Friday, August 30

The Leadville Saga: Epilogue

Come on Dad!  The Leadvillagers are counting on you!
~ Boone

My pedals turn in a steady cadence.  My headlight cuts through the morning darkness like a laser through a tumor.  I breathe in the full air, and breathe out from strong lungs.  I resettle in my drops, lick my lips, and bear down on the pedals for a little more speed.
This is no training ride.  I'm just out for a lark; cranking the pedals of my vintage Bianchi just because it feels good.  Leadville is behind me.  I have a smile on my face.
I don’t believe it.  It’s over. 
It began—really—four years ago when we went to Leadville camping with our church group and we missed seeing Lance Armstrong by only a few minutes.  We’d fallen for Leadville the town, and I fell for Leadville the heinous physical challenge.  Three years ago this October I made the decision I was going to, for sure…maybe…ride my bike in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  I didn’t even have a suitable mountain bike at the time.
There have been highs.
The highest (until August 10) was as I crossed the finish line of the Alpine Odyssey and my lovely, amazing, incredible wife put my medal around my neck.
Then there was Corona Pass:  sub-10 hour century ride from my house at the time (almost) to the Continental Divide and back.
I’ve got to say that volunteering at the 2011 Leadville 100 was pretty incredible and inspiring.
It was so cool to get to chat with Grace Ragland riding up Columbine in 2012.
I was stunned, but pleasantly surprised to meet readers of this blog while racing and riding.  I really didn’t expect that anyone along the way would recognize the URL on the back of my race jersey.
Oddly, the hug I received from the volunteer when I turned in my chip in 2012 was a high point.  Hugs really do make you feel better.  Human contact is more important than I’m willing to admit to myself.
This is gonna sound very bromantic, but riding with Jeaph over the past year was a hugely positive experience.  I’ve never had a regular riding partner, and Jeff was positive but challenging to ride with (dude, take a shower every once in a while!).
Revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones in Kentucky this past year has been rewarding, if at times sobering and disheartening.  But translating my western experiences to my home geography has been good.  Its shown me what is possible, and that there is great potential here.

There was riding those last four miles back in July when I did my unexpected century out to McKee...
Learning to ride singletrack like I mean it…it has been a process and a passion for the past year or so.  I recognized that being a better overall mountain biker would be a huge benefit to me on the Leadville course and it was.  I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s race.  I relished every pedal stroke.  That came from putting in miles on the trails and trying to find the sweet spot in each area that I visited.  It came from pushing the bike to where it performed best and letting it carry me to mountain biking nirvana. Again and again I rode to biketopia and lost myself there in the eternal Moment.  FLOW never felt so good!
The ultimate high came when the finish line came into view a few Saturdays ago and I knew I was going to finish…as a crowd of complete strangers cheered me over the red carpet, and as my kids ran along beside me, escorting me back into Mandy’s arms again.  Being the finisher I wanted to be…sublime.
There have been lows as well.
Moving away from Colorado was incredibly difficult.  We left so much behind, and so many friends, and so many potential positive experiences.  Not to mention I lost all of my good cycling schemes in one fell swoop.  I struggle to come up with schemes as grand these days.
I’ve struggled with my weight and fitness levels for three years.  If not for this happy obsession I might have grown happily fat and oblivious.  Is that a low?  The way I've felt about my efforts has been demoralizing at times.  The struggle is one I don’t feel I should be having.  It should be easier for me.
One of the deepest lows was crashing on the railroad tracks outside of Golden.  Injury is something I don’t have a lot of experience with.  The uncertainty, the immobility, the pain and the discomfort, the limiting factors…all brought me way down.  I snapped back pretty quick, but the shoulder still nags me.  I still hate crossing tracks.
I was going to add the 13 miles I didn’t ride in 2012, but I went back and took care of those on August 6th.  I finished that race.  We can move it up to highs.
I finished the Alpine Odyssey, but when I realized I was not going to finish the Mohican 100 I felt like a huge failure.  My migraine excuse seemed like a huge cop-out, even though no one doubted my sincerity, even though I felt like I had acted with discretion and prudence.  It still felt like failure.
Somewhere out in the middle of the McKee century I realized the suffering I put myself through might not be worth it.  I was in a deep dark place of misery.  I knew on the other side was the answer I was looking for.  But I gave up so many times that day…
Training with Jeff.  It was hard not to see where I fit into the cycling world riding with another cyclist and one that is markedly better than me.  While I was inspired to ride better and harder I still fought with self-esteem issues.  Part of the reason I went down this path in the first place was to prove to myself that there is some strength and talent within me, that I’m capable of excelling at my chosen activity.  Being sorted to the back of every ride is humbling.  And as your riding partner(s) drop you for the umpteenth time you get to reflect on all of your shortcomings.  You get to sikowanelize yourself for free.  You get to beat yourself up and laugh at yourself.  You get to cry onto your own shoulder and figure it all out while the cramps lock your legs up and your belly gnaws on your rib bones and your head feels like its going to float away in the hot summer sun.  You really don't smell so bad.

