Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 4: The Anti-Climactic End to a Not-So-Perfect Weekend

This has been a longer-than-usual series for me, so I apologize that this drug out a bit more than anticipated. If you missed any of the first three posts in this tale, you can find part 1 here part 2 here and part 3 is here. As with part 3, this portion of the story has two viewpoints to share. In order to distinguish each of these, Sam's thoughts will be written in bold type face, while G.E.'s will be in regular type. 
I sat waiting for the lottery portion of the ceremony to begin, hoping (and frankly, pretty sure) that my name would be called. That is, until I suddenly realized things had changed this year. Apparently, the organizers decided that instead of using the computer program to randomize and select from the finishers, they were having people bring up a tag from their bib to put into a hat for a random pull.
The problem? I didn't have the tag. By the time I could get G.E. there with my bib, the drawing would be over, and I couldn't even remember if the piece was still on the bib or if I'd tossed it. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why a bigger deal was not made of this change. Someone had muttered something like, "Don't forget about the 100" when I picked up my packet, but since it didn't relate to the current ride, I thought nothing of it. I think a notice in the packet and/or on the main website would've been beneficial.

The moment that I realized I had no chance of getting in to Leadville this year, I started walking away. I knew I had only myself to blame. Post race, I did search through the packet, wondering if I'd missed an explanation, but there was nothing to be found... simply a tear-off on the bib with a smaller version of my bib number.

Earlier than anticipated, I received a text message from Sam that he was ready to be picked up. I was excited. I assumed this meant that he'd received a slot and we could start heading home while there was still daylight.

When Sam got in the car I asked smiling, "So.... did you get in?!" At which point he made the above explanation to me. Bummer. Big time bummer.

I know Sam was thinking that the entire ride and weekend was a waste, but I don't believe that is necessarily the case. True, he didn't get in to Leadville this year, and yes, the entire weekend had been one of the more challenging weekends in some time, but there is always a lesson to be learned. In this case, as we discussed later on the way home, I think the lesson is to enjoy the moment and not be so wrapped up in what is to come.

I realized that I am such a fool for not understanding that the lottery system had changed, but we were ready to go home. The bike had been perfect and fast. My body was not. I was running on no sleep and I was incapable of pushing myself the way that I should have (and would have) under normal circumstance. I backed off when I shouldn't have and I didn't even try for the coin at the start of Dutch Henri Hill. And, of course, I didn't keep that tiny little piece of my bib for the drawing with me.

As we headed home after what felt like the longest two days of my life, we were both hungry. We decided to stop at a spot for a sandwich and let the dogs out for a bit. We were losing daylight, so I didn't want to stop too long because I fear the dark when driving with no sleep.

Quickly, we got back on the road and on to I-70 which takes us down through the mountains and back in to the Denver metro area. As we were driving, we noticed a sign on the side of the road that said there was an accident about 4 miles ahead. Now, there are always accidents on the interstate, so neither of us thought much about it and assumed it would slow us down a bit, but we'd still be making decent time.

About a mile up the road, everyone was stopped. I don't mean the sort of stopped where we move a bit and then stop again. I mean we were stopped-stopped... as in not moving at all. This can't be good, I thought, but what could we do? My sleep-deprived, barely functioning brain was using all its power just to keep us in our lane and on the path home, and now I had to figure out what to do to avoid this chaos.

Truthfully, there aren't a whole lot of alternatives to getting around something like this. We were coming up to one of the possibilities in a couple of miles, but in the meantime, we had to just sit and wait. And wait and wait.

As the sun set behind us, I knew I was in trouble. We were losing light which meant that sleepy time and yawning were about to take over. I cranked up the air conditioner and hoped it was enough to keep me coherent.

The traffic had begun to move, but at an unpredictable and very, very slow pace. Eventually, we made it to the exit I knew we were approaching and in an instant realized that everyone was exiting here because they had shut down all the eastbound lanes on the interstate. That certainly explained a lot.

It also meant that we were in for a very slow route home - or at least until we got to our diverging point about 20 miles up the road.

I should also explain that there is a reason (beyond the fact that I was beyond tired at this point) I don't like to drive at night. My vision is not the best after dark and I cannot always tell if a car is in my lane or the one traveling in the opposite direction until we are very close to each other. It causes a lot of strain to try to focus well enough to be able to make adjustments as needed, and with no sleep this was feeling worse than usual.

At this point, Sam had offered to drive, but I figured he was probably far more tired than I was and I believed I could hold it together well enough to get us through.

