Chained Together

Mike and Paula have been friends of ours since our kids were preschoolers.  We really missed them when they moved to Worland, WY some years ago. We’ve always kept in touch and see each other on occasion.  They are treasured friends.

Their nest has emptied and, with both their kids now in college at the University of Wyoming, they are off on a transcontinental tandem cycling adventure, crossing the United States from Anacortes, Washington to Brunswick, Maine.  I’m very excited for them and wanted to share a link to their blog, so you can follow them too!  They will be posting updates as they go, and you can sign up for email alerts when new posts are added.

Mike and Paula begin their journey tomorrow, May 27, 2015.  Follow them here, at Chained Together : Paula and Mike’s transcontinental tandem tour

Mike and Paula, best of luck to you both.  Here is my wish for you:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand. (-an old Irish blessing)

Stay in touch, cycling friends!

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The Reluctant Cyclist

Our daughter Lauren was first introduced to life in a family of cyclists by riding in our old yellow and red Burley, which is a pull-behind trailer, snugly fastened in her baby carrier.   She soon grew into toddlerhood, and the baby carrier was replaced with pillows, books, stuffed Beanie Baby cats, juice, and snacks.  All these items had to be present in order for her to be agreeable about getting in the Burley.  If any ingredient was missing, we might be far away from home and hear an insistent little voice coming from behind her Dad’s bicycle, “I’m hungry!”  or  “I want something to drink!” The insistent little voice had no patience for the fact that her father had to find a safe place to stop, pull over, and meet her important demands.  It was just easier to have everything packed in the elastic Burley pockets so she could help herself.  The pinnacle of her Burley experience occurred one year we participated in the Moonlight Classic ride, a night ride beginning and ending in downtown Denver.  We packed the Burley as usual so she’d be happy, with the addition of a lantern hanging from one of the interior support bars of the Burley.  She got a lot of attention in the middle of the night from fellow riders and onlookers as she happily snacked on goldfish crackers and read her books by lantern light while we pedaled along.  She was in love with this arrangement.

But growing too big for the Burley meant that it was time for Lauren to learn to ride her own bike.  This was not exactly how she planned to participate in her family’s favorite activity.  Pedal on her own?  Keep up with her older brother?  Impossible! (The latter is certainly true, none of us can keep up with him).  That would mean exercise and (gasp) work!

We collectively set out to try to teach and encourage Lauren to ride her bike.  We bought her the quintessential pink sparkly girly bike with training wheels, which she liked to look at and play with, filling the polka dot basket with either stuffed cats or real cats. As long as she didn’t have to get on the bike herself, she liked it just fine, thank you very much.   Her brother Dan, who was about 8 at the time, did his best to cheer her on, running alongside her on the patio, and even helping her push her foot down on the pedals when she couldn’t get going. Teaching her wasn’t easy.  There were a few tears.  There was even more whining.  But mostly there was a lot of just-not-interested.  We lamented to ourselves that she might not really get the hang of it and if she did, she probably wouldn’t be joining us on rides.

It was ok with us if she didn’t want to be a cyclist like the rest of us; to each his own after all.  We finally decided we only wanted her to simply learn how, just as a life skill she should have.  What she did after that was up to her.  She reluctantly did learn how, and that was the end of her bike-riding days for several years.

Lauren watched her brother become immersed in cycling throughout his high school years.  He got a job at a bike shop at 15, and continued to work there until he graduated.  He commuted to work and school year-round, defying weather and gas prices.  He mountain-biked several times a week, raced a little bit, and talked a lot about bikes in general, all the time.  A running joke at our house was, “Dan says, if  [insert personal or world problem here], ride your fixed gear.”  In other words, riding was the solution to everything.  This constant barrage of bike talk and culture between her brother and parents must’ve rubbed off on her.  Last summer she decided she wanted to dip her toes into the world of bikes, so she started to ride a bit with him.  First it was just around the neighborhood, then maybe to the nearby gas station, then to the grocery store.  It soon became clear that the years of worn-out hand-me-down bikes from Dan were over and Lauren needed her own bike.

