Friday, August 31

Mellow Speed Friday: Monthly Mileage Edition

August fades into September. In August I attempted the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. I only managed 87 miles, but it was an incredible experience. But because I fell short I didn't slack off my training immediately afterward. I continued cranking, trying to pedal my way over those 13 miles I didn't ride, over that finish line I didn't get to see, to that magic place where my dreams had been realized.

So August 2012 was a record month for cycling miles for me. It beat out July 2012 by 7 miles.I didn't ride home this afternoon. I was offered a ride and I took it. I didn't need to rub July's face in it. 617 miles was well earned, not padded, not contrived. Why beat the previous record into oblivion when I can't crack 700 anyway?

The final tally is:

August 2012: 617 mi.
Daily average for the month: 20 mi.
2012 total: 3,809 mi.
2012 monthly average: 476 mi.
Projected total for the year: 5,716 mi.
Total ridden in the past 12 months: 5,454 mi.

As the year cranks on my monthly miles will drop off. After the Alpine Odyssey I may ease off my efforts. I may. But November and December (with the exception of December 2010) are historically lower mileage months for me. I don't expect record numbers. August may be my last hurrah for 2012. Then again, September may be another record breaker. If the weather holds...

It's been an interesting year, an interesting summer, and the future holds so many mysteries. I foresee the possibility that at some point in the future I may not ride as much. I foresee the possibility that I may not always be a daily bike commuter. At some point I may even work from home. Will I get fat? Only if I stop "racing."

I plan on being up early in the morning. I'll outfit myself as a jersey guy. I'll snap on the lycra, load up the bike with fuel, and I'll strike out for the Dirty Bismarck. I've missed it. I'll crank out some good training miles early so I can spend the rest of the day with my family. Maybe I'll get in another good training ride over this holiday weekend. Maybe I won't bother to write about it. Maybe I will.

As I sit writing this I am awash in a cool melancholy. Too much swirls around my brain this afternoon. Too much trouble in mind, but too many possibilities. I want a glimpse of the future, just enough to let me know I'm on the right course. I think I am, but I need just a poke of reassurance.

See you in September.

On Being an Inspiration

Let me preface this post by saying I'm not an arrogant jerk, and in no way do I mean for this to sound condescending. I'm no superman on the bike. I don't have any special cycling talents. And I'm not a professional writer. I fully understand these things. My writing is not an attempt to brag to the world of my mediocrity, but to reveal that even us Average Joes and Janes can be home bike mechanics, can commute by bike every day, and that we can do incredible things (like take up commuting, or ride a century, or do the Leadville 100) when we put our minds to it.

Bikes are amazing tools for utility, recreation and sport. By recognizing that fact and exploiting it to the nth degree we can maximize our human potential.

This ongoing cycling experiment that I chronicle for you, Dear Readers, is my attempt to showcase the economic, health and spiritual benefits of the bike. I'm not seeking my own fame and glory...well, actually I am, but only because I wish to succeed in my personal writing here on the alley wall of the Internet I'm not seeking my own fame and glory, but simply to exhibit that there are greater possibilities out there than what we're typically handed in our swag bag of life.

There are people who are much more effective at doing this than I am, however, that doesn't diminish my compulsion to be counted among them.

But deep down I do everything I do to inspire myself to greater things. Isn't that what we all do? When we step slightly outside our comfort zone we're daring ourselves to greatness. Being the cautious man that I am, I do that in increments. I rarely make huge strides beyond my comfort area all at once. Occasionally it happens, but more often I keep on my steady baby steps pace. That pace has served me well through the years, even though I wanted to be stampeding toward greatness.

I hope that by throwing myself under the bus of experience I CAN inspire you to your own feats of greatness. I have no doubt you can easily exceed my own.

Whilst wallowing in our collective self pity, my wife and I came up with a strange new scheme. What follows is a text message exchange between us:

Me (in conclusion to my typical morning grumbles): I wish I were with you somewhere else.

Mandy: Agreed. Let's sell the house and set off on a trip and never come back

Me: Yay! I thought you'd never come over to the dark side!

Mandy: You think I am joking? Seriously, let's sell the houses, I'll homeschool as we travel. I'll check on passports.

Me: We'd need purpose and parameters (where, how long, how, etc, etc). Don't tempt me Frodo, because I'm escapist enough to jump on this and sink my teeth in. And my jaw locks like a pitbull's.

Mandy: I wouldn't tempt. I'd need a definite plan, answers to big questions, etc. I'd do it.

I hesitate to share this. My reluctance is because this is an idea only just conceived, hardly strong enough to stand on its own, much less to fly.

And if I cast it out there and then we never follow through...

I'm not saying we're going on a Family On Bikes style adventure next summer. What I am saying is that we're unsatisfied with the status quo. I, particularly, am fed up with the status quo.

I'm fed up with being stuck in a job I hate with no prospects on the horizon. I'm not one to sit back, to quote yet another movie, "as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life."

I don't want or need much from life. I have faith in an existence beyond this world anyway. But what I do want from life is just a little human respect. And I can't get that in my occupation now. I'm done with playing games and doing the dance. I want a life that is real.

I want to do work that I care about, not that I fundamentally disagree with. My position basically exists to maintain the property values of the wealthy. There is no nobility or satisfaction to be had in that.

My view of property rights is pretty radical. You see, I believe in the inherent value of the Commons, not in some contrived system that benefits those with money at the expense of those with less.

I thought by getting into planning that I could exact some real change in the world. But like I said, the bulk of planning involves preserving the property rights and values of the rich with no concern for the trials of the poor.

I didn't know that during my undergraduate sentence. No one truly explained what "planning" meant. As is typical in higher education, it was left up to us, the students, to figure it out for ourselves.

So for five years and more I've been fighting a headwind of my own making. I went from being a free spirit that knew the path he wanted to travel, if not the exact destination, to someone who let the fear of appearing to be unsuccessful to the world rule his decisions. So I stepped off my chosen path, the path of my dreams, the path that would have smoothed out as I matured and gained experience, and I stepped into the path that I believed everyone else wanted me to be walking, nay, driving. That path led straight into this cubicle hell I find myself in day after day. And I have only myself to blame.

This morning I was blessed with another of those moments that come only from being a dedicated cyclist. I watched a massive orange moon set behind the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. As the orb disappeared behind those mountains I desperately wanted to follow it into the west, or turn and race it back to the eastern horizon.

I pedaled on into a headwind east of Golden instead. And as I fought that headwind I realized my heart and soul has been fighting a headwind for so long now. I really want to turn out of it and just throttle up, catch a good tailwind back to the dawn.

Everything in our lives seems to be pointing back toward the path I was on before I met Mandy. No, not to be some climbing bum extraordinaire, but a path of simplicity, of an uncomplicated, self-reliant, resilient life.

Fear has kept me from bushwhacking over to that path. And yes, my lovely dear, it would be a bushwhack to get where we want to be in life. You always hate those impromptu Bataan Death Marches. Well, just giving you fair warning, the going could be thick, but I think we can pick up the trail about where we'd be now anyway if I'd just stayed true to what I knew.

It's like your mom said, we do have an amazing life, but it's not about where we are or what we're doing. It's who we are. And we take that with us everywhere.

Sorry, other Dear Readers, took a little tangent there.

The past is behind me--us--and I'm always adamant that the path where I stand today is the right one to this point because I am who I am based on my experiences along that path. But tomorrow...tomorrow can be a new path and still be mine.

I needed these last few years to learn, to build confidence, strength, and maturity. I wouldn't trade them for anything. But I'm not sure where the path goes from here. I've not burned my bridges at work, but I've made it clear I'm done being a doormat and done sitting quietly by.

The tone of this post might seem a bit disjointed. For that I apologize. It's evolved over a week. It started almost as a fluff piece, filler, a week ago, and now it's just another part of my ongoing personal drama.

It's too easy to settle into a routine and forget how amazing our lives can be. It's easy to say our dreams are too hard to attain and just keep dreaming without acting. It's easy to avoid the steep hills on life's roads by taking the long easy way around. But by choosing to do things that are hard we become something stronger than we could be otherwise. By enduring the things we hate we learn to endure anything, everything.

Light explodes on the horizon.

Thursday, August 30

Hot September

Fall is coming, but the forecasted high this afternoon is 96F. We've broken the record for the number of days over 90F in a year. And we're still going strong.

The days are distinctly shorter as August fades. As previously mentioned, I broke out the Laser. Since my early morning assault on the Mordwand I've used it during the first part of my morning commutes to be seen, and I've been using a rear blinky LED for the same reason.

I dread the days when I'll be commuting both to and from work in darkness. But for now I leave just before dawn and the light grows as I ride away from home. I've gotten to see quite a few cool sunrises over my shoulder in recent days.

There's a lot going on in my head right now. I want to spill it all here, in the storm drain of the Internet, but I hesitate. I can't articulate my feelings as strongly as I'd like. I'm angry. I'm fed up. I'm brain tired.