As we continued along our slow slog home, I couldn't help but laugh about everything that had happened. It was comical to me in my state of mind. I was so lost in the idea of the ridiculousness that had taken place that I missed our turn off and ended up taking us entirely off course.

When we were finally heading in the right direction, I believe complete delirium had set in.

"What if this is all a dream?" I asked out loud, half believing it could be true. "What if we're actually asleep somewhere and none of this has taken place... or, what if we're upside down in a ditch?"

Sam is used to my ramblings, but even he seemed to be playing along, which only made me realize that he was in need of serious sleep as well.

"What if we get home and the house isn't there?" I continued. "You know in dreams, when you're struggling to get home and when you finally arrive it's something entirely different and it's so confusing? Maybe that's what is happening? We'll get home and it will be an ice cream shop or a 7-Eleven or something."

I couldn't help but get lost in this idea of being in a dream because, well, it honestly felt like a dream in that state of mind. I pretty well continued on in this manner until we reached home, where we discovered that in fact our home was exactly where and how we'd left it (which should be a surprise to no one because we weren't actually asleep). It had been a long, long 48 hours and it was coming to an end.

Sam stated, "I just don't think the whole thing was meant to be. From start - really before the start - to finish nothing seemed to go right."

I couldn't help but nod along. It did seem that obstacles were at every corner. Even though the dogs weren't that bad (excluding the incident with our Lab snapping at the other retriever early on race day), I realized that together, our two dogs just aren't cut out for adventures on the road and camping.

"Next time," I began, "I think you either need to go alone or we have to figure out another way to deal with the dogs. Unfortunately, they are just all-consuming and it's difficult to focus on anything else."

There has been talk since the ride about what Sam wants to do. There are a lot of possibilities within the region, but I think he just needed a little time to accept that he isn't going to race in the Leadville Trail 100 this year. I know he's disappointed, but I also know he is well trained (assuming he actually sleeps) to do whatever he chooses this summer and wherever he decides to race, I know, as always, he'll put our his best.

What's next? I'm not sure. There are a bazillion events this summer and I will be ready for the next one - whatever it is. Maybe it's an opportunity to try again in Flagstaff, Arizona for the 2017 LT100 and not do as horribly as I did the last time, or perhaps there is something else that makes more sense. I have a little time to figure it out.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 3: Let's Ride! Who Needs Sleep?

If you missed either of the first two posts in this tale, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here. For this portion of the Silver Rush 50 story, there are two viewpoints to share. In order to distinguish each of these, Sam's thoughts will be written in bold type face, while G.E.'s will be in regular type. 
After a rough night of being attacked by mosquitoes and not sleeping (well, the mosquitoes were getting me, even if they weren't biting Sam), Sam was preparing to finally race the Silver Rush 50. Even though the mosquitoes didn't really seem to be biting him it was hardly consolation when he was in pain and hadn't slept.

Sam prepared some oatmeal over the camp stove, and after taking a shower, dressing, and packing up the campsite belongings (let's face it, we weren't about to spend a second night fighting mother nature and everything else that seemed to be working against us), we were off to the starting line.

When we arrived to the preparation area, we split up. Sam headed for the start line at the bottom of Dutch Henri Hill, while the dogs and I went to the top of the hill. I've taken photos of Sam at the start line a couple of years ago when he did this ride, so I thought maybe it would be fun to get a different angle. Plus, our Labrador has issues with other dogs and I figured there would be fewer people at the top of the hill than at the start.

I was very wrong.

As we walked to the top of Dutch Henri Hill and found a spot away from any other animals, a woman walked up next to us with her young Golden Retriever. Our Lab gave no warning and suddenly snapped at him. {sigh} It was going to be a long day. I pulled our pup in closer and waited for the group at the bottom of the hill to get going.
Race day! I had been preparing for months. In fact, it's probably the most preparation I've done for any of the Leadville series rides to date. 

Originally, I had intended to race the group to the top of Dutch Henri Hill for an opportunity to arrive first to get an automatic entry into the Leadville Trail 100, but because of the exhaustion from not sleeping, I decided against it. After all, even knowing that I wouldn't place in the top of my division, I knew I'd have a decent shot at entry in the lottery at the award ceremony after the race.

The bike was ready to go, despite all of my changes at the last minute. I was barely alive, but functioning nonetheless. 

Twenty minutes prior to the start, I powered on the Garmin, but nothing was happening. Searching for satellites, and searching and searching. Unfortunately it was never able to connect with the satellites so it became an expensive timer that would tell me when I needed to eat.

