My college coach, God bless 'im, seems to believe that I am on my way to becoming a professional cyclist. The guy just loves a good rags-to-riches story, and has a keep-fighting-the-fight-and-never-ever-say-die attitude, which is a large part of why I ran so well under him years ago. When I told him several months ago that running wasn't going so hot, with at that time no light whatsoever at the end of the tunnel, and I told him I just made a terribly financially irresponsible decision (although I did not refer to it as such) and got a bike, his eyes lit up and I checked my email later to find no less than roughly 5 articles about Mike Woods. To summarize: Mike was a terrific runner for University of Michigan, who became oft-injured, worked at a running shoe store and hated his life, then picked up a bike and became an Olympian at 31. Don't get me wrong, I loved reading about him. I was truly flattered that coach seemed to believe I possessed such potential, and I even entertained the thought of continuing to pursue the sport more aggressively earlier this summer, after having some success at hillclimbs and beating plenty of folks who get really expensive things given to them for free, but I'm also forced to concede to the fact that to get really good at something...you actually have to really love it. That or have some strong extrinsic motive like you're feeding your family with your winnings or something.
Anyway, I loved all the hillclimb races I did. They were the terrific, burny and painful sort of fun that were oh so reminiscent to that of running races. They are reflective primarily of fitness, as opposed to bike handling skills, although a really light bike is helpful. But whatever. A part of my ego did purr in delight to beat men on $12,000 bikes while I basically have more or less cyclocross bike that I was frequently judged so hard for.
But then hillclimb season ended and I decided to expand my horizons. So I entered the Rampart Rager 100k, given how much time I've spent running and riding up Rampart Range Road in Garden of the Gods over the years. It's one of my favorite training places, so to have a race where climbing Rampart was part of it?! Oh hells to the yes I'm all over it.
Welp, turns out climbing Rampart was roughly 20% of the race, the other 80%? I mean...I really WANTED to like it.
So it went like this: we started in front of Criterium bike shop and had a "nuetral" start for the first 7 miles to get to Garden of the Gods. Basically that entailed 250 people riding en masse on a really narrow sidewalk then later, through the even more narrow storm tunnels near GOTG, and frequent speeding up followed by slamming on of the breaks. I have zero mass start experience and it is an authentic miracle of the Praise Jesus variety that I did not crash anybody.
Anyway, I was already sort of regretting this life decision when we finally got to the Garden and I guess the race had started because everyone started going faster.
So we wound our way through the Garden and avoided the many tourists parked in the bike lanes (why?) and I yo-yo'ed with everyone around me, catching and passing people on the uphill, getting steamrolled on the downhill per usual, all the way to the start of Rampart where OH THANK GOD we got to climb for the next dozen miles.
That part was lovely and delightful and passed without incident and I could've done it all day. Yes, I felt ready to turn #pro! Anyone want to #sponsor me?
Then I got to the top, and the downhill began.
Steep, sketchy, washed-out downhill.
That went on.
And F-ing ON.
For the next 25 miles.
I crashed once, then twice, but I found that once you crash a couple of times, you're not really afraid of it anymore. There's a great metaphor in there somewhere.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I almost cried once out of the sheer frustration that I felt like I wasn't suffering in the proper way that running induces. There was no sucking in air hungrily, no red-lining of the lungs and legs, rather, just trying to coast as quickly as possible downhill while navigating questionable areas and trying not to die. It just seemed so much less pure to me somehow, this "race" devoid of Proper Suffering. Also I was getting my ass beat by people who were actually good at doing the aforementioned things, so that wasn't really helping my feelings toward the situation.
I had thought that maybe, just maybe, if I got a good enough lead on the women during the first part of the race, that I stood a chance. No. Just no. I got passed by roughly 90% of the women's field by mile 40.
While my teeth rattled in my skull over the unavoidable washboard areas of the road that went on and on, I briefly considered what a poor choice it was to not be wearing a mouthguard. Do cyclists do that? Several of these areas had me wondering how my bike wasn't disintegrating with so much rattling around, and my water bottle was launched off to Mars at one point. It's fine. Who needs hydration.
"Chin up and never say die!" I thought to myself as I climbed back upon my noble, miraculously non-disintegrated steed after my second unceremonious wipe-out into a ravine that occurred as I attempted to avoid another patch of sand, gravel and scree on the steep descent. Just kidding, I actually said "F*ck" a bunch of times and hoped that my wounds would at least bleed enough to look awesome by the end.
A nice young man coming down on a motorcycle actually slowed and offered me a first aid kid.
"Ah, no thanks. I'm good," I replied, clipping back in, likely wearing a huge scowl. My attitude has admittedly been better.
"Um, you sure?" He answered dubiously.
"Yeah. Yeah thanks a lot. I'm good, really." COULD HE NOT SEE THAT I WAS TRYING TO DO GREAT THINGS WITH MY LIFE G-DAM*IT I AM NOT A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS CONTRARY TO CURRENT APPEARANCES. Such were my current somewhat demonic thoughts toward the chivalrous young gent. Normally I would be far more appreciative of such hard-to-come-by politeness, and also I am not a raging feminazi. Suffice it to say I was not really in high spirits at this time. Now I feel bad. Maybe I will try to find him on Craigslist's Missed Connections and we can go out for 7-11 Slurpees sometime.
But then, like manna from heaven, just ahead FINALLY was the bottom of the godforsaken Mt. Herman Road, and a few-mile long stretch of asphalt took us into Monument. I have never been so delighted over a smooth, flat surface. Over the next few miles, I felt like Gandalf must have as he rode over the sun-dappled planes of The Shire on his great white stallion, beard flowing in the wind.
And then, oh damn it all, I realized I had not seen a gigantic course marking arrow--which, it should be noted, were huge and obvious--in quite some time, so busy was I enjoying the asphalt and playing Lord of the Rings or whatever. So after several additional f-bombs I backtracked for a while before finding the turn I missed taking us onto the Santa Fe Trail.
What awaited at that point? 10 miles of sand. Want to know what's worse than running in sand? Riding in it. Here I proceeded to be passed by roughly 20 more people over the final miles. At one point, an angry buzzing in my helmet followed by a sharp sting on my scalp alerted me to the fact that I had an poor bee trapped in there. Normally I would try to save him rather than leave him to die a hot and suffocating death alone in there, and also I hear the current bee population is in mortal peril, but quite frankly I was out of sh*ts to give.
So then I miraculously (I used that word a lot that day) finished in a little over five hours. It was a beautiful day. I was happy to be outside. I made some friends at the post-race barbecue. I want to say the race was a blast but it actually sort of sucked, not because the race in and of itself sucked--it's hard work putting those things on, after all--but because I sort of sucked at doing it. I'll probably do it again.