We surprised her last summer with her very own, brand-new Trek 7.2 city bike, a perfect all-around choice for her, and found on sale, easy on our wallet in case things didn’t work out.  Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for her.   She discovered she could ride by herself to the store to get her own snacks anytime she wanted (some things never change).  She discovered she didn’t have to wait for someone to give her a ride somewhere, she could just go.  She discovered that sweet taste of freedom that is so very unique to cycling.

Recently, Lauren, now 16 and on the cusp of getting her driver’s license, was at our church helping her youth group when I received a text asking to ride to a friends’ house.  I OK’d the trip and asked her to text me when she got there, knowing that she had a couple of busy streets to cross.  My phone beeped upon her arrival and she wrote, “It was fun!”  I re-read those words several times, smiled, and jokingly replied, “Who is this and where is my daughter?”

Turns out she discovered the very best thing of all about cycling.  It was fun.  That’s the beautiful, simple joy about being on one’s bike that we never expected she would experience, and we’re so happy for her.  She tells me she wants to keep riding even after she gets her driver’s license.  I hope she does; for either transportation, enjoyment, or both.

Welcome to cycling, Lauren.  It IS fun. And you can have snacks.

Lauren and Dan (in front) on her maiden ride with her new bike.
Lauren and Dan (in front) on her maiden ride with her new bike.

 

Keep Moving Forward

My journey back to cycling since my hemorrhagic stroke (a brain bleed, not clot-related) has not gone like I had imagined it.  When I was in the first few months of my recovery, I looked ahead to the end of Summer 2013 and figured I would be riding 65-mile day tours just like I had at the end of Summer 2012.  But my body has not recovered exactly like that.  This reality has forced me to analyze my attitudes about goals and what they really mean to me.

The first time I got on a bicycle after the stroke was about five months into my recovery.  My left leg was still pretty wobbly, and I knew I wasn’t ready for my road bike.  I ventured out on my old hardtail mountain bike, with my husband and son in tow.  Everything felt marginally okay, until I had to stop.  I put my leg down to stop, and it crumpled up underneath me. I realized that my body and my bad leg did not remember how to stop.  It’s hard to explain, but my muscles didn’t know what to do.  Although I knew in my head how to stop, knew what it felt like and could envision it, I had to start over from square one like a child riding her bike for the first time.  I learned to think through the stop from start to finish, step by step.  It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of practice.  Time passed, and finally I was ready to try clipping in on my road bike.  I spent over an hour starting and stopping in my back yard on the grass, so I could fall without getting hurt (which I did a lot).  Finally, I was starting to get it again, awkward as I was.  My long-term goal of just going out for a ride was waylaid by this whole start-and-stop problem that I didn’t expect.

Last summer I was a 42-year old,  in the best physical condition of my life, enjoying my 6th year as a recreational road cyclist.  Multi-day tours with mileage averaging 60-80 miles, day tours of at least 65 miles, and training rides of 20-30 miles were my norm until the stroke.  I even finished my first century two summers ago and planned on doing more.  These are humble accomplishments in the cycling world, for sure.  But to go from that state of physical condition to where I am now has been a dramatic adjustment.  I really had to change how I envisioned my recovery.  ‘Out’ was the unrealistic goal of riding the 65-mile Tour of The Moon my husband and I had enjoyed so much in October 2012, or most of my other favorite summer tours. ‘In’ was the goal of completing a ride without falling on my mountain bike.  Next goal was getting back on the road bike.  Next was completing a training ride without falling, and so on.  Right now I’m up to about 35 miles on my road bike, no falls and getting more and more confident with starts and stops. My last riding goal for the summer is to simply participate in the Venus de Miles Colorado for the sixth time.  I won’t be able to do century or metric century as in years past, but I can still ride it.  Small goals, small victories.

I’ve gone through most of life with big goals, and not ever had a problem with how I’d set them or attained them. If I worked hard enough, I reached them.  This time though, I don’t have total control over how my body is healing.  I can only work very hard and let time do the rest.  We’ve all had failures and have to learn how to deal with them in our own way.  Failure doesn’t have to become a reality, though, when goals are just a little smaller.  Reaching those small goals is just as satisfying as reaching the large ones; the important thing is to keep moving forward.