Unfortunately, what Sam didn't know is that on a last minute whim, I had grabbed my Garmin on the way out the door at home thinking that if something happened with his, he could just use mine. I physically had it with me at the top of the hill and could fairly easily have passed it on to him, but neither of us knew what was taking place for the other until after the race.
These people decided to walk in front of me as I was trying to get a shot of racers climbing Dutch Henri Hill... Don't worry people, I didn't get here early or anything to get a decent place to take a photo... No, you just walk in front of me and disregard the barriers that the race staff have created. {sigh} I think I need to get meaner with people! :) 
At 9a, we started. I plodded up with everyone else to the top of the hill, being careful not to tweak a knee or roll an ankle. Once we were at the top, we all coasted for a bit because of the bottleneck right at the start. 

Hoards of people who had jumped earlier at the bottom of the hill were now falling over each other. As with the last time I rode here, I was trying to tell people to calm down and not clip in yet. I'm never quite sure why they do this when no one is really moving yet.

But, after all the falling all over themselves and dragging through, we get loose on to a slow but easy first mile or so before we started the 10 mile climb.

There are mechanical problems all around me. Left and right I hear people, noisy derailleurs, dropped chains, but fortunately for me, my gear was holding strong. 

After watching the riders take off, the dogs and I headed off for the first spot we'd be able to see Sam. I was completely exhausted and had no idea how Sam was going to survive this race, but I figured the only thing I could do was be in as many locations as possible in case he needed anything.

I think one of the most difficult things about the SR50, and why some think it is actually worse than the LT100, is that racers start out climbing 10 miles. Most of it is subtle, but it is consistent for that entire 10 miles. 

My first encounter was during that first mile of climbing. I had come in contact with one of the spinning riders who decided to unclip without warning right in front of me while we were all moving along. It was too late for me to unclip, and the guy behind me nailed me sending me off my bike.

I fall and land on a large, sharp rock while simultaneously bouncing my head on the ground. It feels like I have an open wound on my back, just below the scapula. I pick up my stuff, curse a few times, and keep climbing. I didn't have time to lay around and I was too tired to worry about a flesh wound.
There are numerous sections in nearly all Leadville events during which racers end up hiking their bikes. It's very nearly unavoidable. Everyone else starts hiking and there's no ability to pass, so we all have to hike. I find this to be completely torturous walking at 2.5 mph with a bike, in stiff shoes, uphill, with lots of rocks. But, I made it through this relatively well.

My plan is almost always the same with these races: I do my best to methodically start swallowing up groups or racers. Usually, during the first half, people seem to group up and my intention is always to slowly catch them and pass them until all the ones I can pass are behind me. I had collected the last one at around mile nine, so that was good, and I was actually climbing well, considering I was a zombie on wheels.

Around mile 10, we peak and get a well-deserved downhill/double track/fire road, which leads almost perfectly to the first rest stop at about 13.5 miles in to the race.

The dogs and I had been on our way to the first rest stop. I figured it would be the best first place to wait for Sam in case he needed anything. When we arrived, we had a long hike in because of the traffic at this particular area, but I loaded up my backpack with everything we might possibly need and started hiking up the road, two dogs pulling in two different directions.

As a side note, an observer might think that I never take our dogs anywhere and that they never get out of the yard based on their behavior. For the record, we have some of the most spoiled dogs who get to go just about everywhere from swimming to hiking and walking, and more. And, despite my best efforts with training and classes, they just don't seem to understand that I expect them to behave themselves, at least occasionally.

We finally arrived at the rest stop but there were so many people and a good portion of them had dogs. I could feel the anxiety coming from our Labrador. I tried to find a spot away from everyone, but this was no easy task. People with dogs continued to arrive and pretty soon I had nowhere to be that there wasn't another dog.

Perhaps it was just my sleep-deprived state of being, but I couldn't take it as people continued to come closer and closer with their dogs, knowing that our Labrador had already lashed out just an hour or so before. So, we had to hike back down the hill to figure out what to do.

As we walked, I remembered a cross over point on the road we'd just come up, so we went to that spot to wait for Sam.

At the rest stop, I don't bother to stop. I had everything I needed and I didn't see G.E. at the stop. I was feeling okay and seemed to be doing well (or at least I felt I was doing well). 

This is the point when we started to break down into groups with riders who have similar speed and capability. I settled in with them for the most part and kept riding.
It wasn't too long before I saw Sam coming up to the crossing where we'd settled, just beyond the rest stop area. I yelled to him, but I don't think he heard me. He continued along, pedaling his legs off and I assumed he must be okay.

