When I ride cross-country, I am painfully conscious of how vulnerable I am. The most obvious; cars and trucks scare me. But there are plenty more subtle threats. For example, consider the road’s berm, which I consider to be anything to the right of the painted line defining the roadway. Sometimes, that’s a two or three-foot drop, straight down. Lose concentration, ride off the road and it’s going to be a bad news day. And then there is the problem of what to do when two semi’s approach each other, and you are right next to the trailer of one. When that happens I just pray “Please, don’t hit me, please don’t hit me.”
To combat all these bad things, I wave to all the cars and trucks that give me wide berth. (I strongly believe in positive reinforcement.) The waving to cars and trucks soon morphed waving to every Joe, Phil, and Denny I see. Some guy would be walking or standing by the road and I’d shout out “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” and give them a hearty wave. Riding down highway 101 and approaching Lincoln City, Oregon, I’m thinking to myself, “Why am I waving to everyone? For all I know, one of these guys could be a serial killer!” And I resolved to stop waving. The wisdom of my choice soon became apparent with the next guy I saw: a fisherman walking up a creek embankment. Dirty, with a scowl sharper than a knife. Even from this distance I can see the scars on his face. Obviously a serial killer. I ignored him and pedaled on, looking for a place to camp and pitch my tent. After a few miles, I came across a place that seemed like a good possibility; a mobile home park. I stopped and walked up to a door.
Knock, knock, knock. No answer. Went to the next place. Same thing. Went to a third place. Again, no answer. Went to a fourth place. Knock, knock, knock. No one home. Just as I was walking down the home’s steps, a car pulls into the drive, and a guy gets out.
It was serial killer man.
Serial killer man gets out of his car, looks at me and says:” What’d you want?”
“I’m looking for a place to camp tonight.”
“You can camp here on my front lawn.”
I think “Oh yeah, I’ll bet that’s what you say to all of your victims.” But my lips say “Gee, thanks!”
So as SKM climbs the porch steps, we introduce ourselves. His name is Bob, and last year he was in a serious car accident that almost killed him, hence the face scars. He also suffered some brain damage and has had a hard time finding a job. So he fishes a lot for his meals. After some chit-chat I unpack my sleeping bag and make myself dinner. I decide the weather is warm enough to forego putting up my tent. Bob comes out and starts to chat. His wife left him and he misses his son.
Bob offers me some salmon and I accept. It’s delicious. Bob figures he needs $60,000 a year to pay his debts. I offer the best advice I can think of: Learn how to operate heavy equipment. At dusk we bid each other good night, and I crawl into my sleeping bag. Not putting up the tent was a mistake; in the morning I am soaked by the evening dew. I pack up and continue my journey to Boise, Idaho.
When I see the next pedestrian, I give him a hearty wave and wish him good morning.
I don’t like where this is going.
No, it’s not the miles. Not the mountains.
Not the long passes or falls off my bike.
Not the blisters on my butt.
None of that bothers me.
What bothers me are the other riders. 2,000 of the little suckers. I rode across the U.S. solo. Good Lord, I rode almost 900 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Anchorage.
In the rain.
Against the wind.
So when I see/hear all the other riders
“Passing on your left. ” “Passing on your Left.” I get bummed out. And if I was not shackled by
the camp grounds, by the rules, I know I could blow all those suckers away.
Because they would all give in and give up before me.
If I was still 21.
Join Doug’s Wild Ride on Sunday, May 18th at the Sherwin-Gilmour party center in Mayfield Heights for a dinner and silent auction to benefit the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. Guest speaker: Andre Machado MD, PhD (Doug’s DBS surgeon). Tickets $45
We hope to see you there! Please share the invite with friends.
More info will be available under the “Events” tab.
Day 3, 12k Day: Independence Pass
I almost didn’t ride on the third day. Before turning in at the end of day two I made a tentative plan with Doug to help him get off to an early start in the morning and then take a shuttle to the next town. I was experiencing debilitating pain in my knees.
