THE RACE – LAP ONE
Well, we’re off and the morning couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun was not up yet and with the rains we had been having, the temperature was surprisingly warm.
The peloton rolled out neutrally down San Juan Avenue, up Pine Street then right on Main Street towards the end of the Box Canyon and toward the first and toughest climb.
First up, Bridal Veil. Being fairly well traveled, this road starts at the Pandora Mine and zig-zags up to the Power Plant; a house of steep gables atop the cliff, straddling the waterfall.
It’s a picturesque yet mysterious setting attracting visitors and capturing the imagination. Hiking around here, I used to tell my kids that the “Wicked Witch” lives up there, and they bought it for a while, but then the maturity of life that comes with age blew through that dreamy fog of fairytales, dissipating it from their minds and mine; out went that story taking with it the Easter Bunny, Santa and his Elves and replacing it with more appropriate and current events like the daily affairs of certain dark-haired socialites of extreme hourglass proportions with mesmerizing bovine eyes whose olympian step father still uses the same drinking fountain but has moved on to that other restroom down the hall. Enlightened we evolve!
Riding to the start of the climb, morale was good and I got to chat briefly with locals Tim, Jesse, Oz as well as a few other chaps. Folks were settling in their cadence and I was riding middle of the bunch, knowing that my focus needed to be on the road ahead as well as my eating and drinking regiment. With lack of base miles I also needed to fight the urge of keeping up with the faster guys and not dig too deep this first lap.
Three turns up, we came upon Noah and Tina who had parked their truck at the bend, doors open with rock and roll music blaring from their speakers. As I approached, the music became louder slapping my ear drums and waking me up. This was good because alertness is a key component of cycling, especially this early in the morning when sleep is at its sweetest.
We continued ascending, the group getting strung out, with the honchos at the front, Ricky, Chris, Dean, Travis Brown and others of much higher caliber, staying a few switchbacks ahead.
FAMILIARIZING WITH DEFINE & SPORT ATTIRE
I rode my own tempo, and like a first date, I took the opportunity to get to know my brand new bike by playing around with her gadgets. The shifting was super crisp and that got me excited, leading me to utilize this contraption about 73% more times than necessary. Bump ahead… shift!... over the bump….shift again…fun stuff… and quite user friendly.
With the shift cluster somewhat figured out I noticed there was a syringe plunger looking thing attached to my bars with a hydraulic line coming out of it. I say no to EPO or any other intravenous substances and so stayed away from the thing, but eventually curiosity got the best of me and I pushed the plunger. Surprisingly, my performance didn’t improve but upon pressing and releasing it a few more times, I realized that this little button was responsible for locking out my front fork. I do recall the mechanic that put the bike together mentioning something about this. Well, well, how the technology has evolved, and I the benefactor….
All this playing around with my bike’s control panel carried me through the easier switchbacks and brought me to the bottom of Black Bear Pass.
This next bend up from the Bridal Veil power plant, is much less traveled with the texture being much looser and the pitch steeper; a formidable climb indeed. The adjacent dirt from the lower switchbacks changed from steep washes to rock walls here, a sign that this was about to get serious. And serious it got, with the incline making it hard to keep the front wheel down while keeping traction on the back wheel. I leaned forward as my bars were set a bit high, more for bike path ventures, but the steep head tube angle made the steering precise as German engineering, and whichever direction I pointed, the bike went. This combination as well as a dose of good fortune kept me mounted and so I stayed on and navigated the obstacles before me.
Through the next switchbacks, I passed a few riders, some dismounting and starting their death march. Making the courteous remarks, I rode on but did take inventory of each rider as I went by. Folks of all sorts wore race kits, others had on hydration packs and so on. Most of these trappings are associated with the cycling institution and appropriate to the sport.
What astounded me however was the specific blend on ingredients some chose for the vocation at hand. Whether by chance or deliberate determination, the configuration of some outfits brought back traumatizing memories from my childhood long ago.
It was 1987, and my family was emigrating from Eastern Europe to the promised land of the United States. In the western culture, it was an era of ripped jeans, t-shirts and Reebok high-tops. Punk rock was being replaced by big hair bands in leather jackets with voices much higher than ever thought possible. Being 11 years old, crossing into the early stages of manhood, and being somewhat self-conscious, I tried my best to keep up with the current fashions and trends but unfortunately my clothing purchase was still under my mother’s authority and regardless of my style preference, I was at her mercy.
As such, the day for our departure came and my friends lined up outside our house with farewell gifts and wishes of sending me off in good health. My mother being very conscious of the fact that we were about to embark on the venture of our lives, thought it prudent to make sure that the entire family looked proper for the task. With that in mind, she bought my sister and I new clothes and set them out that morning. To my complete dismay, I stood there broken and bewildered before an outfit comprised of sandals, tall socks, suspendered shorts, button up short sleeve shirt and topping it all off was the most ridiculous looking billed hat.
Perhaps it was the fact that much like the VonTrapps, we were leaving an oppressive regime, or maybe my mother saw our family adventure as a parallel to the Sound of Music, sans the music. I don’t know the answer to that, but all I know is that I left our home that day, looking like a curly haired bad replica of Friedrich VonTrapp and my sister was Marta.
Clad like an idiot, I waited until the last possible moment to walk out and say goodbye to my friends. Upon my timid emergence from the house, the neighborhood kids came forth but were stopped in their tracks by the site before them. They stood there transfixed, their faces displaying a fierce battleground of emotions; the combination of loss and sadness were being overpowered by humor, a struggle which contorted the children’s countenance into what I can only compare to the disturbing images of constipated circus clowns. They coughed to suppress their laughter, which sounded like a blend between barking and sneezing, with tears running down their faces which no doubt were a sincere reflection of the pity they felt at the final memory of their friend leaving the land in such a state of shame.