Things will get better. We'll pass through this phase of the moon and the lunacy will wane a bit. The Alpine Odyssey is just over two weeks away. I have that to look forward to. And after that we'll have a better idea about Leadville 2013.

This afternoon I broke my monthly record. With one day left this month I am 3 miles over my previous record of 610 miles last month. I should hit at least 640 if I can squeeze in a few extra miles tomorrow.

I think I have my failure at Leadville to thank for a record month. If I hadn't DNFed I wouldn't have signed up for the Alpine Odyssey, and I would have probably slacked off my efforts.

Of course I would trade a record month for crossing the finish line in Leadville...

Wednesday, August 29

Beating a Dead Horse With an Old Dog's Tricks

I'm repeating a life long pattern in my MTB training (it's all training). 

As I've explained before, back when I was an avid hiker I would pull up to a trailhead in the Red River Gorge, I'd get out of the car and start walking, and I wouldn't stop moving  until I collapsed against the car many hours later. I walked over, under, around, and through any and all obstacles that presented themselves before me. 

My hill climbing tactic was to just keep moving, no matter how slow I ended up going, never stopping to rest, and when I'd reach the flat ridge top I would just keep walking until I'd recovered. Without knowing it I was teaching myself to recover while still on the move. I think that's a key skill for endurance athletes.

I relearned that lesson on the Mordwand climb recently. I learned it again with a vengeance. Recovery comes later, on easy ground. Never stop the fight while the battle rages hot around you.

Another lesson I've relearned, which I've alluded to, is that becoming a better boulderer makes you a better climber. I've been applying that to my cycling. Even as I sat in my starting corral at Leadville I knew I had neglected to refine my MTBing skills. For two years I'd focused my efforts for on mileage alone. Even my training for speed involved just upping my overall average speed over moderate to long distances. 

Immediately after Leadville I embraced two realities: one, that I needed to become 100% comfortable riding 100% of the time clipped in, and two, I needed to foster my bike handling skills far beyond my current abilities. Number two included technical ascents, burly steep ascents, more confidence in descending, and staying on the bike at all costs.

I need to get comfortable with the bumps and bruises associated with giving it my all. Then I can throw out fear and focus on effort. I'm not saying I will ever be comfortable with the idea of breaking myself, or causing irreparable damage to soft or hard tissue. I want to enjoy my life, not spend it regretting and healing. But, having said that, I also realize I'm not pushing myself as hard as I could.

My last ride on South Table Mountain I stayed clipped in the whole ride, up the short, steep, loose climb from Quaker, all over the top of the mesa over rock and yucca, past a rattler, down the cobble-choked road, and then I started down the Ancient Palms Trail. There's one crux move on the descent: a tall a-frame rock crossing the trail. I've ridden over it clipped in before, but as I approached this last time I unclipped in fear, went to pedal to get over it, accidentally clipped back in, hit the rock and stalled and fell over into a bed of basketball sized igneous rocks. Ouch!
You could say the rides I've been doing lately have been more like boulder problems than long rock climbs. In the relative scheme of things, a long ride like the Leadville 100 is a long route while my wallering around on North Table Mountain in the predawn darkness is a boulder problem. 

So, combining my tried and true tactics, if I can successfully tackle the technically and physically harder sections of Leadville, or other rides, with ease and confidence, and then use the easier sections between the major challenges to recover from my efforts, then I should be able to up my speed significantly.

You might ask how I pull speed out of that equation. Remember, I'm really bad at algebraic thinking. I'm a spatial genius, not a math geek.

No longer am I a closet mountain biker. I have come to all of these realizations in the context of my Leadville and Alpine Odyssey training, but I also want to get much better so I can just enjoy mountain biking to the fullest.  

I've been trying to articulate a post in my mind expressing why mountain biking appeals to me so strongly and why I denied it for so long. Soon...

For those non-climbers out there...

The difference between a boulder problem:

And a roped rock climb:


Monday, August 27

Summer of Cycling

It's been quite the summer of cycling. I'll count it over on September 15 at the conclusion of the Alpine Odyssey.

Early summer I was ramping up my Leadville training. I did my last commute to Boulder and did a little exploring. While the niece and nephew were in we rode in Vedauwoo and Buffalo Creek. We also discovered and tore up Valmont Bike Park.

Mandy discovered a love of mountain biking, I've now fully embraced my inner dirthog, and the future looks to be more dusty.

When the kids vacated Colorado I really ramped up my training and did my big distance and climbing rides. I made my Kingston Peak attempt and an amazing Corona Pass ride. Amazing. July was a record mileage month, over 600, and my average commute speeds have steadily improved.

We visited Utah and rolled over the CO/UT state line on our bikes. The desire to return and visit Fruita and Moab swelled.

The Olympics road racing caught my interest where few other televised cycle races have.

Then Leadville.

And immediately thereafter the plan to ride he Alpine Odyssey... I've started thinking of myself as a mountain bike "racer."

The Lance Armstrong statement was the line in the sand that seems to have a disproportionate crowd on the same side as Lance.

Most recently the USA Pro Cycling Challenge has raced through our lives.

Between Leadville and the USAPCC we've been within arms reach of a host of notable cyclists, both mountain biking and road cycling: Rebecca Rusch, Dave Weins, Lance Armstrong (in the same room), Ricky MacDonald, Grace Ragland, Alban Lakata, Tinker Juarez, Eldon "Fat Cyclist" Nelson, Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, Levi Leipheimer, Jens Voigt, Rory Sutherland, Tom Danielson, Taylor Phinney, Ivan Basso, George Hincapie and the rest of the USAPCC field. It's been so cool to see so many of the big names of cycling this summer.

Netflix revealed The Flying Scotsman, which led to me reading Graeme Obree's autobiography. Obree's story strengthened a fascination with professional cycling in me.

The Reveal the Path debut pulled us to Denver. It was enjoyable and inspiring, as were the stories that have come out of the 2012 Tour Divide, and stirred up the bees nest of interest in endurance racing in me. Talk of the Colorado Trail Race was heard.

I'm currently reading Joe Bowen's Real Winners Don't Quit and Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike. Yeah, I'll be inspired to levels of ridiculousness by those...

I've written a few cycling related stories over the summer, too, and came up with yet another good idea just a few days ago.

We're coming down to the wire on the Alpine Odyssey and I feel a change in direction coming.

I feel that my focus may swing back to commuting. I may be wrong. I may continue to be MTB stupid.

From a career standpoint I completed the CDOT Bicycle Facilities Design class back in the spring and then I applied for a big advocacy related job in June. Still waiting to hear the results on that one...

My mind is still somewhat spinning from the past couple of months. Hopefully I can go back to a more diverse range of subjects here on the pavement's edge.

Saturday, August 25

Stage 6: An Amazing Experience

It was a little hectic getting going this morning. We wanted to be in Golden by 9am. In the slightly chill air we struck out on the cargo bikes.

The ride to Golden went well. It was obvious people were biking in to Golden for the USAPCC festivities.

After tucking the Cannonball and Kona Lisa in the bike corral we strolled over to Washington to the VIP tent and snagged a well earned breakfast.

We rubbed elbows with local politicians, Leadville riders, regional cycling advocates, the CEO of the race and lots of excited people.

It was fun to watch as the race unfolded in front of us. Team and race vehicles lined up. People walked around looking important. Volunteers passed out sheets of rider trading cards. And then I realized we needs to move up the block to the announcers stage. 

After positioning ourselves at autograph alley, where the riders would come off the stage after signing in, we eagerly awaited our favorites.

Very soon we were rewarded for our patience as riders started coming our way. One of the early ones was Cadel Evans, last year's Tour de France winner. He was awesome, stopping to talk to Boone and signing his cards AND Boone's cycling cap. He even talked to Boone about the cap.

We collected quite a few autographs and I got lots of photos of the riders. Names we got include Christian Vande Velde, Andy Schleck, Timmy Duggan, Tom Danielson, Rory Sutherland, Jens Voigt, Dave Zabriskie, Rafael Infantino, Ivan Basso, Tyler Farrar, Taylor Phinney...Levi Leipheimer...and...George Hincapie.

Levi and Patrick Dempsey

George Hincapie on his last day 
of professional road racing

 Taylor Phinney of Boulder signing 
an autograph for Mandy

Finally the riders were all through and the race staff let us move closer to the start. We really couldn't have gotten any closer. I was about three deep from the barrier about five feet ahead of the arch, exactly even with where the leaders lined up. Beanie sat on my shoulders and Boone snuck up to the barrier. He was right in the middle of everything.

I couldn't quite get a good photo of the leaders, but I saw Dan Grunig from Bicycle Colorado up at the barriers.

"Dan!" When he looked back I held out my camera. He gave me a grin and took it. When he handed it back there were a few amazing pictures of the leaders, on the starting line, from the front.

Thanks Dan!!!

Then the madness began. The race was off and made two additional laps through town in front of us. Watching them scream through town was cool.

We ambled back home and made it in time to pick up the racers heading up Boulder Canyon on the Radio Shack Tour Tracker. Been watching ever since. As I write this the peloton is bearing down on Boulder for the Flagstaff finish.