Keep moving forward.

Keep moving forward.

Those three words are what have kept me grounded throughout this entire recovery.  Those three words are what reassure me that no matter how small my goal might seem, it’s worthwhile and fulfilling to reach it.  No matter how little a step forward might seem, it’s still further along than before. Whatever your goal was or is, try not to dwell on looking back or worrying about the far-ahead future.  Step by step, small accomplishment at a time, you will get to where you need to be. Just keep moving forward.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” 

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

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Stress relief

“I don’t want to go”, I thought.  I had a million excuses running through my mind.  “…this week has been too stressful…my teenager has been hard to get along with…been up too late helping my daughter with her 4H projects for the County Fair…stood too long in line today and my back is killing me…have to get up at 4:30 am and I’m exhausted…”  The list kept getting longer the more I let my stress envelop me.  I really, really did not want to ride that day.  But I had paid my entry fee, and my friend would be picking me up at 5:30 am.  No turning back.

Reluctantly, I got my act and my gear together.  My friend and I arrived in Waverly, CO, just after sunrise on a gorgeous Sunday morning.  I went through my little routine of getting my bike and gear ready, without really thinking about it.  I was just on auto-pilot.  My mind continued to race about things I needed to get done when I got home, the activities to get ready for the next week, the worries of a mom of a teenage boy.  The accumulated stress and fatigue weighed on me as if I were a cartoon character holding two pieces of broken bridge together so the cartoon car could pass, but I tried not to let it show.

Around 7 am,  we were ready to ride.  There were a few of us at the side of the road, just hanging around.  The ride people had said they would have an organized start at 7 am, but there didn’t seem to be anything happening.  I was chomping at the bit, already worried about when we’d finish the 72-mile ride because I needed to get home.  I asked my friend, “Are you ready to go?” and she said yes, so I clipped in.

I took one pedal stroke, then another.  The air was crisp with the promise of a warm day ahead.  Another stroke, and- that’s when it happened- a crack.
It was a crack in the cement shell of stress that was encasing me.
Another turn, faster this time, muscles warming.  Ka-chunk!  A large piece of the shell fell away.
My mind awakens, and another huge chunk breaks free, crash!.  Pedaling faster…more pieces falling behind me…breaking free…FREE!
All the worries, the thoughts, the list of to-do’s, the excuses not to ride; they are all erased.  The negatives are replaced with the peaceful bliss of a morning view of the Rockies, a cool breeze, and the simple rhythm of my cadence.

The effect of riding on my psyche has never been so obvious to me as right at that moment.  The perfect stress relief.

Indoor Training Blues

Winter
The cold
pushing its raw tendrils through doors and windows
The ice
reflecting sparkles and rainbows that hide its frozen menace
The wind
relentless, pursuing long-lost warm breezes
The snow
a white coat of paint saturating everything in its touch
flake by flake
Winter settles in.

And now it’s time for indoor training.

Last winter, I discovered the wonders of Spinning class. A friend invited me to come with her one evening, and I foolishly thought to myself, “Pffft- pedaling an exercise bike. How hard can it be?” If you’ve been to a Spinning class, you’re laughing at me right now. If you haven’t, let me tell you; it’s a 45 minute, 500-700 calorie Sweatfest. After dragging myself to a second class, then another, and another, I started to see some results. Increased muscle tone. A little weight loss. An increase in endurance. The following spring, I was amazed to find that I started out the bike season stronger than when I had quit in the fall. That’s when I realized that indoor training was probably something I needed to take a little more seriously; as in, I had to actually do some training.

This winter, life is busy. I can’t always get to spinning class when I want to, which leaves me with every cyclists’ standby, the trusty trainer-in-the-basement option. Our spare room is nicely appointed with a Bowflex, sewing machine table, built-in ironing board, and a small wall-mounted flat screen TV. There’s just enough room in the corner for me to set up my bike on the trainer, with a strategically positioned fan. So I can’t complain about my accommodations. But riding the trainer, as my friend said, “…is SO boring!”. Geez, she’s right. How am I going to stay motivated? First I tried having the TV on while I pedaled, but I couldn’t hear it over the fan and bike noise. Next, I tried making my own “spinning mix” on my iPod, but after working out a couple of times to the same music, it wasn’t enough variety to keep me interested.