They should give Daddy and the girls a head start.
~ Lily-Bean on race day
But you forget it all as you struggle to get your bike to the top of Columbine Mine.  You forget it all as you wrestle with Powerline.  You forget it all when you see that red carpet and feel the weight of the finisher’s medal settle onto your neck.   
After a time the positive memories float back to the surface and you brush the negative flotsam and jetsam out of your path.  It was all worth it, every bonk, every empty water bottle in the middle of nowhere, every lost wheel, every flat, every mechanical, every JUBAR derailer, every foot down, every busted knuckle, every sweat stung eye…it was all worth it.
The other day as I explored LAC for the first time I reveled in the lack of pressure to ride hard but the surprise at coming in 2nd on a Strava segment with eight other strong riders.  I’ve gained, but also let go.  My mountain biking paradigm has changed.
I was in a meeting the other day and had my scratched up 20th Anniversary Leadville waterbottle on the table in front of me.  One of the engineering consultants asked if I had done the race.  I couldn’t help but smile when I said I had.  When I found out he was a mountain biker who aspired someday to go to Leadville I had a deep sense of satisfaction at having made my pilgrimage into the mountains of Colorado where I found my mountain biking truth.  Finishing the Leadville 100 is not something I aspire to do anymore.  I’ve attained that goal.  I’ve ridden that path.  I know how that experience feels.
So I call this long-running Leadville Saga closed.  It’s been quite the journey.  Maybe I’m not done with the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race just yet, but I’m done with the obsessive focus, the worry, the desperate need to train and to hit the moving target of performance.  I have nothing left to say about my past races.  I’ve said all that I need to say, except…except I have plans to compile all of this into a more organized and concise piece of writing.  In fact, I’ve already started on a more focused writing effort. 
Our family may not yet be done with the saga; at least in dealing with the after-effects.  Before we left Colorado Mandy had started talking about volunteering next summer so she could enter the lottery in 2015.  I’m serious.  I’m not calling her out to gain commitment from her.  I’m just stating the fact that we had the conversation.
My youngest has seemingly begun her training as well…for the 2025 Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.  On the long drive back from Colorado she asked for “pedals you can clip into…and shoes” for Christmas.
“Clipless pedals?” I mused.
“No, the kind you clip into,” she said matter-of-factly.  Does Crank Brothers even make shoes and pedals Bean-sized?
She desperately wants me to lower the seat on her brother’s 6 speed Trek mountain bike so she can ride it.  I’m thinking I’ve conveyed my expensive hobby onto a dependent.  And that might not be such a good thing financially speaking.  
So there you have it: the anti-climactic resolution to three years of blathering, blabbering, whining, pontificating, speculating, agonizing, fist-pumping, yee-hawing, and over-glamorizing of a personal journey, contrived or no, that resonates through my universe at least.  Whatever escapist fantasy will I use to while away my time over the coming years and decades?
Maybe I’ll take up golf.


Epilogue to the Epilogue

This wasn't a hard post to write, but it's been hard to pull the trigger and post it.  I've had it sitting in the blog as a draft for over a week now.  I wasn't sure if I was going to write anything else concerning Leadville, but I knew what most of my thoughts going into the wrap up were going to be.

Now that I'm ending this saga it seems a bit anti-climactic.  I was hoping to include those guest posts.  I had one other "Why I'm Glad I'm Not a Pro" post that I just didn't have the gumption to crank out.  And now we're getting near a month out from Leadville.  It's time to close the book and call it done.

I've hinted around that there's more to come.  There will be more of the Leadville Chronicles/Saga in the future, just not in the form of a post "theme" here.  I use that word very lightly.  Sometimes I posted under that title and then went on wild tangents.  Remember the bear spray story?

Anyway, it's done.  Finished.  Finito.  Fin.  Defunct.  Decommissioned.  Deep-sixed.  Suf-fo-ca-ted.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoy the vacation from Leadville. (I don't believe you are really done.)

    My new bike is in the mail BTW. The opportunity just fell into my lap. Time to ramp up for TD (do I really keep saying that? What is WRONG with me????)