I had been bummed because I hadn't been able to keep up with the race all week, but today was worth the price of admission. We had such a great time.

The stage finish today promises to be exciting.

(It was an amazing finish, Jens Voigt pulling through Boulder, Rory Sutherland then pulling away and never looking back to go on to win the stage, and finally Levi Leipheimer breaking out to take back the leader's

 Jens Voigt at the starting line. 
He made the stage interesting

What's exciting about all of this for me is that this is our home. We can ride out to Golden and check out the start of the race and then ride home and watch the rest on the computer.

Living in the Denver area has presented so many opportunities like this for us. Like seeing Lance Armstrong at Leadville. Like being a part of this greater Colorado cycling community.

Man, what a day!

Friday, August 24

Ramming Speed Friday: Roadie-O Edition

The Lance Armstrong statement came out this morning. Tonight is the KOM Citizens' Hill Climb up Lookout Mountain which I seriously considered doing. Tomorrow is the USAPCC stage through our town. The day after is George Hincapie's last day as a professional cyclist and the conclusion of the big race. I've sort of forgotten about mountain biking this week.

Through my connections at work I was offered a four passes to the VIP tent at the starting area for tomorrow's stage in Golden. I couldn't pass it up.

I like my speedy, nimble, steel-framed Bianchi road bike. As much as I like cranking in the dirt and in the woods I gotta say it's pretty fun to just get out on the pavement and pedal for all I'm worth and cover the miles. There's something about going fast under your own power...

Racing became interesting to me when it revisited the roads I frequently ride, when it circled through my stomping grounds and started calling out familiar names, and when the permit for the USAPCC landed on my desk last year. Back then it was still called he Quiznos Pro Challenge. While I'm not crazy about the current name, I definitely think its better than a moniker shared with a sandwich. I still have issues with McDonalds being the biggest sponsor of the Olympics.

Then I became a "racer" myself, though the only thing I was really racing in Leadville was the clock. However, that day gave me a new appreciation and a new interest in participating in competitive events. Enter the Alpine Odyssey (Three weeks!!!). (Almost) enter the KOM Citizens Hill Climb tonight. Enter the plan to do a 5k run on Thanksgiving with my wife. Enter, certainly, other events in the years to come.

For me, the appeal to participate lies solely in endurance mountain biking. I've too much stress-related weight gain to outrun jersey guys on the road, but I have enough padding to outsuffer them. I also have enough mass to outdescend them, but they just go too fast up the hills for me to make up any ground going down.

THIS looks very, very tempting. Shhh!!! Don't tell my wife!

Yeah, I could get into the non-commercial, remote, scenic, epic, insanely long endurance events like that. That's right up my alley, down my creek, squirming in my brain.

Wait, this post was about road riding. Right?

Hijacked! By...myself?!

And yes, this is the subtle unheralded return of Ramming Speed Friday. This summer has just been too crazed...and this past couple of weeks has given me plenty of reasons to want to flee the cube, especially Flee.

I fleed...flewed...fled at a solid 20.4 mph average. Ramming. Speed. Friday.

The Lance Factor: Why It Doesn't Matter

I used to just think cheaters suck. But with a better understanding of professional sports I'm of a different mind now. You're going to see a lot of Lance Armstrong related headlines today. I hope you read my post and hear me out.

There are two possible realities: Lance doped, or Lance did not dope. And it doesn't matter.

Lance Armstrong, like so many others, beat cancer with drugs. We beat headaches, colds, viruses, unsavory social situations, Monday mornings, and so many other maladies with chemicals, that not one person in western society can say they haven't benefited from some kind of pharmacological aid.

Lance beat cancer. He shouldn't have. He should have died. And after he passed through the valley of death he came back, trained and was good enough, artificial aids or not, to be counted among the best cyclists on the planet. That's no small accomplishment.

If...Lance Armstrong cheated with chemicals, then he's a liar and a cheat, but no more than any of the other professional cyclists. There is a culture of doping out there. And, like honest politicians, I'm certain you can find a few pure athletes that refuse to allow themselves to be tainted. Until their sponsors insist.

So Lance doped or he didn't. He passed all his tests. He got through more than a few years at the absolute pinnacle of professional racing as a cancer survivor. He accomplished what someone like me could have never accomplished, drugs or not.

It's obvious he USADA is on a witch hunt. To use such nefarious tactics, to go after such an iconic athlete after his career is over...

Listen, if the instances of doping in professional sports were so few and far between it would make sense to go after the scofflaws, but by stripping Lance of his titles at this point only shows some individual hatred of Lance Armstrong. Yeah, he's the brash Texan that shocked the world. That's gonna sting a few tender cheeks, but he is what he is.

And what is he? An inspiration. To cancer patients, to armchair cyclists, to couch potato rejects, to so many who would dream of accomplishing the seemingly impossible.

Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin started the Leadville race series to bring the town of Leadville out of the depths of economic ruin. Intentional or not, Lance's presence in 2008 and 2009 gave the race and the town the shot in the arm it needed to keep on.

Getting to hear him speak for three minutes the day before my own Leadville race was one of those too cool moments I'll never forget. And not because I hold him up as some sort of cycling god, but because he has done so much to make American cycling something to shout about again.

Lance is at least partly, if not mostly, responsible for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. What was the count? $85 million in revenue for the state of Colorado last year in the midst of the Great Recession? That may not translate directly for those non-Coloradans out there, but the USAPCC may be only the beginning labors of a rebirth in professional American cycling. Lance is at the center of that exploding interest from Plano, Texas to France to Leadville to Golden, Colorado and into the hearts and minds of every young aspiring cyclist, competitive or not.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LIVESTRONG) is an amazing organization, and Lance's influence in that arena is just too incredible to discount. So many people have hope and the strength to go on because of Lance's groundbreaking work.

No, his benevolent works do not excuse cheating. But his benevolent works should not be tarnished or damaged because of some questionable allegations. The witch hunt needs to stop. Bringing Lance down serves no real public good.

Love him or hate him, Lance Armstrong is the face of American cycling.

Here is a link to a Yahoo news story (apologies for not digging deeper, but you get the gist). 

And here is the link to Lance's recent statement.

Thursday, August 23

USAPCC VIP Captured By The VC and We'll All End Up On KP

In the midst of a wretched day at work an amazing opportunity presented itself: the opportunity was for me to obtain four passes to the VIP tent at the start area of Saturday's Stage 6 of the USAPCC in Golden.

I been bemoaning the fact that I had been missing all the coverage of the race because it's been too busy at work for me to keep my eyes glued to the Radio Shack Tour Tracker like I did all through last year's inaugural Running of the Boys All Over Colorado...when...I got the most fortunate email. An offer, a gift, a ticket to the big time!

Did you know there is a rider named Colorado in the race this year? Yeah, he's from New Jersey. Or somewhere.

Anyway, I'll be taking my scruffy, caddy-esque family to play in the VIP gene pool on Saturday. We'll slurp where others sip, we'll belch where others...well, belch. We'll rub elbows with people who have no power or influence in the world, except to make Lycra look so good fat people will wear it with abandon.

We'd planned on venturing to Boulder, to bump elbows with 3,000,000 more attractive people than ourselves, but this plan seems to have more perks.

I think if I can just meet George Hincapie before he retires I'll be a happy man. And Levi. He won the Leadville 100 once, I think.

Wearing You Down

You didn't ask for this, this whole Leadville obsession. You didn't care about my ambitions or my dreams. You had a singular purpose and you fulfilled it so well, so often, stopping my forward motion again and again. I owe you my life even...after so many thousands and thousands of feet of descending, miles and miles of urban and suburban traffic...what can I say?

So I repay your benevolence by asking more and more, putting your through greater abuse and strain. And yet you still performed your duties and kept me safe and whole. I'm such a wretch. I just couldn't ignore your groanings. I had to do something...

So this post is to you, Factory Rear Brake Pads, you're the best! May you rest in peace!

If it makes you feel any better, you did such a good job of stopping me I had to replace my Rear Tire a couple of weeks prior. 

Wednesday, August 22

The Alpine Odyssey: Murder Face

I've discovered a new training tool I am going to intensively employ in my AO training and then in subsequent LV100 training over the coming year.

On North Table Mountain, on the north slopes, there is a steep gravel road. Steep. S-T-E-E-P. I'd never ridden up it, but the handful of times I've crawled down it with my bike I've had a distinct sense of vertigo and horror at its steep and loose nature. I didn't believe you could ascend it on a bike because of all the loose gravel. No traction.

Earlier this week I forgot discretion and prudence and thought: I've lived a good life... No, actually I thought: What if I rode UP that road? I plugged the route into MapMyRide and then promptly avoided looking at the specific elevation split for that 0.8 mile section of a 15.5 mile mountain bike commute.

I battled traffic, second-day-of-school-crazed-soccer-mom-traffic, to get to the start of the trail off W 58th Ave. Then I was moving upward.

