Tuesday, February 28

The Leadville Chronicles: Why Leadville, Why Now?

Part III

This post attempts to "Dig Deep" into my motivation and reasoning behind my desire to ride the Leadville 100*. I'll give you a summary background (as chronicled piecemeal over the past four years on this very blog) and then try and explain how I got from thinking there would never be a chance I'd even want to do a 100 mile mountain bike race (immediately after the Triple Bypass in 2009) to now, when I am raving mad and constantly chewing on my handlebars in rabid anticipation.

Let's go way back to the beginning. Okay, nevermind, fast forward to 2008. In May, just before my family came out to Colorado from Kentucky, I met one of Mandy's grandfather's truck drivers up in Lafayette and got the last palette of our furniture and things. Also included was the Cannonball. I had only brought the Giant road bike with me initially , and being the middle of winter I had regretted that choice many times between February and May.

The weekend after the Cannonball arrived in Colorado I subjected it to the indignity of being hauled on the back of the long gone Suburbaru and drove up past Evergreen to Alderfer/Three Sisters Open Space. But instead of tooling around the north side of the park I turned my knobby wheels south, and plied my way to the summit of Evergreen Mountain. My "mountain bike" could finally wear the name with pride.

My mountain biking experience prior to that time mostly involved tooling around on oil roads and defunct logging roads in Kentucky. There was really no developed singletrack there, and the Cannonball—mountain bike though it was—carried me over asphalt more often than not.

My taste of trail riding on Evergreen Mountain was slow to develop into a passion for mountain biking. I felt unsure of my abilities off-road and was leery of jumping on any of the popular and busy singletrack trails along the Front Range.

Then in late 2008 I began talking about riding the Triple Bypass Bicycle Tour, a road ride from Evergreen to Avon, encompassing 120 miles over three passes. As part of my training I planned a few off-road routes because that was the easiest way to incorporate significant climbing into my training. I rode Guanella Pass on the Cannonball because a good portion of the road was dirt. And I rode Berthoud Pass because I intended to also summit Colorado Mines Peak.

About a month after the Triple Bypass I took my family camping near Leadville, and ironically, the same weekend as the big race. We missed seeing lance Armstrong come back 'round Turquoise Lake by only a few minutes. It was the year he won after placing second behind Dave Weins in 2008.

On Aug 18, 2009 I wrote: "I did get to see parts of the Leadville 100 and though I had not considered it in the past, I can see myself aspiring to do it in the future."

That was the first twinkle in the eye of the father of the desire to do a 100 mile mountain bike race. But that desire gestated an inordinately long period of time—more than a year—until early November of the next year.

The inspiration and impetus that brought me over the edge were two films: Ride the Divide and Race Across the Sky 2010. Ride the Divide opened my mind to the possibility of doing a long off-road bike tour/race. I had not previously considered doing something like the Tour Divide, but while watching the film I began rearranging the bicycling components in my brain. Soon after I attended the preview of Race Across the Sky 2010 and my path was clear...Leadville was burned into my brain.

During that time, the fall of 2010, I was increasing my mountain biking presence. My beloved road bike had been killed by a carport, and I was riding the Cannonball in commuter form exclusively. I'd made a couple of bikepacking forays with my family as well. Then my father-in-law and I rode the Switzerland Trail west of Boulder. The deal was sealing... My love for off-road cycling was growing.

For Christmas 2010 I inherited my first "modern" mountain bike complete with front suspension and a modern MTB geometry. With the OBS under me I began exploring some close by trails, and dirt became my new normal. And I started liking it too much.

At the beginning of 2011 I reaffirmed my plan and goal to ride Leadville in 2012. I signed up to volunteer for the 2011 race to improve my chances of getting in the lottery and I started thinking more about training. I mapped some ambitious rides. I've only ridden a couple of them to date, but they are there, waiting to be completed and repeated.

I ventured out to Buffalo Creek and loved the singletrack there. I rode and rode, 5,100 mile over the course of 2011, and I hauled myself and my gear from the plains up to Guanella Pass over Fourth of July weekend. I admitted I was a closet mountain biker, and I gave in to the strong temptation to grind down the mesas in pre-work prairie-bike rides.

These experiences have worked to grant me the confidence and greater desire to test myself in Leadville this coming August. For a guy who came from sea level four years thence, the prospect of tackling this challenge is significant. The fact that I have the confidence to move toward this goal proves my extreme folly, or my faith in my own abilities. Time will tell. I'm putting my beans on faith.

I could have continued after the Triple Bypass with road rides. I've wanted to do the Copper Triangle, the Stonewall Century and the Deer Creek challenge in the years since. I could have continued with my own personal, non-organized goals. But something has drawn me to doing this race, this long, endurance ride at elevation, off-road...

The challenge is greater than anything else I've concocted. I've realized that from the beginning. In watching Race Across the Sky 2010 I saw an experience that goes beyond any contrivance I could articulate. I wanted that experience for my own. I wanted to see how far down I could be beaten and still come back. Leadville offers that opportunity in spades.

* For future reference, I know the official name is "Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race," but I'm too lazy to type that out repeatedly. I'm not an ultramarathoner, I have no intention of doing the Leadman challenge. So when I, a nearly-middle-age-Lance-Armstrong-wanna-be, speak of "Leadville," or "the Leadville 100," there is only one event I could be referring to.

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