When I woke up in the morning I wanted to ride. The problem was my bike. The seat was set too low. I spent nearly an hour with a bike mechanic making adjustments to the bike, lowering the seat, replacing the handlebar stem and changing the brakes. So much for Doug’s early start; we hit the road around 9:00am.
I felt much better riding the bike. The day began with a scenic paved bike path and a manageable uphill grade. At the second rest stop 21 miles into the ride Doug and I both agreed that we felt strong.
Shortly after that the bike path turned into a dirt trail or more accurately a sandbox. The trail bed consisted of loose sandy dirt, four inches deep, reminiscent of a kitty litter box. Riders in front of us turned around. I wanted to stay on the Ride the Rockies route. Doug wanted to diverge from the route and take streets into Aspen. We had a not so civil discussion about what to do and parted ways.
After pedaling less than a mile down the trail away from Doug I ran into an obstacle, a short but incredibly steep hill. My bike tires spun out in the sand. I tried to unclip fast but I couldn’t free my feet. Losing momentum I was going to fall over. I stood up on the bike and pushed the pedals down hard. I pushed with everything I had, mentally chanting, “YOU CAN’T FALL!” I didn’t want to prove Doug right that the trail was not safe even though he was right. By luck and determination I managed to stay upright.
I rode the litter box trail slowly and cautiously for four miles into Aspen. In Aspen I rejoined street traffic and never caught site of Doug. I assumed that I was ahead of him.
I took a short break and continued onwards towards Independence pass. I caught up with Doug after a few challenging hills at the next aid station. He had beaten me to aid station by at least twenty minutes.
Independence pass seemed to go on forever. Reaching the tree line finally gave us some feedback that we were nearing the summit. My breath was short and I pedaled in what seemed like slow motion. The ride was really getting tough and then the final switchback emerged. Looking up, the top of the switchback appeared 1,000 feet closer to the sky.
I wanted the summit bad. I took my time and refused to stop until I reached the top. Doug was having a tough time coping with the altitude. He walked with his bike for some of the last miles. The sag wagon was no option. Doug would get to the top by his own power and he did.
Miserable, that is how I felt when I began riding on day two. I had hardly recovered from the exhaustion of riding the previous day and my knees ached fiercely. Approaching my twelfth week of pregnancy, mornings were sometimes “rocky” anyway. Being overly tired and unsure of the logistics at the campsite I failed to shower the evening before. I considered the sunscreen and dirt build-up to be advantageous in protecting my skin against the bright rays.
I pushed on. I wanted to at least give McClure pass my best try. It was the lowest pass of the five passes for the week. If I couldn’t do it I may as well have gone home. The summit of McClure pass is 44 miles from Hotchkiss with a 3,894 ft gain in elevation. As the elevation graph shows, the last five miles before the summit are the steepest.
I spent the morning impatiently wishing away the miles. I simply wanted to arrive at the steep portion and get it over with. But something happened around 20 miles into the ride. I began to enjoy myself. An amazingly beautiful mountain scene opened before me. I didn’t take a picture! I didn’t want to stop pedaling.
My entire mindset changed. I no longer wished away the miles. Instead I began to savor the opportunity I had to be out there on my bike.
The summit of McClure pass is 8,755 feet. As I mentioned, it was the lowest pass on the ride but I found out later that it is one of the steepest mountain passes in Colorado with a maximum grade of 8%.
Doug and I rode to the top together by making frequent stops during the last five miles. I proved to myself that I have the physical capacity to ride my bike to the summit of a Colorado mountain pass. That was important to me because before that day and even that morning I wasn’t sure.
Doug encouraged and inspired me along the way. The ride was challenging for him too but I knew he was as determined as me, if not more so to reach the top.
It was all downhill to Carbondale from there. “All downhill” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Riding down a mountain, at least for me, is scary. I literally hold on for dear life to my brakes with an entirely tense body. The downhill portion was beautiful but I was moving way too fast to stop and take pictures. Once the route leveled off I snapped a few of the Crystal river. The scenery never failed on this ride.