The long gravel road snaked up through the steep prairie to a break, a gully, that surmounts the caprock barrier at the top of the mesa. It's probably a good thing that I couldn't see the entire route from the bottom.

The lower section is less steep but surprisingly steep all the same. Things seemed to be going well until I turned the hill and was confronted with the bottom of the last climb. The Last Climb? Nah, but still a doozy.

I wanted to swerve off on the loop trail that would take me over to highway 93, but I heard Ken yelling in my head: Put your nose down on that handlebar, watch that front wheel...

So I did. I tried not to wuss and unclip, but as I began to see clouds through my spokes I panicked slightly and slipped my left foot free...just in case.

I've really begun to learn that "just in case" can be the kiss of death. Soon enough I strayed into deeper gravel and plowed to a halt. At least I had my foot free... (heavy sarcasm)

Standing, precariously, at a dead stop, my chest heaved with labored breaths. I contemplated calling that point my high point, retreating to the lower loop trail, and coming back to try it again on another day. After all, I had no idea how I'd get the bike moving again on the loose steep gravel

I shook my head, threw a leg over the top tube, clipped in my right pedal and shoved off. I continued into the prairie sky.

I pedaled through the rest of the steepness, a 10% average grade, until the angle eased off. Then I settled into a sane cadence for the final push to the top of the mesa. Until...The One spontaneously dumped it's chain into the spokes. The second time I ground to a halt I was clipped in both pedals. Miraculously (heavy sarcasm) I got free and got a foot down.

No more mishaps plagued me and I attained the rolling summit. I'd made it all the way with two impromptu stops. Next time I'll do it in one push.

In a fit of melodrama I'm calling the climb Mordwand after the treacherous north face of the Eiger.

I descended the other road, on the western side, that's crazy steep, too. Made me glad I had put new pads in my rear caliper. Made me realize the front pads are way too far gone, too. I've descended so many hard thousands of feet this past's no wonder.


Today was Bean's first day of kindergarten. I took the morning off and rode to Westminster with the family to see her off to school. Of course we subjected The One to the indignity of being hauled on Gump and I was faced with a minimum 20 mile commute this AM.

What the heck! Why not throw in a slog up North Table to boot?

I got through northern and western Arvada no problemo. Then I contoured around the North Table Loop trail to the new TH off highway 93 where I started up the stupid steep western access road to the top of the mesa.

I didn't make it to the top.

Hate to spoil the ending, but I didn't.

No, I crawled at least halfway up, nose dutifully planted on my handlebars, eyes locked on that front wheel, shoes smartly clicked into my pedals...

Near the halfway point I did catch a glimpse of another cyclist coming in off a side trail, but I couldn't spare the attention to study my fellow sufferer.

I made it another dozen yards or so and hit the muscle failure wall. I skillfully got free of my pedals and stopped. I gave a valiant effort to get back on the bike and get moving but it was no use. The road Is just too steep. It's a one shot deal. I decided to call it my high point and return another day.

Finally I could spare a glance back. The new cyclist was a tall guy pushing a Salsa fatbike up behind me. As I turned to head down we met.

Jason has recently moved to Golden and has been out enjoying the local trails on his fatbike and seems to be enjoying it. We talked bikes and commuting for a few minutes before I had to beg off to get to work.

Now I want a fatbike. Wait, I already wanted a fatbike. I guess I just want one more now.

Tuesday, August 21

The Leadville Saga: Why I Did It

I've tried to answer the "why" question since I started this journey. I may finally be starting to understand it. Hang on, it's complex to explain but in the end, I think, simple to understand.

"Because it's there," comes to mind. The 100 mile mountain bike race is a challenge that appealed to me that seemed both hard but also doable.

But that doesn't really explain why me, why this and why now.

In his non-motivational speech Ken alludes to the promises, both implicit and explicit, that the riders make to their loved ones and their communities. "I'm going to do the Leadville 100!" you proclaim. Then you have to put your money where your mouth is. That "why" only answers why you show up at the starting line when your stomach is doing somersaults at 5am on Saturday morning.

If you never make the proclamation the you can never let anyone down. So why make the proclamation: "I'm going to do the Leadville 100"? That becomes the real question.

For me it's been a lifelong "I dare you" to myself. I grew up lacking self-confidence. Myopic, skinny, snaggle-toothed...I was a sight to behold growing up. I was reserved, solitary, and non-confrontational to a fault. Dump some vague attention/sensory issues into the mix and you'll get me. I wasn't popular, but I wasn't stupid either. There was a bit of resentment toward the world in my mind. I always felt like the worlds biggest failure. Nothing ever seemed to go my way, and my own successes, those I'd defined for myself, never seemed to impress anyone else.

At 34 I finally entered into a conventional career path. It quickly became obvious to me that I'd not made the best choices from a personal standpoint, but I was satisfied that I was somehow fulfilling my duties as a husband and a father.

The didn't change the drabness of the cubicle walls, the insanity I suffered punching a clock, and working for The Man.

My job took away most of my free time, the time I desperately wanted to use to get out and explore and have my made up adventures in the mountains and on the roads. I wasn't getting any younger either. Stress-related weight gain was fusing me to a back-twisting and soul-crushing office chair. I hated who I had become, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I'd become the victim I loathed to see in everyone else.

Then I saw the movies. They stirred my soul, caused my mind to tingle. I saw the potential for a mighty, life changing adventure. I saw the potential for an event that would inspire me to reach my lesser goals, my greater goals, and that would incite me to get off my butt and return to the person I used to be, the free spirit that would have punched the cubicle dweller in the face.

I had misguided, but strong, ambitions when I was younger. I wanted to do something, but I never knew what. I was always headed off toward some grand horizon, with no knowledge where I was going or why. The stars were too high out of my line of sight, but I'm sure I could have reached them if I'd just known they were there.

It has seemed tragic and ironic to me that when I finally have the means and the imagination for what I truly want out of life I no longer have the freedom.

But that's the victim talking again. So I've learned to be creative. I'm the master of the mountain bike commute, taking detours to and from work to get a little dirty and have a little fun. I can conceive ambitious rides from home and then plan and execute them, surprising others as well as myself. I don't have a concept of conventional limitations. There's a stupid part of me that thinks that I could, at 38 years old with no previous experience, get into endurance racing and do exceptionally well.

It may not seem realistic, but stranger things have happened.

I feel my youth slipping away, even as maturity is beginning to feel like a good fit. Oddly, with maturity I seem to be finding the courage to challenge myself and take bigger (calculated) risks.

I've always been cautious. I've never been reckless or oblivious in my adventurous pursuits. For those that know me, that may seem strange, as I typically do risky things all alone. I've rope-soloed many rock climbs, I bouldered alone for years. I was a solo hiker, paddler and cyclist. I don't need company in an activity to be comfortable. I believe in, and practice, self-reliance. It's deep in my life philosophies.

So back to "why." I crave the unique and amazing experiences. I'm not content to visit a national park and take the post card photos. I want to go off the beaten path and find the novel, the interesting, the beautiful. I cherish those experiences. I value them above all material wealth.

The social animal in me does that because I want to discover, and then share, those experiences with others. My social side has been trying to encourage others to experience Leadville in some way. I want to share the experience with my family and friends.

The selfish side of me does these things to get away from everyone else. "Off the beaten path" means no interference or complications from people. I crave solitude to enjoy my experiences in peace.

I'm both of these people, all at the same time, in the same skin. It's hard sometimes.

Leadville, the race, appealed to both sides of that coin. The race is such an incredible coming together of an amazingly diverse group of like minded people. The event is like a festival and a race, and the Bataan Death March all rolled into one.

I love facing and overcoming adversity. I'm not a masochist, but pain let's you know you're alive, teaches you, and refines you. Adversity (even the contrived kind) is the forge where you craft the tools to deal with life's true challenges.

My 20 year high school reunion was a week after Leadville. I had to choose. I didn't have enough vacation time for both. Reunion...or Leadville this year? I chose Leadville. I could have put off Leadville for another year, I mean, your 20th high school reunion only happens once. But then I found out those organizing it wanted to have a party in a field. 20 years later and they're still stuck in that field...I didn't fit in that field then, and I'm not going to subject myself to that dysfunctional socialization now.

As for Leadville...

There is a new "why" now. I don't think I wanted to finish bad enough. I think I wanted to have done the ride. Now that I've fallen short, there is a hunger in me to go back and do it the right way, from a place of power, to finish, to take the medal and buckle after crossing the finish line to the cheers of loved ones and strangers, to cry and not care, to swell with joy and forget those damned 13 miles I should have ridden.

The new "why" is that I have unfinished business in the mountains west of Leadville, Colorado.

As for the third question, I'll answer that one next August.

Monday, August 20

The Leadville Saga: How I Did It

Before the race my wife asked me, in complete seriousness and sincerity, three questions. She wanted to know how I could do something like the Leadville 100, why I would do it, and how I'd feel afterward.

I thought I'd nailed it with my "To Have the Apprentice Dig Deep" post, but I really didn't. So here goes. I'm going to give one full post to each of her questions.

