Thursday, August 1

The Leadville Saga: Bring Me Men to Match My Mountains

"Nature, in her most dazzling aspects or stupendous parts, is but the background and theatre of the tragedy of man." ~John Morley


I've realized what makes the Leadville Race Series unique from other such events.  This may not be a shock to you, but Leadville, Colorado is surrounded by mountains.  From the streets of downtown (and conversely the start/finish for the 100 MTB race) you can see to the west the two highest peaks in the state: Mounts Elbert and Massive, both of the Sawatch Range.  East of town is the Mosquito Range and more craggy mountains. 

All the hype is true. 

Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the US at just over 10,000’ above sea level.  It’s in a magnificent setting literally surrounded by mountains.  The Leadville MTB Trail 100 is a race across the sky.  Those arethe tallest, the toughest, the baddest mountains in the state of Colorado.  It’s not an easy feat even to get to Leadville.  From I-70 you drive over either Fremont Pass or Tennessee Pass.  The Army’s 10thMountain Division trained at nearby Camp Hale.  To the west is the Holy Cross Wilderness and the Mount Massive Wilderness areas.  When you go to Leadville you go to the mountains.

It’s in this theater that those that choose to do the mountain bike race act out their own comedies and tragedies.  It’s against this backdrop that as a participant in race you challenge yourself and your abilities.  It’s also against this landscape that you might break yourself.

I’ve written before about this whole affair being just a contrived challenge.  In an unpublished post I wrote the following:

The question really isn’t why you did it…  The question that goes to the deepest roots of the matter is this: why do you make the goal for yourself to race in and complete the Leadville MTB Trail 100?

I haven’t decided yet if I will post this particular installment of the Leadville Saga.  It strikes at issues that are even too personal for this blog Dear Readers.  No, I mean it. 

Let’s back out of that rabbit hole and continue, shall we?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if this race were in Leadville, Australia it just wouldn’t have the same appeal.  It’s not that Australia isn’t an incredibly cool place to say you’ve been; it’s really that it’s a ridiculously long way to go to pay $40 to ride your bike with Bike Snob because you can just catch him out in the NYC part when he gets back and go all Cat 6 Commuter Attack on him.

Different rabbit hole, same effect.

It’s the mountains, silly.  Here’s a deeply personal thing for me to share: I moved my family 1,200 miles from Kentucky to Colorado because of the mountains.  I actually had the choice of two jobs back in late 2007.  I could have gone to Carteret County, North Carolina, which is on the Atlantic coast, or I could have gone to Jefferson County, Colorado.  Hurricanes versus mountains?  I chose mountains.

They were virtually the same job; just in drastically different environments.  Growing up in Kentucky I quickly became skeptical that people were properly applying the term “mountains” in regards to the treeclad topographical anomalies around my hometown.  Then after reading a thin tome on the geology of the state I learned that not only are the seeming bumps on the horizon out my front window most assuredly NOT MOUNTAINS, they could hardly even be considered hills.  I live on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.  Up close the horizon looks jagged.  From a little ways away it’s boring and flat.  If Dan’l Boon had been travelling east through Kentucky instead of west that whole Pilot Knob thing would’ve gone something like this:

Dan’l:  Ho men!  I think we’re at the top.

Redshirt:  What do you see Dan’l? A bar?

Dan’l:  Not much of anything.  There’s too much undergrowth.  I was thinking about calling this region the “Bluegrass,” but now I’m inclined to call it “Pricker Bush Mesa.”

Redshirt:  Ahhhh!!! A bar!!!

[Dan’l raises his Kentucky long rifle and puts a ball through both the Redshirt and the grizzly that snuck up on them]

Dan’l:  Well, that sucks.

I don’t know if there is anything historically accurate about the preceding scene, but let’s pretend it happened just that way in an alternate universe.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it just in case) moving to Colorado was a huge deal to me.  I got to be near big mountains like I’d always wanted.  I was able to call myself a mountaineer, if only in hushed tones around the non-alpinist sort of people that are impressed by such things.  I got to spend real time above treeline, not just in my daydreams.

How could I have ever gotten into mountain biking unless I’d lived near mountains?  The weekend after the Cannonball arrived in Colorado I rode it to the summit of Evergreen Mountain.  After that one little ride I was hooked, though it took me another couple of years to discover a little bike race near the Continental Divide at which to throw myself in pre-mid-life crisis stage and become a more obsessive type of mountain biker.

The Mohican 100 was freakin’ hard.  It was.  I even remember saying (and perhaps even writing here, but my research staff called in sick this morning so I don’t know) that it was harder than the Leadville 100 except for the altitude.  I still firmly believe that.  And while the Mohican race and its host city were amazing and enjoyable the area just didn’t have quite the same allure for me as someplace like Leadville Holy-Hallelujah, Colorado! 

In a different life I would have lived in the deep mountains, on the edge of someplace like Leadville, but I met my future wife and followed a different dream, that of starting a family.  I don’t regret that decision, but it didn’t completely eclipse the dream of living amongst the mountains.  I know, I know, I could have chosen to live there anyway.  Life has a way of funneling your path like water off a slope through the softer sediment.  You end up in the same river, but you take a different path to get there.  I am a happy person.  I love my life, and I love that I get to briefly experience that other dream from time to time.  It’s better this way.  I appreciate it so much more during those brief times I get to fly above treeline and breathe in the life God has given me.  

I’m not going to Leadville, Colorado to ride my bike because it’s a good place to ride my bike.  I’m going there to pretend for a few hours that there’s nothing else in the world but mountains and bikes and the best darn SAG crew out there!  And let’s face it, everywhere is a good place to ride a bike.

So let’s go to the mountains and match ourselves to the challenge.  Let’s find a path on which to test ourselves.  I’ll bring home that buckle this year, but the buckle is the least of the rewards I’ll have gained after grinding down Ken’s tallest, toughest, baddest mountains.  

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