During a recent conversation with another friend, our chat turned to our iPods and podcasts. I’ve had an iPod for years, but up until this point, I’d never entered the realm of podcast listening. My ears were about to be opened. If you’re new to the podcast subject, there is a cornucopia of free audio and video podcasts on iTunes (and you don’t have to have an iPod to play them). They cover just about every subject you can imagine, are updated daily, weekly, monthly, etc., and can range in length from a few minutes to an hour or more. My friend told me about one of her favorite podcasts, called Stuff You Should Know, co-hosted by two superbly entertaining guys, Chuck Bryant & Josh Clark. I decided to take a listen and quickly became a big fan. Then I discovered more podcasts that I’m now a subscriber to, such as: NPR’s This American Life, Fresh Air, and All Songs Considered, BBC’s World Have Your Say, and The Moth (a storytelling series). I can’t believe how quickly 40 minutes passes when the ol’ grey matter is engaged! I set out pedaling and listening, and before I know it…time’s up! I’m done with my workout and know all there is to know about Ninja. Or Hells’ Angels. Or a rotary-dial controlled car from the 60’s.

Out on the road, my mind is filled with sights, sounds, smells, and my wandering thoughts. This winter, I’m glad I’ve discovered a new way to keep the doldrums of working out indoors at bay. So thanks, Chuck & Josh, Ira Glass, Terry Gross, and Ros Atkins. Your great programs are helping me keep two kinds of wheels turning at my house; the 700 x 23 kind and the metaphorical kind.

I’m curious what you, my treasured but very few loyal readers- do to keep your indoor workouts fresh? And do you have any favorite podcasts?

White-collar riders

Recently I read an article by Bill Schneider in our local newspaper about bicycle rage.  I’ve heard of this dangerous phenomenon between motorists and cyclists, but I have been lucky enough to avoid any confrontations so far (my desk is made of wood… and I’m knocking on it).  There was something else in the article that bothered me, though.  Mr. Schneider, the travel and outdoor editor for NewWest.net, relayed a quote from a “blue-collar” motorist who described what they thought when they saw a cyclist on the road; “When I see cyclists, I see guys who don’t have to work for a living; why else would they be out getting exercise in the evening when hard-working Americans are resting up for another day of hard work?” ¹  Seriously?  I must be either woefully naïve or completely out of touch with my fellow blue-collar Americans.  Or both.  This statement struck me wrong on so many levels; I just have to sort it all out here.

First of all, the idea that cycling is just a white-collar sport shouldn’t surprise me, but it did.  Perhaps it’s because everyone I know and ride with are just regular, middle-class people.   Yes, there comes a certain point in one’s economic standing, I suppose you could say, where extracurricular sports become more feasible.   Some folks like single parents, raising families and working minimum-wage jobs, don’t have a lot of extra time or cash to devote to things like skiing, golfing, tennis, or other sports.  But there are also plenty of blue-collar Americans who do enjoy a variety of sports, and they shouldn’t be stereotyped because of their interests.

There are cultural differences to consider, too.  Is cycling still seen as an elitist European sport imported into this country?  It’s hard to escape that image when you see expensive road bikes and clothing sold at a premium in specialty stores.  They don’t sell Colnagos at Wal-Mart, you know.  And I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t, it just illustrates the gap in appeal and accessibility to the masses.  And take a look at cycling’s premier events: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, among others.  These European spectator events leave most of us Americans disconnected unless we can pick it up on TV.   Cycling will never enjoy the broad spectator appeal here in the states that basketball, football, or baseball does.