Immediately after completing my first road century I had the conscious thought that a hundred mile off-road century would be much harder. There must have been some relevant context at the time. I'd been training for the 2009 Triple Bypass tour by riding passes. Guanella Pass was still dirt then, so I'm guessing I was comparing my time up Guanella with my other road rides. I do remember at the time strongly believing the mountain bike and off-road rides were just going to be inherently slower and take a lot more energy. I'd reached Avon with little to spare.

The acknowledgment in my mind that (specifically) the Leadville 100 would be much harder than the Triple Bypass opened up the door to the possibility for me. I needed the TBP to get me close. It truly took a lot of effort to get myself ready to, and to have faith that I could, do the Triple Bypass. That process was the first stepping stone. And it bridged a huge gap.

Over the past four years I've ridden a lot of ambitious rides around the Denver area into the foothills. Those rides have built up the tools and confidence I needed to shore up that one huge stepping stone.

2010 was a pivotal year for me. I became a full time bike commuter and I saw Ride the Divide and Race Across the Sky 2010.

Those two things, the mileage and the movies, comprised the final two stepping stones. I walked out of the theater at Colorado Mills on the opening night of RATS 2010 fully intending to do the Leadville 100. What was it about the movie that reformed my mind? I saw that normal people were attempting the race and succeeding. I saw that people with huge obstacles in their paths were doing Leadville despite their personal day-to-day hardships. Leadville wasn't just a race for hardcore jersey guys or young, aggressive and angry men.

The next day I posted that my training had begun. At the time I only had a partial plan on how I'd do it. I had bravado, but little true confidence. The confidence finally came two weeks before when I rolled into the Bikeport after my Corona Pass century ride. That's when I was finally sure I could do Leadville.

I knew if I put in the miles, made the climbs, learned to eat right, maintained my bike...I could do it. Over the two years leading up to August 11 those things came together.

I got there, and will eventually cross that finish line, through series of stepping stones, incremental foundation stones and beyond, that got me closer and closer to my goal, building confidence and skills with each new step up. Finally, with the goal in sight, I had only a small step left to make. I'll admit, that last step was a doozy, made me nauseous, gave me pause. I'm rarely nervous about stuff. I was so wrecked on Saturday morning I couldn't eat.

Maybe, Dear Reader, your question isn't about motivation, but how I endured almost ten hours on the bike, and how I got up Columbine and Powerline.

I ran cross country in high school. I learned a lot in that one year through an amazing coach, that has helped me even to this day. As August 11 approached I kept remembering one particular meet where the coach told us beforehand: "You're going to run your fastest times today. This will be the biggest field you'll run in all year. It's going to hurt, but you're going to do it." And we did. Leadville was the same.

Excitement and adrenaline will only carry you so far. Novelty will keep your interest through a hard new experience as well. But you have to break it down into smaller goals and victories.

When I was a rock climber I struggled to get better, until I became frustrated and started bouldering intensively. Bouldering involves doing short, hard moves near the ground. After a couple of years I realized I could break down long roped climbs into a series of shorter problems. Instantly I was a better roped climber.

Leadville isn't a 50 mile climb followed by 50 miles of coasting. No, it is a series of lesser challenges that, when strung together, become much greater than the sum of their parts. 

St Kevin's was "easy" because I'd heard it had been recently graded. If I'd actually seen the climb beforehand I may have been intimidated. It was much longer than I'd expected.

Conversely, outbound Powerline was "easy" because I had ridden it. I knew what I was in for.

The midsection, between the bottom of Powerline and Twin Lakes, was where I felt like I was really working hard to make it to the finish line. I kept my eyes up on the horizon, I passed when I could, I never let myself get stuck on a slower rider's wheel, I kept my gears high, I tried to pedal efficiently and continuously and I focused on just getting the job done. That was the most enjoyable part of the day, both inbound and outbound.

I never stopped to rest, to chat, or to look at the view. I was continuously cognizant of the task at hand. You have to be always moving, always looking ahead, ever alert and continuously engaged in strategery.

I think I failed mentally because I stopped breaking it down. I was sore and tired and weak and I could only see a single 1,200' and 13 mile push. Truly it wasn't like that.

Was the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race hard? Yes. And no. It was no giveaway, but I it was well within my abilities. I made a fatal decision in conjunction with a fueling snafu. That simple.

To ride all day? That just takes preparation. You've got to condition your body if you want to enjoy it. Learn to change hand positions. Learn to rest your feet while pedaling. Learn to stretch your legs while riding. Bike fit is crucial. Eat by the clock, drink when you're thirsty.

The most important things? Be positive and have fun!

photo by zazoosh

Sunday, August 19

Weekend Ramble

Let's step away from all this Leadville silliness for the first time in awhile. I'm a changed cyclist, so you're going to hear a lot more about MTB racing in the future, but we need a break, eh?

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is fast upon us. I'm probably not going to try crank by crank coverage this year as I had to blow off work last year to do it. It's just been too busy for me to do that again. I do promise some good photo coverage of the Golden to Boulder stage. I'll start planning soon so I can position myself for the best photo op in Golden.

I took the kids to a bike rodeo in Golden yesterday. They had a pretty good time.

I still have a cargo bike and we still just have one car. Not going to buy a Hummer to use as a team car for Team Pavement's Edge Racing. I am looking forward to cooler commuting weather. This global warming thing is starting to wear on an old sweathog like me.

I had my first long-sleeved commute this week. The low one morning was about 50F.

Reading Joe Bowen's book makes me want to go on a permanent bike tour. I just want to pedal away from the mundane. Anything you can conceive is possible, and I have a great imagination.

I realize the culmination of my long LV obsession has taken focus and attention from other things in my life. I need to be looking to my desired career shift. I don't want to start another year in permit review. The cubicle walls are closing in. I've got ideas...I need action.

At one point I was all gung-ho to do good things in advocacy. My interest has waned, maybe because of the dust in my eyes, maybe because of all the usual reasons: apathy, roadblocks, moto-fascistsp, lack of funds...who knows?

Saturday, August 18

Looking Back, Looking Forward

A week ago I was on my way to Pipeline at this time, feeling good, riding hard. Hard to believe that was a week ago.

Took the family to Valmont earlier in the week. It was Mandy's first time there. She had fun...going over her handlebars.

Y'know, those logs look inviting and easy, but they're tricksy, false. I was following behind, and she crossed the bridge no problem, and I thought she'd skip the log, but then she started across. I was thinking: "Just go, just go, just go!" when she had second thoughts and tried to ride off the side.

There's an optical illusion there. The log looks wide and low to the ground, but it's narrow and higher than it looks. Afterward she said it felt like slow motion. I said, no, it just happened really slow.

I'm stoked she tried it, bummed it didn't work out, and proud she got back on the bike all dusty and banged up. Hard core man!

Lily did the same thing her first pass there a couple of months ago. I avoid the thing. I think it's built on an old abandoned, old abandoned Indian burial ground.

She got back on the bike and kept riding. We had no other mishaps. Boone's face stayed an appropriate distance from the ground, and we pretended not to see the log obstacles.

In the end I think everyone had a great time.

The weather is finally cooling off. Fall is hinting at its eventual return. I can't wait.

I've got some training to do yet. Crested Butte is four weeks away. I need to do as much climbing as possible.

My littlest Bean starts kindergarten next Wednesday. Hard to believe.

Thursday, August 16

The Alpine Odyssey: A Side Trip On The Leadville Quest

I'm signed up. I have a hotel room booked in Gunnison. On Saturday, September 15th I'll be riding the 100K/58 mile Alpine Odyssey qualifier in Crested Butte, Colorado.

After all I've done 58 miles seems quaint. I've had morning commutes that long. I can train to crush this.

I have just under a month. My main training scheme is to revisit Bergen Peak and either Squaw or Chief Mountains. Otherwise I'm just going to commute hard, and maybe alternate doing Lookout Mountain and Genesee before work. We're looking at a lot of road work.

Based on my performance in Crested Butte I'll lay out a plan for the year for Leadville 2013.

I'm stoked. The pressure isn't as great for this. And I feel great right now. I just need to keep my training up and carry the momentum I have now for a bit longer.

The pace will be faster. The field will be smaller. The climbs...I don't know. I'm 100% unfamiliar with the course. The ultimate goal will be to make the cutoffs and finish. The ambitious goal will be to knock the race out with a stellar result.

After Crested Butte I can relax quite a bit at least until the first of the year. In fact, I may go on a hard training hiatus to give my body some much needed rest.

On the other hand, Mandy and I are preparing for the Thoroughbred 5k in Lexington, KY on Thanksgiving. We're possibly going to have quite the crew: the two of us, my sister, Mandy's mom (maybe), our friend Di, and who knows who else?

Do I sound like I'm contradicting myself? Nah, it's all good...

Wednesday, August 15

The Leadville Saga: Riding In My Mind

When I gave up with 13 miles to go I resisted the urge to wallow in self-pity. I made mistakes, I didn't dig deep enough, and I failed. Sometimes you have to fail to learn the right way of it. It's hard to go back to the beginning and start all over again after so much work. That's a long, long ride back with your cycling cap in your hands.

