the skies to be gorgeous. I may or may not be taking a breather on the street here.
Then there's the Lookout Mountain ascent. I love this road. It winds all over the place and very quickly you can look far down and see how high your hard work has gotten you. Plus, I'm reminded of the Far Side cartoon where there are numerous signs of "Lookout ahead" up a mountain and at the top, cars are driving off the cliff which holds a sign that says, "Lookout!" That's kind of how you feel as you begin to descend. That part of the road runs alongside I-70, so you don't feel like you're going that fast even though you will quickly reach 45 mph. This is the ascent, however, where we usually see several deer and other mountain creatures.
We loved participating in the Denver Century so much last year that we knew we had to do it again. We even convinced my parents to join us so they drove their bikes out (stopping in Moab for some riding). And then we convinced our good friends Bert and Jen to also join us. She learned how to draft, something that had previously terrified her. You have a lot of time to figure things out when you're doing a century. It was a beautiful day and we were glad to cross the finish line about half an hour before the hail moved in. That was the one time I felt bad for cyclists. It's also another good reminder why you shouldn't spend too much time at rest stops. Keep moving!
My mom was a little nervous about the altitude and the Lookout Mountain ascent, or so she claimed. She killed it, though, and I was the one playing catchup. We had a great time and I kept thinking about how totally awesome it was to not only do such a physically demanding activity, but to have my PARENTS there with me, often leading the pack. Special shout out to Ray, the 70-something year old dude on a $10k bike who was an animal, doing most of the pulling between miles 70-84. Oh, and we only had one hiccup - at about mile 18 I was coming down a hill and some shade in the road hid a large rock which of course I hit. Hissing indicated I had popped a tire. Super. Luckily I had a good pit crew with me and we were able to change the tire quickly. My dad folded up a dollar bill to serve as a makeshift bandage inside the tire to protect the new tube from the visible hole. Worked like a charm! (so well, in fact, that I only took it out when I got a new tire about a month later)
This year, Joel and I (and Bert) thought of the Denver Century as kind of a training ride, though. See, back in January we had kind of sort of accidentally signed up for the Triple Bypass. It was full! There was a waitlist! So, like idiots, we signed up, thinking next year we'd do it for real but at least this year we could say we tried. Then, two days later, we received our confirmation emails that we were enlisted. I use the term generally reserved for wars/battle because that's what this felt like.

Besides a lot of hours on the bike (I won't say countless because I have a Garmin, so technically they were counted), we reserved one Saturday morning to ascend Loveland Pass. This was good for a few reasons:

1. The Loveland Pass ascent itself is not very bad.
2. The ride from Georgetown to the base of Loveland is very bad.

Just kidding - it's not very bad, it's just long. And uphill. It's quite lovely, though. A meandering bike path through seemingly endless forest. It's beautiful. But long. Still, it was doable. And the Loveland descent was epic. Probably the most fun I've had on a bike up until that point. So wonderful. The whole ride was lovely except for about 5 miles from our car when the path suddenly veered and, in an effort to miss a concrete divider, ended up going over the front of my handlebars and landing in some relatively soft underbrush to the side. Joel was ahead of me so didn't see/hear but a nice cyclist riding in the opposite direction called out to him before saying, "Whoa. I've never seen someone go over the top of their bike like that." I felt both foolish and totally awesome at the same time. Luckily my pride and my right pinkie finger bore the brunt. Oh, and my bike looked kind of wonky after that. But it's cool. See way down in the distance, that stretch of highway? That's the base. And then about ten miles to the right is where we started.
A couple weeks later Donovan was asking me if we have porcupines around here. I told him I wasn't sure, but that I thought so. Lo and behold:

We rode right past it and then we both made an abrupt u-turn. "I gotta take a picture of that," Joel said. Why yes we do! So that's me, being sad. What you can't see is how hundreds of his quills are strewn about the road. It was incredible. And then, about a mile up the road, we came upon ANOTHER, though smaller, one. Also dead. Was there some great porcupine migration the night before? Note to self: research porcupine migration patterns and bring crossing guard memorabilia.

So then we were ready for the Triple Bypass. This was one of those events where I thought, "Ok, I hope I don't die." I've really got to stop having that kind of attitude. Or signing up for things with that as my goal. So here we were, ready to embark on the most physically/mentally challenging physical activity of my life. And that includes childbirth (and please note I do not have easy/quick labors). But I was optimistic.

In case you don't recall, or are just willing to read it for yet another time, the Triple Bypass is a 120-mile bike ride that starts in Evergreen and ends in Avon, Colorado. You cross over three (but really more like four) mountain passes and climb over 10,000 feet. The pre-race packet instructs you to bring clothing for sun and snow, and promises you will encounter rainstorms. My only goal (besides surviving) was to not stop between rest stops. So we began at about 6am.