Finally, I have to address the statement, “Why else would guys [and gals] be out exercising in the evening?”  What exactly constitutes “resting up for another day of hard work?”  Of course it means different things to different people.  It might mean watching TV.  Scrapbooking.  Cooking a nice meal.  Going to a restaurant or bar.  Hanging out with the kids.  Or, yes, exercising.  There was a time (long ago) when my favorite after-work activity was watching TV accompanied by a beer or two, a pack of Marlboros, and a bag of Lay’s potato chips for dinner.  Yeah, those were the days!   But just because I don’t live like that anymore doesn’t make it wrong for someone else who chooses that lifestyle.  Conversely, I don’t like the idea of people judging me on how I spend my free time.

The whole judgment issue brings me full circle back to that quote in the Schneider article.  Without getting into the well-covered subject of cycling/road rage, it’s safe to say that the core of that person’s intolerance and bias was disturbing to me.  We’ve got enough small-mindedness in the world to go around already.  I’m going to be thinking more objectively about the motorists I meet when I’m riding, or the cyclists I pass when I’m driving.  Let’s just all give each other a break, no matter what color our collars are.

¹Schneider, W. (October 27, 2009).  Bicycle rage? Why? Wyoming Tribune-Eagle,  Cheyenne, WY.

The Whiners

Last weekend, I attended a women’s adventure event in Boulder, Colorado. It was pretty cool; an all day festival at Boulder Reservoir featuring clinics and workshops where you could learn about outdoor sports and activities. There was everything from orienteering to kayaking to slacklining. Plus there were a ton of freebies! And this stuff was nice… but, wait- I digress. Anyway, my friend and I had just walked up to the lunch line to get our crepes and microbrew (high-class, I’m telling you!) when we overheard a rather discontented woman complaining to one of the event volunteers. Unfortunately, this is something we have become familiar with when we participate in group events. My friend rolled her eyes and I concurred, saying, “There’s always one in the crowd.” Yup, you’ve probably met him or her too. They’re not distinguishable by any physical characteristic, but they sometimes have a certain air about them. They are: The Whiners.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to get cranky. Ask my kids. I’m not putting down anyone who is having a bad day or has a legitimate complaint during a group sporting event, either. You throw several hundred or even thousand people together and you’re bound to have some personality clashes and technical glitches, even with the best planning. But is it really necessary to bawl out a volunteer because there was a line at the Cannondale clinic? How about the guys working furiously cooking lunch for hundreds; is it their fault everyone got in line at the same time? What about the dude in the diesel truck who is forced to slow down due to traffic as he approaches behind you, then ‘smokes’ you purposely when he passes? Oh- him you can curse without guilt.

Allow me to indulge in a little Emily-Post-rule-making of my own. Perhaps if the ‘Dougs’ and ‘Debbies’ are out there somewhere reading this, (I’m dating myself with the SNL reference, by the way) they will accept my suggestions with an open mind. Yeah, I didn’t really think so either, but here goes anyway:

1. Stop and ask yourself, is this a real problem? Not finding your name at the registration table: problem. Not finding toilet paper in the porta: par for the course. A clean porta potty is an oxymoron, and you should be carrying your own paper supply, anyway.

2. If you’ve got a real problem, take it up with the right people. Nothing is more grating than seeing a volunteer berated for something they have absolutely no control over. I rode in a tour this summer that included a ½ mile section of unavoidable construction zone. Unfortunately, it had rained for several days before the tour, and the zone had become a soup of puddles and thick, sticky mud. When we arrived at the rest stop following the mess, there was a ‘Debbie’, filling the volunteer with an earful of heartache about the mud. I didn’t see God standing at the booth, so I’m not sure who she was talking to.

3. You didn’t sign up for a pedicure. Cycling tours, triathlons, and the like are arduous, exhausting events. Most of these endeavors are organized by volunteers who are fundraising for an important cause, such as the Komen Race for the Cure. Participants pay a participation/donation fee, not for a massage at the local day spa. Don’t expect to be pampered, and you won’t be disappointed.

4. Be tolerant. People are as diverse in nature as they are in appearance. That’s a good thing, in my opinion. It keeps the world interesting. But it also means that you’re probably going to run into folks who think a little differently than you do. Let whatever it is roll like rain off a slick tire, and you’ll get through your day with a lot less aggravation.