I listened to second timers that had failed their first year and came back. Silently I swore that wouldn't be me. Humbling, looking back...

I replay those moments on the side of the road when I gave up. I leap from this moment to that one as a spectre and whisper in that person's ear and say in desperation: "Do it! Get back on the bike and suffer through it!" He doesn't listen. There's no changing that moment, only reliving it...

It's easy for me now to say I coulda, shoulda, woulda. I don't feel now like I felt at that moment. My mind had shut down and had ceased to recognize my true strength.

I threw out regret on the side of Turquoise Lake Road. I had to accept the consequences of my choice even as I was making the choice. Looking back...muttering coulda, shoulda, woulda...I keep stomping down on the regret, refusing to dwell. I made the mistake of looking at the terrain map of inbound St Kevin's yesterday. It doesn't look so bad. I had 2 hours and 20 minutes left to cover those 13 miles. I could have crawled dragging my bike through a snowstorm that far. But alas...

I feel like a different person. I feel stronger, faster, better. And I didn't even have to spend $6,000,000. Despite not reaching my goal, hitting my mark, I feel powerful. I feel more confident. It's no fluke.

I can't afford to wallow. If I let myself I could have stayed in the bottom of that hole I dug for myself coming down from Powerline. I could still be there, reticent, morose, depressed. But I didn't go to Leadville to come home matter the outcome.

I've been looking forward ever since. So what had been a two year journey has become three. Job had patience. I am a stone.

A quick aside: the kids returned to Colorado on Thursday with Mandy's folks. They all came up to Leadville first thing Friday morning, so the kids didn't even get unpacked. When we got back home on Sunday Mandy was going through their stuff unpacking and came across a book one of my parents had put in Bean's luggage. The book is entitled (ironically) Real Winners Don't Quit! and was written by our friend from Kentucky Joe Bowen. It chronicles his 1967 14,000 bicycle tour across America and his record breaking 3,000+ mile stilt walk across the country back in the '80s. Look for my review soon.

Next year will be better. The experience will be sweeter. Crossing that finish line will mean more. That buckle will represent 187 miles, and not just 100. Actually, it will carry the extra 13 too; those 13 I didn't ride...those 13 I ride in my mind every day.

The Alpine Odyssey is in 30 days.

Tuesday, August 14

The Leadville Saga: It's Not About The Bike

I will not lie, there were times during the better part of this past year that I worried The One would slow me down at Leadville. Those moments were quiet, personal, and sparse. I felt fast on my chosen bike. I'd done my research before buying it. I'd put it through the wringer all wadded up and it came out looking fresh and clean.

I maintained my bike myself. I tried different handlebar configurations, went from Goo tubes back to dry, swapped saddles, upgraded pedals...and the bike served me perfectly.

I was envious--feeling inferior--at the start line. I paid less than a grand for my bike. I saw a lot of bikes that were more expensive than any car I've ever ridden in. I worried that The One was still too heavy.

Then I promptly forgot those worries as the countdown began. I never compared bikes again after 6:30, except to marvel that me and my little mule were passing flashier, more expensive, and much lighter bikes in droves.

Friday night I saw a tee shirt that read: "I'm the motor." I liked that.

I didn't let up on my chosen steed. I pedaled it up St Kevin's, foot down once, no walking. I pedaled it up Sugarloaf, again, no walking and no foot down. And then I drove my little mule off the edge of the world over Powerline and I didn't let up. My brakes complained loudly. My body was bucked and beaten. But I drove that bike so hard and it gave back so much. It handled perfectly, shifted, braked, absorbed and kept on rolling mile after mile after mile.

There were a lot of 29ers, and I have to be honest, I wondered if the extra 3 inches would have been better. There were a lot of single speeds, and I didn't have to wonder, I was glad of my derailers.

But in the end the bike didn't let me down and I hardly thought about it once the race started. The bike and I were One.

After Powerline I got free of the dirt and rocks and onto the pavement and I took a good solid minute to examine my tires, drivetrain and other components as I pedaled on toward Pipeline. I was in awe that my little mule took so much abuse with so little injury. She's tough!

I rode it in to work Monday morning. The derailers were a bit stiff, gritty and all, but otherwise the perfect steed carried me on to work in record time: 38 minutes for 9.3 miles with 600 feet of gain. A solid 14mph average.

I will not be upgrading any time soon.

Monday, August 13

To Have the Apprentice Dig Deep

Let me preface this whole post by saying I'm content with my effort. I had a great day and a great support team. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The Leadville Chronicles are not over yet.

"Dig deep" is an apt mantra for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. If you dig deep enough you'll find the bottom...the bottom of your soul. You'll learn things about yourself. You'll forge tools you can use to get through lesser trials in your life. You'll strip yourself bare to the bones and see who you really are. If you finish...I can't say, but if you dig so deep and push so hard, but fall short of the finish...then you know where the bottom is.

I kept digging. I kept digging for 87 miles, 9 hours and  40  minutes, and thousands and thousands of feet of climbing and descending. And that's when I hit the rock bottom. There was nowhere else to go.

As I lay by the side of Turquoise Lake Road sobbing in my wife's arms and she asked me if I was okay I held her hand, said yes, that I just needed to climb back out and I'd be fine.

I didn't get a buckle, but I got so much more.

I've ridden St Kevin's. I've descended Powerline without flatting. I've screamed across Pipeline, passing dozens and dozens of riders. I made the long slog up Columbine Mine, riding some and walking some. And then I made the insane 3,000' and 7 mile descent back to Twin Lakes. I made the cutoffs: Twin Lakes outbound by more than half an hour, Twin Lakes inbound by just under half an hour, and inbound Pipeline by 14 minutes...and I kept going strong. Looking back up Powerline hurt. Physically, mentally and emotionally it beat me down, but yet, my body wasn't broken. The fuel was gone. The electrolytes were gone. After three miles of mostly walking, as my overall average speed slowed, I noticed my fellow racers were quiet and somber. We were all in some lonely place, some place confronting some private demon, some solitary hurt. I think we all knew we were beginning to lose the clock. Powerline was as quiet as a funeral procession.

That long, long, long climb up gives you a lot of time to consider what lies ahead. After Powerline there is a fast, but rough, descent to Hagerman Pass Road, and then just a short cruise out to the paved Turquoise Lake Road. From there it's less than 20 miles with only about 1,200' of climbing. Only.

I didn't hurt. Oh, I ached here and there.  I was tired. But my body hadn't reached its limit. Except my energy was gone. My muscles were cramping, being depleted of vital nutrients. I knew from my last aid station stop there was no food left with my crew that could boost me to the finish line.

My first fatal mistake was a lapse in my eating in the week leading up to Leadville. I did so well carb loading the week before Corona Pass. So well. I did half as well prior to Leadville. And...and I didn't lay off my activity levels. I wasn't truly carb loading. I rode to work. I rode a 20 mile scouting trip over and DOWN Powerline on Thursday. I'd planned on riding St Kevin's on Friday and I'm glad I didn't. Friday was so hectic I didn't eat enough. I ate less than I would've on a normal day in the life. That was partly nerves and partly because of the chaos.

My second fatal mistake was choosing to camp instead of sleep in a bed the night before. The yayhoos camping next to us kept me awake until 11:30 on Friday night, and then after I had it out with them, almost coming to blows, I was too keyed up to sleep. I managed about an hour and a half of restless sleep. It had rained earlier in the night as well. This mistake was really the lesser of the three, but I think the most avoidable in terms of decision making on my part.

My final fatal mistake I take full credit for. At Pipeline inbound I made the decision with my crew to ditch my hydration pack for two waterbottles and some food in my jersey pockets. They took my pack and I scrubbed the brief tears away and growled as I powered away toward Powerline. I felt strong.

Then I remembered my bib number was attached to my pack. We'd even talked about that the night before. As I was deciding where to put the number I told them if I were to ditch the pack we'd need to put my number on my jersey. I forgot at Pipeline and remembered too late. Then I was paranoid someone would see me or they'd catch it at the finish and I'd be disqualified. It was an honest mistake, but I'd broken a rule.

When I got off the bike as Powerline steepened I texted them and said I needed them to meet me just past Hagerman Pass Road so I could get the bib number before Carter Summit Aid Station. They were on their way.

I still had to get over Powerline. And I knew they'd be waiting for me there. Dangerous knowledge...

As I suffered up Powerline and considered the hard, soul-crushing climb back up the north side of Turquoise Lake Road I found my out. I wrestled hard with that demon, but in the end the physical fight took precedent over the mental fight and Leadville was lost. Coming down Sugarloaf, the backside of Powerline, I knew I was beaten. I hurt then. Sugarloaf beat me flesh and bone. Every rock hit me like a steel-toed boot in the face, the rear, the back, the neck. When the thought would enter my mind: I can't do it! I'd counter with "Dig deep!" "Don't quit!" and all the other mantras I could think of. I thought of the buckle. I thought of Ken's speech on Friday night. I thought of Lance Armstrong's talk about how in 2008 as he rounded Turquoise Lake after Powerline that he told Dave Weins to go on without him. I thought of my family and all they gave and went through to get me there, and when I considered giving up I had to fight nausea and sobs. I had to quit. I couldn't quit. Never quit. I'd already quit.

