Not so long ago I would have simply, but loudly, said: "That's !@#$ insane!"
Why would someone voluntarily ride a bike 100 miles over rough and steep terrain?
The fundamental criteria is that this is a challenge that can be met in a day's time. I would love to replace Leadville with the Tour Divide. Being a husband and father, with a full time cubicle sentence, I can't, at this juncture in my life, pull off the Tour Divide. Or even the Colorado Trail Race...
But why such a body wrecking, mind-bending, suffer-intensive challenge? Why couldn't I just set a goal to ride 100 miles on my own? Or look to shorter, more fun rides?
Why am I not content to take up Wii golf?
That question is much harder for me to find an articulate answer.
Let's go back to the beginning. I was a quiet, scrawny, myopic, snaggle-toothed kid. Athletic prowess? I could run pretty fast and quite far in one push. That was a skill developed because of the above-mentioned qualities. Lover not a fighter? Not exactly, but when I was a teen I heard an adult once say: "A good run is better than a bad stand any day," and I found my previously unspoken childhood mantra.
I really had no other athletic prowess. I was scrawny, but hidden under my jeans were two churning pistons of runaway power.
My freshman year I received a varsity letter in cross country. I'm convinced if I had stayed in a school that offered cross country I could have actually earned my letter. As it was, my letter was a fluke.
Life plods on, youth resolves into the stark realities of adulthood, and middle age looms. I've done nothing in life to distinguish myself. I was a prolific rock climber for more than a decade, but always struggled to move up through the grades.
While I have been a regular cyclist for more than 30 years, I have never possessed the competitive urge to prove myself on the field of battle.
Until now. Something awoke in me over the last couple of years, a strong, strong urge to make some distinguishing mark.
But it's more than that. There's something more subtle at work in my psyche. Maybe it's the recognition that all of my former tormentors are not aging as well as I am. As I near 40 I still feel and look much younger. And in some ways I'm in much better shape than I was as a bespeckled, geeky, flight-prone teen. Finally, I have the physical advantage over my peers I never had before.
Realistically, I know it doesn't matter in the whole scheme of things. None of the brutes that made my adolescent existence utterly miserable are ever going to know or care about my success or failure at Leadville. But I'll know.
Maybe it's not about astounding feats of physical ability? Just shy of 40 I'm still struggling to find a career path. I'm bogged down in an entry level job, still struggling to be financially resilient, still wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.
It's frustrating a have hit a wall along your career path that you cannot scale. It's especially frustrating when it's beyond your control to change, and the only consolation you ever hear is "Just be thankful you have a job!"
Lacking the opportunity or ability to make a real difference in the wide world nudges a soul toward drastic measures.
Am I offering myself up for sacrifice to the gods of the mid-life crisis? Hardly.
So what is it?
Partially, it's the location. I fell in love with Leadville the first time I visited in '09. Then last year when we were there I longed to find the means to make it my home. See above for the reasons that was never a viable option.
Go up there sometime and ride the Mineral Belt Trail. The landscape is amazing. Mind-boggling. Ride the roads around town.
But the race! Why the race?!
Because its there, I guess. It's a race, but you don't have to be a pro racer to do it. It's hard. But attainable for mere mortals like myself and Lance Armstrong.
People are drawn to this particular challenge that have much greater obstacles to success than I do. Age. Disease. Fitness. Psychology. Altitude. So why can't I do it?
The likelihood of my failure will come in two forms: things under my control, and things not under my control.
The things I can't control can still be overcome. Weather. Mechanical failures. They can be mitigated and beaten. Maybe wretched weather will thwart my attempt. I could crack a frame, bend a rim, break a leg. Some of those things can be anticipated. Some can't.
The things under my control only become contributors to my failure if I let them get out of hand. Planning and preparation are key. Careful thought and thoughtful training are elemental.
Those are the true challenges I am seeking to meet. Can I prove to myself that I can set a goal, prepare for the goal, and then crush the goal? This is something else I've struggled with my entire life; of having a vision and being able to see it fulfilled. I've had more failures at that than successes.
My internal bullies are the ones I truly want to see defeated when I cross the finish and accept my buckle.
And will crossing that finish line change anything in my life? That's an even harder question to answer. Will more demons jump into the breach to take the places of those I'll slay in the mountains outside of Leadville? Probably. But maybe they won't be as battle-hardened. Maybe they'll be easier to defeat after a brief respite.