5. Learn your sports’ etiquette. In cycling, there are some basic, common sense rules that most riders are aware of. Simple courtesies like announcing “on your left” as you pass another cyclist are widely used and expected. If you’re a new rider, hook yourself up with a more experienced person who can show you how to pass on a crowded climb, for instance. Because when I was a new rider, I was so fast this is one of the first rules I had to learn (ha!).

6. Be safe. Not trying to sound like anyone’s mother here, but it’s true. If you need to stop, get off the road as quickly as possible. If traffic is getting a little hairy, try and find an alternate route. If you’ve got an early, hard ride scheduled in the morning, best to skip the Mexican food and margaritas the night before. No- seriously, taking a minute to assess whatever situation you’re in can save you a headache later on.

So there you have it, my six rules for not becoming a Whiner. I’m not going to finish this with some hokey “Now remember to have fun!” comment, because duh, we wouldn’t participate in these sports if we didn’t enjoy them. And it’s safe to say that we’re always going to encounter a Whiner here and there. But the next time you’re in line behind one of these folks who’s just finished complaining to the food server about the temperature of their free coffee, walk right up to that same volunteer and tell them: “This is a great event. I’m having a terrific day, thank you.” It’ll make their day, and yours.

Learning to Fly…and Fail

“You can ride 20 miles, right?”  That’s the question that I kept tucked close in my consciousness, ready to pull it out every time doubt tried to enter my mind.  It was a question my friend and riding partner frequently repeated to me too, whenever my doubt managed to escape my lips in the form of a complaint or fear.  Her logic was, “If you can ride 20 miles, there will be a rest stop.  Then you just ride to the next stop”, and so on.  (I’ve finished college now, and I believe this argument would fall under the fallacy of non sequitur or the composition fallacy.  Nice try, Jersey girl).  This question convinced me, in my extremely novice, unfit, and apparently delusional state, that I could handle a 72-mile ride in the Colorado Rockies.  Three mountain passes, one day.  “I’ll just ride a lot and train,” I thought. No sweat.

I had purchased my first road bike in the fall, so the spring/summer season leading up to the big ride was my first opportunity to put some miles on.  It was hard.  Everything hurt at first, despite the fact that I really enjoyed being out and doing something active.  But dang, I just didn’t seem to get stronger!  Twenty miles felt ok, but I was pretty tired afterward.  A thirty mile ride was really pushing it; my neck, back, and ass throbbed and begged for Motrin when I got home.  I could put in a forty-miler, but it took me hours to finish and nearly the whole next day to recover.  “I’ll just ride a lot more”, I thought.  No sweat.

In early summer, my friend starting talking me up about the Copper Triangle, a mid-August ride in Colorado.  The ride began at Copper Mountain Resort, near Frisco, and made a triangular loop over Fremont Pass, Tennessee Pass, and finally Vail Pass, with the downside ending back at the resort.  I went online and looked at the elevation chart for the ride.  It was a nifty little preview representing the hills we would be covering.  The lines on the chart zigzagged up and down like a heart monitor attached to someone having a really bad day.  I clicked the “Register” button on the screen anyway, and signed up.  I could sense the fear and doubt bubbling up from the pit of my stomach, but I made myself repeat my new mantra, “You can ride 20 miles, right?”

The summer kept moving on and we kept riding several times a week.  This can only happen when you’ve got a really supportive friend who will keep riding with you despite your whining and tortoise speed.  It can also only happen when you have a family at home who is cheering you on, encouraging you to go ride on those warm summer evenings and not worry about what needs to be done at home.  (I’m eternally lucky and indebted to those people in my life.)  Eventually, gradually, I started to see that I was getting stronger.  I started to experience a lot of ’lesses’:  less time needed to recover, less Motrin, less time to complete a set distance, less worry.  My friend was right, I had no problem at all riding 20, then 20 more.  “I’ve just got to keep riding more like this,” I thought.  No sweat.