I turned on the pavement and I was in a truly rocky, and dark, and lonely place. And then I saw Forester Gump on the side of the road and Mandy, her mom and Bean were cheering me on. I was a hundred yards away coasting on the bike and I broke down. It was over.

I've given up in my life before, but never had it been so hard. Never had I given up something I'd won through such monumental effort. I had kept a strong pace to that point despite miles of walking at 2-3 mph up Columbine and Powerline.

My mistake was having them meet me where the hurt was deepest. I should have had them meet me at the bottom of St Kevin's. I'd have suffered more, I'd have slowed more, and I'd have been been beaten worse. But after St Kevin's there's only one more short climb to the finish. Less than five miles, so much less to fight against. I made a bad call. And I paid for it bad.

I dug myself so deep and was buried by the weight of it all. But there is light, and I've climbed out to find a gleaming ray of golden light. I swore to my wife I'd not put her through all this again, that I'd get my buckle and be satisfied. But there was no buckle to take home.

She told me on Sunday: "I've decided you're finishing next year."

Having not volunteered this year I'll be at the mercy of the lottery. So I looked into the qualifiers. On September 15 the Alpine Odyssey 100K will take place in Crested Butte. I'm signing up.

If I don't make it that way I'll go into the lottery. If I don't make the lottery I'll try to find a way to get into another qualifier. If I can't do that I'll volunteer next summer and ride in 2014. I want that buckle. I want to know what it feels like to cross that finish line, to have Merilee put that medal around my neck, and then to wear that monster buckle around my skinny middle. I'll cry like a baby, but I won't care.

And when I cross the finish it will be so much sweeter because I had to go so much deeper to get there. bittersweet. Lesson learned, but consequences suffered.

I have to thank my SAG crew, Mandy, her mom and dad Tom and Laurie and my wonderful children Boone and Lily. I only accomplished what I did with their help. I rode at about an 11 hour pace right up to the bitter end. They pushed me there and gave me strength I could never have mustered alone. Mandy supported me the last two years in this pursuit, and I think only she knows what this means to me. And now it means a lot to me to succeed for her.

I have to thank my fellow riders. It's worth it because you become a part of the great Leadville family. I had such a great day meeting new people and sharing such a mind-boggling experience with them. Ricky MacDonald, you're inspirational. I hope you never break yourself or your bike. Dave and Rebecca, you're the true champions no matter who comes in first place. Never give up on Leadville. To Lance, you inspire on such a huge magnitude its indescribable. Im going to read It's Not About the Bike again this year. To Gracie Ragland, you just keep going out there and kicking butt and showing us all how to have fun, you truly do inspire me. I'm thankful I got to chat with you going up Columbine Mine. To Dave from Springfield, IL, I hope you finished, and of you didn't I hope to see you again next year. To the dad from Rexburg, Idaho, I'm going to try your drop bar setup in my training rides. To the singlespeed drafter, and all those who liked drafting behind my stress-related weight are welcome. Fatboy can block the wind.

To the volunteers...thank you so much for your hard work. I did it last year, so I know what it's like. If you did it to boost your chances, I wish you the best. If you did it just because, you're my heros. To the lady at Carter Summit where I turned in my chip, you're an angel and I love you. Quitting never felt so good.

Mandy and I talked a lot on the drive home. I kept reassuring her I was fine. I'd made peace with the failure. I'd done so much and so well. 87 miles above 10,000' and climbing so freakin' much in less than 10 hours is no small effort. I had no corporate sponsor, not a shred of carbon fiber, I had the twenty pounds I'd sworn to lose, and all of the hurdles an average guy with average problems can face. To those who don't think you could do something like this: if I can do it, you can do it. Or, as Ken says: you're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.

I learned so much. I had an incredible experience. I'm a better, tougher, faster and more resilient person now. I know how to dig deep. I know how to suffer and keep going. By next August I will be the master of pain. I'll be ready to go back and finish this truly beautiful leg of my journey.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for indulging my obsession, for following along, for rooting for me, the tweets and comments of encouragement, the silent support, and hopefully, in all this, with my words and my willingness to suffer for your sake, hopefully I can inspire you to tackle the big things in your life you don't think you can do. That's how this all started for me, with the simple though: I could never do that.

I don't think that anymore.

Feeling absolutely amazing at Pipeline outbound

For those who prefer the album: 
Leadville Trail 100 MTB 2012

The Leadville Chronicles: Things I Learned

This is not my official write up. I'm working on finding the right words, the right way to convey an experience that I don't think can be conveyed with words, and I hope to have it to you, Dear Readers, by the end of this week.

I'm throwing this up on the alley wall of the internet just to share some snippets, some quips, some peek at what is to come.

For now, please be satisfied with this simple list of things I learned in no particular order:

Sleep in a bed the night before a big race.
Get good sleep the two nights before that.
Just because a food works well on the bike doesn't mean you shouldn't eat other things.
Powerbar fruit chews start out good, but after a few dozen will they'll sit in your stomach and do nothing for you. 
Watermelon is more amazing at 12,570 feet.
Eat perfectly the week before the big race.
Eat well the day before the race no matter how hectic things are.
Keep things simple.
No hydration pack.
Train core, upper body and intense cardio.
Train for steep, loose climbs on the bike.
Train to stay clipped in on ascents and descent.
Never stop pushing, stay aerobic, never go anaerobic.
Stay positive.
Have fun.
Don't get stuck on a slower rider's wheel.
Pass when you can.
Don't change the plan if its a good plan.
Don't have family meet you where the hurt is deepest.
Cramps suck. Salt is good.
Powerline is a beast. Columbine is a monster. I can descend both of them much faster than I believed sane. 
There is no shame in walking. 
Skinny people don't always bike faster than you.
It's not about the bike. My Cannondale hardtail passed a lot of more expensive and lighter bikes.
You can make friends with a race number. Names are secondary, but nice. You'll find out their name when you peruse the race results later.
Less than half the field finished at all.
The most beautiful scenery is the faces you recognize at the aid stations.

Some things I said to myself or others:

You have so much farther to dig at the top of Columbine than you do when you're lower...
Did Lance ride this? (random steep sections)
Can I borrow your stoker? (tandem)
Hey, no fair, you have another guy helping you! (tandem)
No whammies! No whammies! Big money! (on every hard descent, my mantra to keep away flats)
I'm feeling a pedestrian moment coming on. (Getting ready to walk on Columbine)
I'm pedestrian but ambulatory. (further up Columbine)
Gracie, you're my hero! (to Gracie Ragland on Columbine)
Out for a bike ride with 3,000+ of my newest friends.
Is this all you got?! (heading up Columbine)
Keep digging! (to other riders walking up Columbine)
I'll trade you this bike for your chair. (to a spectator)
Hey, has anyone seen my granny gear? I think it fell off. (to no one in particular)
Are you drafting me? (to a single speed rider as we both walked Columbine and Powerline)
Hey, I'm drafting you! (to the same single speed rider in a different place on Powerline as we walked)
Thank you so much for all your hard work! (to every volunteer I could)
I'm still digging.
I found the bottom.

Thursday, August 9

The Leadville Chronicles: SAG

I'm getting ready to head out for Leadville. The gear is packed, the bike is tuned, my mind is calm.

I couldn't have gotten to this point without the support of my family over the past two years. My wife has been my biggest supporter and my biggest fan. She's been there in my secret moments of doubt and has said just the right things. She gave up time so I could train and huddle in the corner blubbering. She ran SAG for me on a couple of big training rides. She's tolerated, and often enthusiastically supported my upgrades, purchases and musings over gear. She was with me last summer to volunteer in Leadville to increase my chances of getting into the lottery this year. I can't thank her enough.

My kids have been patient and understanding. They've been great support too. I can't wait to see them. We'll be meeting at 10,000' tomorrow.

For now I'm signing off. This will most likely be my last post before the weekend. You can watch my twitter feed to the right for updates. For those that are friends with me on Facebook I've signed up so that the race tracker will post my time when I cross the finish less than nine hours. Or whenever.

Tuesday, August 7

The Leadville Chronicles: Leadville Dreams

Last night I woke from a vivid dream where I was 15 minutes away from the finish at 9 hours out. The course in my dream was more like cyclocross meets Wipeout. Racers had to climb loose cliffs, though, oddly, without their bikes. I was carrying a pair of jeans to wear after the race in my hydration pack, and my 9 year old son was doing the race on his 20" MTB but was far behind me. I asked someone to check on him. I kept trying to decide when it would be appropriate to ditch the jeans. At one point I realized I was riding in a vehicle away from an aid station and panicked. And that's when I woke up.

It was 4:30am. I couldn't fall back to sleep so I lay in bed in the predawn darkness making lists in my head and planning and logistifying.