In 2014 Doug’s big ride will be “Ride the Rockies.” Ride the Rockies is a weeklong annual bicycle tour through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The route changes each year but always includes scenic roads with challenging and breathtaking (literally in my case) mountain passes.
In 2012 Doug and I were fortunate to have been invited by the Davis Phinney Foundation to Ride the Rockies. Doug said, “Sure sign me up! I would love to go on a 400+ mile bike ride with five mountain passes and over 20,000 vertical feet of climbing, raise money for the Davis Phinney Foundation and spit in the face of Parkinson’s disease.” Ok, those weren’t really his words but I think that was his sentiment.
So, off we went. For Doug, usually a self-supported solo rider, this would be his first supported ride and he would share the road with 2,000 other cyclists. For me, this would be my first big ride ever. I had never ridden up a mountain pass or really ever been much higher than 700 feet above sea level on a bike.
We spent the week before the ride acclimating to the altitude in Steamboat Springs where Doug’s incredibly generous friends, Anita and Rich put us up in a fabulous resort. We relaxed around Steamboat Springs and took in the Wild West.
On Saturday we headed to Gunnison, the starting point of Ride the Rockies. During the nearly four-hour-long bus ride from Denver to Gunnison, I thought to myself, they are taking us deep into the mountains… to the middle of nowhere. I was intimidated.
We finally arrived in Gunnison where the Ride the Rockies camp was brimming with energy and excitement. After a long day of travel we set up our tent and tried to get some rest. The next morning was freezing cold. It took us quite some time to eat breakfast, tear down the tent and get on the road. Actually it took us two hours!
Ride the Rockies camp in Gunnison
We learned a few things about how to pack for Ride the Rockies the hard way. I packed as though RTR was going to be a camping vacation. We were carrying all of our clothes from the week in Steamboat plus a few major, heavy and unnecessary items like camping chairs. RTR would transport our bags to each location but we lugged them around the campsites.
I couldn’t convince Doug on the first day to ride without his panniers. He refused to let go of being self-sufficient. In the shuffle of setting out in the morning he didn’t even go through his panniers to eliminate non-essentials. Doug and I went on many training rides to prepare. He can outride me any day. But he was slow carrying extra weight. He was also riding his heavy touring bike, as it was the bike he had set-up with the pannier rack. At the end of the day I found out that he had a six-pack of coca-cola in his panniers!
Day One: Gunnison to Hotchkiss 79 miles
Day one was a brutal day for me. 79 miles isn’t very far but the endless hills were a killer under the relentless sun. The climbing started after the first twenty miles and lasted for… twenty miles! There weren’t any mountain passes on this day just an ascent to the top of beautiful Black Canyon. I had an amazing feeling of relief when I reached the top. The scenic overlook was almost worth the pain I felt in my knees.
At the top of the canyon I sat next to a young man in tears. He was upset because he had taken the sag wagon. He told me about how he had trained for several months and that he was disappointed with himself that he gave up riding on the first day. I couldn’t help but notice his bike. It was a mountain bike with tires that looked like they belonged on a motorcycle. I tired to comfort him and explain that his bike and extra-wide tires added substantially to the work of the ride. Then Doug came rolling up the hill completely bushed, saddled with all of his gear.
There would be one more short but steep hill on the descent to Hotchkiss and then it was smooth sailing all downhill for the next 20 miles.
To be continued…
I had to have a better picture come up than the one of me just after surgery. That’s why I put up that last post, entitled “A Lazy Post”. I mean when I look at that picture of me taken in the recovery room, it reminds me of a turkey or something, just before you put it in the oven to bake. I’m aware that some of those pictures in the last post are repeats of previous posts, but I don’t want to be remembered as a turkey. That being said, some of you probably think I am a turkey anyway, but that’s OK.
I’ll try to be a little more profound with my next post.