Look how happy we are! As you begin, you immediately begin climbing Squaw Pass. No matter, the scenery is breathtaking (and not just because you're working really hard). It is some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen and I tried to drink it all in. Bert rode along with his phone blaring music and quite a few riders joined our mobile party. It was a fun atmosphere. We hit the first rest stop after a couple hours and I was feeling good. We put on windbreakers and shoe covers to protect us from the frigid descent and away we went. Feeling great! We should totally do this every year! Then we began climbing to Loveland. 
By the time we got here, I wasn't feeling as great. The trek from Idaho Springs to Loveland was brutal. The bike path was crowded and riders were constantly jockeying for position. Plus, it was uphill. But we got made it to lunch and took a picture and I grinned so that everyone on Instagram would know I didn't regret it.

We were lucky to climb Loveland when we did because about 15 minutes after we started our descent, a torrential hailstorm moved in (see the ominous-looking clouds up there). I believe I had divine help at this point. That climb, which had seemed very manageable a few weeks prior, was now the home of some very colorful thoughts. The descent was almost scary, actually, with hairpin turns and ripping speeds. Keystone is a lovely place to ride but the organizers don't consider Swan Mountain a pass but after two mountain passes, it most certainly feels like one!

In Frisco, I began to feel the first rumblings of doubt. You're at about mile 82, so 2/3 of the way through. This is not inspiring. Yes, the hardest is behind you. No, this is not comforting. My feet were burning, my body felt weird, and I wasn't sure if I was enjoying myself any more. When I've done the Denver Century, I've loved every minute. This...not so much. My parents were wonderfully encouraging and I knew I'd get back on my bike, but first I felt like I had to throw up. Moving on!

I went into autopilot mode for the next few miles before we started to climb Vail Pass. This was supposed to be the easiest climb. And, had it been the only climb of the day, I'm sure it would have been. This day, it was just one foot in front of the other. I began chanting to myself, "Just don't stop. Just don't stop." Riders littered the sides of the trail like casualties. People pulled off shoes and limped around. Others just sat down in a daze. I kept going, but I began to feel woozy. Also, I began to feel angry.

I'm proud to say I made it to the top without stopping, though I came close a couple of times. Major props to Joel and Bert who hung with me, encouraging me, keeping me going. All I could think about was taking off my shoes because my feet felt like they were on fire. At the rest stop, I let Joel take a picture of me but I couldn't muster the strength to fake a smile. Bert could, though!
I think it was right after this that, involuntarily, I began crying. I could feel tears welling up and I physically could not restrain them. Sobs wracked my body and I told myself, "Ok, you can cry for 20 seconds and then that's it because fluids are a premium." A stranger approached me and asked if I was ok, then said, "It's ok, the worst is over. But yeah, this SUCKS. And we voluntarily signed up for this! I've done this a few times and it's always at this point I wonder why I keep coming back."

Joel brought me back the oranges I had requested. We put our shoes back on. We got on our bikes. The next 20 miles or so are a blur, mostly of me ripping down the descent and then drafting behind Joel or Bert the rest of the way. At one point I tried to pull out around some other riders and wind hit me full in the face and I was like, "Yeah no thanks sorry for thinking I could work harder - I'll just stay back here."

And then, the finish line. There it was, policemen ushering us home. I crossed the line and some lady put a medal over my head and I burst into tears again. She folded me into a hug and said, "You made it, dear. You made it! What an accomplishment!"

Then I was able to muster this for a picture:
I believe I captioned this, "A picture is worth a thousand words - most of them bad." Major props to Bert's Jen who brought the littles out and chaufferred us back to the start line. We stopped at Wendy's. Or some other fast food place. All I know is that after my post-ride meal, I ate a cheesy cheeseburger and it was heaven on earth.

It was a good learning experience - one I could go on and on about even more, if you can imagine. Someday, we'll do it again. Not this year. Not next year. Maybe after that. I had kids once every three years, maybe the Triple Bypass is the same sort of thing.

Then in September my mom game out for a visit so we went on an easy 40-mile ride. It was freakishly hot, but I think we looked good doing it. And, wouldn't you know it, we didn't even PLAN the coordinating shirts. We're just that good.
We also went to the USA ProChallenge in downtown Denver. It is a fun family day and the riders are RIGHT THERE. It's a thrill.
 (That's Tejay VanGarderen in the yellow jersey - he went on to win the whole thing.
We also saw Jens Voigt tearing it up in the breakaway - what a stud.)
Us out and about on a beautiful morning.

At our favorite funny farm - today it was relatively quiet, 
but it often houses turkeys, goats, cows, horses, llamas, etc.
We find it amusing.

Phew - that was exhausting! I'm not even going back to check for typos. Sorry.