The plan: climb 2500 feet on pavement for the privilege of climbing 1500 on dirt. Now turn around and climb 1000 more home. On a singlespeed. How hard could it be?
[27:00] I’m out of the saddle, I have been for some time. Most of the 5 miles up Flagstaff will keep me standing. After mile 3 there’ll be no sitting until the summit. The trick is self-hypnosis. With movement and breathe you can forget the future, stuck in a tiny sliver of time just in front of your nose.
[38:00] Still standing. I’m climbing elliptical stairs. I’m hand-whipping cream by lamp light. I’m 13, it’s late summer and I’m beating egg whites with a fork for my grandmother’s lemon meringue. The stiff peaks refuse to form.
[44:00] A pod of like-kitted roadies churns by. One looks back, squinting at my drivetrain. A problem with no answer. I want to shrug, to offer some sign of shame.
[59:00] The head wall. 14%. My tires have melted. They’ve grown tentacles, suckering themselves to the road. 4 miles per hour. Now 3. I can manage 2.9 mph pushing. I dismount. Cleats clacking on pavement. A stroll with the bike. I stop to take in the Continental Divide, dictating cotton-mouthed words into my phone.
[1:13:00] A rider squeaks alongside. Shirtless, flip-flopped, a fly rod bungeed to the rack of his vintage 10-speed. We chat. I’ll see him again miles later, trotting down to the creek, rod in hand.
[1:32:00] The summit. Now 3 steep miles down to the trailhead.
[1:44:00] The transition to dirt catches me off-guard. I’m stiff-elbowed and unprepared for the swooping, rutted descent. A turtle riding an autonomous robot vacuum shouts: “On your left!”
[1:57:00] Up again. Climbing on dirt is a wholly different beast. No cadence, no rhythmic breathing, just momentum and traction, and never enough of either. You throw your hips forward for one, back for the other. You twist and pull on the bike as much as you push down. You wrestle it like a gator. You lose. You push.
[2:03:00] The trail moderates, undulating. I’m loosening up, re-establishing my faith in gyroscopics. Remember: let go and just hold on.
[2:10:00] A loose sprint to waist-high rocks. I stomp the pedals. I hump the air. I grunt, hoping to tap some dark well of atavistic energy. 180 BPM. I am the gator, the trail wrestles me.
[2:33:00] I stop to refuel, cementing my mouth shut with a single-serving packet of almond butter, and regard the creek hundreds of feet below.
[2:50:00] Jeep trail. A cascade of ball bearings, kitty litter and golf balls. Hopeless. A tremendous clap of thunder. Pushing.
[2:51:00] Giant, icey drops. I pull on a vest, smiling. The air cools and traction improves.
[3:02:00] The rain and my exhaustion subside as the trail narrows, diving into thick pines. The smell of the forest intoxicates. I am 16, these are the wet roots and mossy rocks of my New England youth.
[3:06:00] Up a bare, rain-slicked slab. Stalling, I crank hard but the wheel cuts loose, managing an entire revolution with no forward progress. I teeter and collapse, still clipped in, onto the loamy uphill bank. Pushing.
[3:17:00] Around the next switchback I hear a father grumbling for his son to keep up: Come on, Lewis. Another hundred feet and a pale, floppy-hatted boy emerges from brush. He is indubitably a Lewis. No Lewis can escape this fate.
[3:38:00] My neck is cramping and my fingers tingly-numb on the final dirt descent. Now pavement and up one last time.
[3:50:00] Pushing. The fire-thinned hills of Walker Ranch now far below.
[ 3:58:00] Again the summit of Flagstaff, just shy of 8000 feet. I could nearly coast from here. What’s the harm in trying? I gather speed. I tuck behind the bars, hiding from the wind. I make eyes with the pony-tailed ranger in her truck.
[4:21:00] Downtown. A few minutes more and I’ll be home: empty but already unable to remember the pain. It’s a wonder (a virtue?) the speed with which we forget.
The snow melts in some places, staying in others, creating a black-red-white mural.
7 weeks & 1000 miles
Being Mortal in the Mountains
The last of the box of 100 postcards, in the mail. So that they're all postmarked Boulder.
This is what a bicycle looks like when flipped upside down and wrapped up in furniture pads.
Look closer: it's not snow on that tree. Finally!
Post-yoga second breakfast of champions. Boxcar Coffee, Pearl Street.
What's Inside? Papaya Edition