The big weekend arrived before I knew it, and my friend and I drove to Frisco to spend the night before the ride.  Our early pre-ride breakfast took place at the local Safeway, where we purchased coffee, rolls, bananas, and yogurt.  We drove the five miles to Copper Mountain and looked for a place to park in the already bustling crowd of cyclists.  These people were intimidating to me.  It was the highest concentration of spandex, toned legs, and Pearl Izumi I’d ever experienced.  I was repeating my mantra A LOT as we unloaded our bikes and gear.  And then, just like that, the ride started.  No fanfare, balloons, or ceremonial shots fired.  Everyone just made their way out of the parking lot as they readied themselves and started up the hill.  Everything happened so quickly I had no time to think about anything except pedaling.

The ride began on an incline, headed up the first and longest pass, Fremont Pass.  Twelve miles up we climbed, with the first rest stop at the top.  I actually didn’t feel too bad.  I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath, but so did other people.  I was riding in my lowest gears, but then so were other people.  I forgot about cross-chaining and got my chain stuck real bad, but then so did… nah, I was the only one who did that.  Beginner.  I made it to the top, had some snacks at the rest stop, and was rewarded with a wonderful downhill cruise into Leadville.  By then, I had passed the 20-mile mark, and the road started creeping vertically again towards Tennessee Pass.  Uh-oh.  “No, no,” I told myself, “you just had your 20 miles.  Now it’s like you’re starting over again at the beginning.  Just ride 20 more.  Deep breaths, relax…”  I tried, I really did.  But by the time we reached the top of Tennessee Pass at about the 35 mile mark, my long-simmering doubts were turning into a low boil of fear.  “It’s almost all downhill from here, until the last pass”, I overheard someone say at the rest stop.  Downhill.  That word cascaded over me like a warm shower.  No sweat.

My confidence was short-lived.  Yes, there was a really sweet downhill for about 15 miles, but then there was this thing called Battle Mountain Pass.  Where on the crazy heart-monitor-elevation-chart was that?  I didn’t anticipate this!  I was tired, and I had to stop a lot, and hey, this wasn’t part of my mental plan that told me everything was downhill until Vail!  No fair!  My valiant friend had been more than patient with my sluggish riding the whole day.  She needed to keep on going, and I told her to go.  I didn’t want to hold her back anymore.  I rode alone, and with jello for legs, finally lurched into the rest stop in Vail.  I needed to sit down for a long time.  I wasn’t bonking; I’d been very careful about eating and drinking along the way.  But I’d reached my physical limit.  The reality that I wouldn’t finish the ride slowly started to sink in.  I was determined to make it to the next and last rest stop.  Slowly, with equal parts mental and physical anguish, I rode on.

I remember almost every detail about the last 12 miles.  Vail is a beautiful town, and there was a lot to look at.  That kept my mind busy and away from a little pesky detail called “incomplete finish”.  I had dropped so far behind in the ride that I was alone.  I knew I could not make it over Vail Pass, but I had to make it to that last rest stop.  I kept telling myself, “This is the longest ride you’ve ever done… you’ve only just started riding…you can keep training and try again next year…” to try and bolster my confidence.  But as I neared the stop and saw the ‘SAG wagon’ parked in front of me, I knew what I had to do.

I unclipped near the back of the SAG wagon and loaded up my bike with barely a word to the volunteer.  I took a seat in the back of the rented Ryder, grateful to be alone.  I felt the truck begin to move, and the long-simmering doubt that had rested inside me for a couple of months finally boiled over into big, heartbroken tears.  I failed.

What drama, right?  A middle-aged woman all upset about a bike ride.  I should have other more important things to worry about, right?  Well, yes, I do have more important things to worry about.  But at that moment, I was learning a very valuable lesson about self-motivation, goals, and failure.  I hadn’t given myself permission to fail. Determination alone wasn’t enough momentum in achieving my goal, as I thought it would be. I had worked so hard convincing myself not to be afraid of the ride itself, that I had forgotten that it was ok to just do my best and let it be at that.  It took me a long time to set that straight in my mind.  When my kids are disappointed with themselves about something, I have told them that the only time a person fails is when they don’t try.  But I wasn’t listening to my own advice.  No, I didn’t finish the ride.  In retrospect, I only failed because I lost sight of what a real accomplishment meant to me; and it wasn’t how many miles I logged.