The Big Unknowns loom: altitude, weather, unknown stuff, mechanical breakdowns, the behavior of other riders, crashes, mistakes, stupidity.

While my confidence is high, my reality detector is off the charts. What have I gotten myself into?

On my ride in his morning I had a dose of perspective. I remembered that I did 103 miles to 11,000' a week and a half ago in just under ten hours. As long as I can do the same on Saturday--with a tad more gain--and in at least twelve hours, a full two hours slower, then I got this in the bag.

Mentally I'm ready for weather. Whatchoo got Columbine? Hail? Snow? Icy rain? I eat that #%@! for breakfast. I've had commutes uglier than you.

Last Saturday I rode away from camp in a T-shirt and bike shorts in 40 degree temps. I don't think a 40 degree start in Leadville is going to faze me much. Like I said, I've had (many) worse commutes.

I can walk any hill on that course. And fast. I got this.

I've endured 35F whitewater trips, I did my share of Bataan Death Marches as a boy scout, I've hiked 28 miles in less than 24 hours, I've climbed 1,500' rock climbs, I've endured 8 hour days slinging lumber in 100 degree heat and done the same in subzero temps. I've worked through a few peak seasons at UPS. I've worked putting up hay and tobacco. I've endured foot deep snow on my bike commutes, solid ice, rain, wind, heat, hail and railroad tracks. I got this.

Leadville is cake.

Monday, August 6

The Leadville Chronicles: Final Countdown


At this point I've either prepared enough or I haven't. Leadville is less than a week away. At 6:30am this past Saturday I was trying to ignore the blood-red alpenglow on the Gore Range behind me as I crawled up toward the crest of the Williams Mountain ridge.

At 6:30am I was cognizant of it being exactly one week until I would be shoving off the start line in Leadville toward Columbine Mine.

We had a good weekend camping at Green Mountain Reservoir with our church group. Green Mountain is at Heeney, Colorado between Silverthorne and Kremmling and just off the Tour Divide route. Mandy and I learned to fly fish at Lower Cataract Lake. Despite a deep sunburn it was worth spending all day out on the lake.

I've mostly put Leadville out of my mind. But now starts my final week of resting, carb loading and ratcheting down my mental baggage. I hope my success on Corona was no fluke. It seems as if I've been making good decisions. I know they could have been better...

I want to surprise myself. I want to amaze myself like I did when I returned from Corona Pass in under 10 hours. To do that I really would have to finish Leadville in less than 9. I gotta dig deep.


I'm looking forward to the autumn with no pressing plans or training pressures. Maybe I can just have some fun with my family. We want to do some camping with the kids. We want to do some more fly fishing. Of course dreams of the Colorado Trail Race and the Tour Divide will continue to haunt me.

I'll be able to take the kids on shorter rides and not care that we're not going fast. I'll be able to go to Valmont with the family and just have a good time. Maybe I can do some rock climbing and mountaineering this fall. Maybe I can crank out some more writing. I need to focus on making the next leap in my career, in my vocation.

Regardless, Leadville won't dominate my thoughts. Or will it? I told Mandy I thought the worst case scenario for me to get free of this Leadville obsession would be if I finished between 9 and 9 and a half hours. That would make me think I could get under 9 if only I trained a little harder. Either that scenario or a DNF because of some factor out of my control. I don't know if I could let that go. I'd want to go back and finish, and finish in style. Lord, I hope I finish and in a respectable time.

I will be glad to have my life back. But for how long?


This Leadville journey has given me new perspective: on life, on my abilities, and on what is important to me. I didn't get into the level of fitness I wanted. But I know I can. And I know I can set some smaller—but still difficult—goals and use that to keep me moving toward better fitness and health. I have a renewed interest in being strong and able in my pursuits. It feels good to crush a steep climb, a hard boulder problem, a long run, a big just feels good. I imagine it will feel just as good to catch my first fish.

A competitive spirit has awakened in me, despite not being especially athletic or competitive previously. Where will I go in my cycling after this? I'm thinking more mountain biking for fun, more centuries in the coming years, more rides with my wife and family, more enjoyment of being on two wheels. I want to tour. I want to make the lifestyle changes that will allow us to be free to do that sort of stuff. Whether I do an organized endurance race or not, I want to do some more bikepacking, and in the minimalist style.


And so...I have much preparation to do in the next three days. I have to get my bike all lined out. I was disappointed that two and a half weeks ago my LBS couldn't get it in for a tuneup, but I know I can do it myself. I just wanted a professional touch.

The logistic hurdles are going to tax my patience I'm certain. My nerves are sure to start vibrating as the week wears on. I've got a lot to do and try to keep my fueling and hydrating on schedule right up to the finish.

There's not much left to say until I put my money where my mouth is. If I don't blog much before Saturday don't be alarmed, and give me a few days afterward to process and pontificate. Maybe some fluff posts will surface in the interim, but the big write up will come eventually.

Sunday, August 5

The Leadville Chronicles: Dig Deep

What once seemed impossible now seems human. What once was a dream will quickly become a cherished memory. The place I once longed to be is now between me and the horizon and coming up fast.

Some of the mystique has faded now that I've ridden a semi-comparable ride in a respectable time. There are definitely still some unknown elements left, but the challenge remains.

This week I'll be riding the 2012 Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. My kids will be back in town, my in-laws will be in to cheer me on and to help run SAG, and my lovely wife, my dearest friend, will be with me to share the experience. Truly I could not have gotten to this point without her support and encouragement. My path has converged with hers for the past thirteen years and we've been trekking along loving the same journey ever since.

Ironically, the day after I rode near to Corona Pass we went to a screening of Mike Dion's new film Reveal the Path at the Denver Film Society on Colfax. It's hard for me to put into words how the film made me feel.

As I've matured I've struggled to resist the urges to run off alone to explore the world. Too often in the past I've left my family at home so I could trod down some side path, taking away precious energy and resources from the real path I had committed myself to traveling.

It's been a hard balance all along, because I've desperately wanted to live a life of wandering and exploring, but I could never resist the urge to settle and raise a family either.

After Leadville I want to settle myself, but at the same time I have the strong urge to keep my training and fitness momentum going and do some other "easier" events and shoot for the Colorado Trail Race next summer.

Corona gave me confidence and I don't want to lose it. I have the distinct feeling Leadville is going to give me an even bigger boost. I foresee the urge to hold onto that success growing out of control.

I need tangible physical goals to keep me motivated. Motivated in general, and specifically motivated to stay healthy and in shape, and to keep my ambition up. For me this drive to prove myself is a survival instinct.

I have dug deep to get to this place. My path behind me is deeply rutted from my efforts. This section of The Path is beautiful and sublime. I want it to go on forever and I am loathe to let it pass.

There were so many great things about Reveal the Path. Bikes were the vehicles, but not the true focus. The film is about discovery, exploration, appreciation for strange places, and the realization that places are only strange because they are unfamiliar to US, and that if we go and spend time in some faraway land it will cease to be strange and it's peoples will become more human to us.

The film explained my own lifelong wanderlust, the desire to learn and to collect rich experiences. That is the only wealth I want to accumulate, the wealth of knowledge and familiarity with the wondrous and amazing.

Being 50 miles from home on a bike, near the Continental Divide, as a thunderstorm is brewing right over your! For me that was an amazingly rich experience, an experience that has crafted tools for me to use in future endeavors in my life. I don't want those tools to go unused. To me that would be a great tragedy.

And so, even before Leadville is a memory, I'm looking to the next adventure, great or small, to fill up my daydreams and life lists. I need something...

I've toyed with the idea of going back and summiting Kingston Peak, to make right the failed attempt. Someday, sooner or later, I will make that ride in strength.

I'd wanted to do a road century to the summit of Mount Evans as a training ride for Leadville, and I didn't get to do it. So that ride is still on my cycling bucket list.

In the spirit of my Guanella Pas tour last summer I wanted to tour to Stevens Gulch and summit Grays and Torrey's Peaks. Didn't have the time to do that this summer either. Nor did we go do the Mickelson Trail in Southern Dakota.

If you're a faithful reader here you know there is no paucity of ideas for bike rides along the Pavement's Edge. But I need more than just ideas for rides, I need purpose, I need a clear path to a concrete goal. Focus is hard for me. That's why I scheme and plan. That's why I look to some far peak and say: "I can go there!" and begin planning in my head how I can attain that height.


Ken Chlouber likes to holler "Dig deep!" to Leadville riders. It's a good mantra to have when you're buried in a long ride with many miles left to go. You've got to scrape out the get-go from the dregs of your soul.

Marcel Duchamp sketched his iconic "To have the apprentice in the sun" (English translation) in 1914. It's a line drawing of a cyclist beginning a steep grade.

Last year I sketched my take on Duchamp's drawing. Mine is a mountain biker, hunched over the handlebars as he begins a steep, rocky ascent. I called mine "to have the apprentice dig deep."

In honor of my Leadville attempt this year I had Alchemist Threadworks make two custom jersies with my drawing on the front. One's for me and one's for my father-in-law Tom.