That experience from childhood left me scarred to say the least and as I rode this morning past some riders, a wave of anxiety broke over me as though I was reliving that very nightmare.
Before me were some individuals sporting laced BMX shoes, tall socks (maybe compression?!), baggie shorts, loose nylon jerseys (no doubt an old soccer uniform) and visored helmets which possessed strong similarities to the infamous Pontiac Aztec (arguably setting a new low in car design).
Unsettled at this spectacle that assaulted my democratic sensibilities, I picked up my pace and cranked up to the old Ingram Falls Stampmill, where I dismounted and skipped across the creek distancing myself as quick as possible from the offending characters. Safe on the other side, I took the chance to look across the panoramic view of the Telluride Valley below, framed by the north and south canyon walls jutting skyward like some geological erection from ancient times. The extreme vertical sheer of these walls evoke a sense of humbleness that has an overpowering effect on the human mind. On these walls, locals set steel cables traversing the cliff face, an excursion better known now as the Via Ferrata and not for the faint of heart.
I looked ahead and saw that most of the riders in front of had dismounted and soon enough I found myself having to do the same as here we were faced with the famous Black Bear Steps. I doubt the human ability to ride over these and I believe everyone hiked over cyclo-cross style. Shouldering my bike I attempted the big rocks in lunging steps coming up right behind a gal with bibs sporting a Hassle Free bike shop logo (from Durango), who earlier was displaying good form. Her name was Liz as I later found out and she pulled off at the top of The Steps allowing me to move past her and into the open Ajax Basin.
Here, the sun coming from Kansas of the east and we from the west, commenced into a day that seemed to break without warning. The light and warmth associated with that orb were well welcomed and a great treat for the form and the morale as this marked that the uphill flogging was close to over.
The contrast between the earlier part of the climb in the monochrome setting of gravel and rock contrasted the current environment I found myself in of high alpine flora, glacial runoff and fat marmots; all living undisturbed and in great harmony. We pedaled up the 4x4 road which was loose and wet leaving our tracks behind as a reminder of where we came from and heading further into the postcard setting. With my field of view opening up here, I could see a string of riders up ahead making their own way towards the top of the pass. The overall beauty was indeed overwhelming to the senses and I lost all concept of where I was and how I was feeling. I simply pedaled in a trance, lost in the surroundings, forgetting about bike, food, race, Friedrich and his younger sister Marta.
In the basin, the topography leveled out, changing from the earlier steep pitches to puddles and rollers, a terrain which allowed me to play around with my swanky shifters and explore some of the bottom cogs of the cassette. Dropping down a few gave me more horsepower, speed and the good times were rolling right beneath my wheels.
The ups and downs took most of my attention but eventually I looked up as a rider clad in black kit came into my crosshairs. I felt good enough to surge but it was still early for me to attempt to catch the man and I could not let the heroic emotions take over and risk a spectacular bonk when the first lap was not even half way in. I kept a good tempo and by coincidence only I caught up to Black Kit close to the top of Black Bear Pass just as the man holding the office of course marshal yelled:
“20 minutes behind the leaders”
“No kidding?” I thought. That was way better than I expected so with that I took this time to celebrate the feeling of goodness and drink up my chia seed drink as well as finish my first water bottle.
“Where are you from?” I ask Black Kit.
“Evergreen” says he.
The answer triggered sarcastic thoughts of leprechauns that I fought hard to keep these from trespassing my lips and catching the unassuming contender off guard. We rode together side by side, cresting the pass and starting down. Here, the man from Evergreen let me go ahead of him and so I approached the first downhill turn on my new bike hitting it with gusto. The bike handled flawlessly, inflating my courage which in turn enlarged my gonads. Yeeehaaaw!
The sense of awesomeness prevailed and false confidence drove me into the last few turns going way too hot. I pulled the reins and toned it down a bit as my big goal aside from finishing was to have No Crashes, No Mechanicals and No Bonking; a solid foundation for these types of races. As those were my big priorities, I tamed the beast and civilly continued to the highway and the descent down Red Mountain Pass.
Wrapping up Black Bear Pass, I blew through the next Aid Station longing to get to the asphalt. With the asphalt came the perfect time to dig into my first butter, salami and cheese sandwich. I sat up and tried to go no-handed, but this being my first ride on the bike, I decided to behave like the nice young man my mother raised and thus kept one hand on the bars, while the other went to the rear pocket in search of food. Foiled sandwich in hand and mouth full, I soft pedaled down, enjoying the smooth surface, cape in the wind, feeling super. As I was blissfully basking in the moment, I noticed out of my left eye, a vehicle shadowing me. I moved over giving the driver plenty of room to pass, but they didn’t. What to do? I kept on and considered the fact that perhaps the conductor of that vehicle was hypnotized by my spinning ENVE wheels. Whether that was the case or not, I didn’t care and accepted the fact that the guy was not going to pass. That out of mind, the descending pavement was smooth and curvy allowing me to stretch my back, let my attention lax a bit and reflect on life. This brought me to the final switchback down where I also said goodbye to the sun, riding the remaining stretch of pavement in the shade. With the speed and lack of pedaling I got a bit chilly, but I ignored that unpleasant feeling and continued stuffing my face with food; this time the ever dependable PayDay Bar.
While still in the masticating process, a red arrow pointing right came into view and following this marker I veered onto Ophir Pass Road, the day's second climb, with a full stomach and two bottles down.
to be continued...