I haven’t ridden the Copper Triangle again… yet.  I’m a much stronger rider now, and I really am more confident and capable.  Maybe next summer I’ll register for the ride again.  I’ll have a different perspective and a different attitude about what I can do.  No sweat.

“Hey Stephen, let’s go fast!”

“Hey, Stephen. Let’s go fast!”, our little seven-year old with rocket launchers in his legs told my cousin right before he peeled away from our group and disappeared in a forest of cyclists. Thank goodness Stephen was quick on his pedals and kept up with him. We were riding in Denver’s “Moonlight Classic” ride in 2002, which began at midnight and took a leisurely twenty-mile loop through downtown and Cherry Creek. Daniel loved to ride his bike so much; we couldn’t help but be drawn to the sport by his enthusiasm. He absolutely cherished his royal-blue 500 pound steel Mongoose seven-speed mountain bike from Wal-Mart. It was his most prized possession.

The whole riding-at-night experience was a new one for us. After all, we had a seven-year old and a four-year old, so late night soirees out on the town weren’t part of our repertoire anymore. It felt amazing and exciting riding through Denver in the middle of the night. The air was still warm but a cool breeze would give us goose bumps. There were people along the route cheering and clapping as the slow-moving peloton passed by their bars and parties. We watched faster riders go by in costumes or with Christmas lights hung on their bikes. Their silliness and freedom was contagious. As the ride continued on into the night, it was clear that Daniel was by far the youngest rider on the route. Police officers and spectators would see him and yell out encouragement like, “Great job, little dude!” which resulted in him pedaling all the faster.

Time is a funny thing though, and as Dan’s age has doubled to 14, he doesn’t ride his bike much anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because he’s a really active kid; he’s just found other things that interest him more. The Moonlight Classic isn’t the same anymore, either. Last time we rode it a couple of years ago, the streets were a little too dangerous and the crowd was a little too drunk. It didn’t feel right to start at 10:30 instead of midnight. Then last week, the bicycle dynamics at our house changed and the world shifted just ever so slightly. I got a new bike.

The day I bought my new Trek had slipped into evening by the time I got home with it. I had told Dan a few days earlier that if he was interested, he could probably ride my soon-to-be old bike, since it would fit him; he’s nearly as tall as me now. So despite having gotten home after dark, I had to take my new bike for a spin. Who could resist? Dan asked if he could come with me. “Of course”, I told him, so happy that he wanted to be part of my moment. We donned our ‘brain buckets’ and I clipped into my pedals. I flew down the street in the dark, relishing the exhilaration and the effortlessness of my new carbon dream ride. Everything everyone ever told me about the wonders of a carbon bike was right underneath me. It was strong, light, and when I pedaled it felt as though the energy kept going through the frame. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! I thought for a second that I was getting too far ahead of Dan, so I glanced out of the corner of my eye.

And there he was. He was passing me with ease on my old steel frame, a smile plastered from ear to ear. The rocket launchers were attached to his legs again, just like when he was seven. “This is great, Mom!” Yes, it was. We rode around our neighborhood and up a hill that was completely dark. We laughed when two terriers surprised us as they charged through their yard barking and alerting their people to the intruders on the street. There was no traffic at all, and the coolness of the breeze in my face was soothing. We got to the top of the hill and took in the sea of stars above us and the city lights that stretched in front of us. Dan and I talked and joked and raced back down the hill together. I didn’t really want our jaunt to end. The best part for me, other than the beautiful new Trek I was on, was seeing the joy of biking on Dan’s face. It reminded me of that fun August night in Denver seven years earlier. I thought to myself, even if he doesn’t get on his bike very much, it’s alright. He already understands that “je ne sais pas quoi” that makes cycling so fulfilling and fun for so many of us. Plus, at 14, he still wants to go ride around the neighborhood in the dark with his Mom. How lucky I am.