Well, I thought, on to the next spot. Originally, I was going to go to the second rest stop, but after the overwhelming number of people at the first one, I went with my back up plan to go to a spot at the base of the climb up to the turn around/second rest stop.

I was surprised to arrive and find only a handful of people here. Maybe I had missed Sam? I asked one of the people standing around if most of the riders had come through and he explained that only those at the very front of the pack had come through. Perfect, I thought.

I listen to two guys talking about this race in past years and other races they have done over the summer. I watch a young girl nearly get run down by a racer because her parent wasn't paying attention. I help direct racers that seemed to be confused about where to go. Before I know it, Sam is coming down the road.
"Go Sam!!!" I can't help but shout. "Do you need anything?" I holler as he goes whizzing by. He shakes his head at me and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed that he's still upright and smiling. I didn't even feel like smiling and I wasn't riding. I decided to wait until he came back from the turn around not far away, just to make sure he was actually okay.

At the 25 mile turn around, I asked the crew of volunteers to refill my water and whatever the god-awful concoction is they have in their buckets. I swiped a few GU packs, drank a paper cup of lukewarm Coke (Exactly what I didn't want -- who wants warm Coke?) and I was off again.

In this race, the turn around is a bit of a low point so we have to climb to get back out. After I'm out of the dip and back on a downhill, it's time to head back to the first (now the third) rest stop.
The dogs and I watched as Sam came back down the hill he just climbed until he disappeared from sight. Now we'd have to figure out where to go to help him on his way back, if he needed it.

This is hell, and the lack of sleep is now catching up to me. There is a three mile stretch during which there is at least one more mile of hike-a-bike. I crashed two more times due to people who wouldn't move or that didn't warn anyone that they were going to stop in the middle of the course. During the final crash, I bent my already noodle-y rear derailleur which caused my shifting to be off the rest of the race. It wasn't enough to keep me out of the gears I needed, but enough to be a nuisance.

I headed back to the spot we'd waited in after having difficulty after the first rest stop and waited for Sam. I was trying to calculate how long it was going to take him to finish. He had trained so hard for this year's ride and I knew he wanted to finish somewhere in the early 5 hour range, but that was simply not going to happen. Finishing at all in his current state would be nothing short of a miracle in my mind.
Before too long, I saw Sam coming our direction. I yelled to him, but yet again, I don't think he heard me. He looked okay though, so I knew that all I could do was wait at the finish line and hope he would make it in okay.

At mile 40, I swear it seemed as though it took forever to get back to this point and would be more of a downhill portion of the race. On my way, I encountered a fellow who was having cramps, literally standing in the middle of the road. I asked if he needed anything (not that I had anything to really help, but I felt the need to ask anyway), but he said he just needed to rest for a bit. Even though he looked like a pro rider and as though he was prepared, he also looked like I felt. But, now I finally had my 10-miles-to-go marker and it would be down hill.

In case I haven't mentioned it in the past, I am lousy at down hill. 

During the entire second half and the downhill, I was either behind or in front of one individual with an Ironman tattoo on her calf. We spoke briefly and laughed about how badly I suck at downhill. I must have seemed crazy with my fully rigid bike (Yes, you will get hammered going down hill... something I should perhaps reconsider in the future). My hands were cramping often and horribly during this portion. It was wet, rocky, and it was now pretty hot for Leadville. Somehow, I have managed to avoid rain every time I've ridden in Leadville. 

I continued to chase "Iron Lady" as best I could and continued jack hammering myself on the rocks.

With about three miles left of the race, the route designers like to have some fun with the racers and bring us around right next to the finish, just to tease us, and then make us ride three more miles of single track. We can hear all of the people at the finish line and it's like a last little piece of torture. Ugh.

The dogs and I had been near the finish line for awhile now. I know how bratty and spoiled it sounds, but I'm trying to be honest here... I was really sick of standing around waiting for Sam to finish. I have no doubt that having two decent sized dogs pull me around all day, getting more mosquito bites throughout the day, and not getting sleep myself was not helping my mood. I gave myself a little pep talk, and reminded myself that we were here for a reason, but the heat was getting to me and I truly just wanted to just lay down and take a nap.

In my calculations, I figured Sam wouldn't make it in until about 6.5 hours, but there was still that part of me holding out hope that he had kicked it into high and would make it in before that time.

Without much fanfare, I came in around 6:26. It was okay, but certainly not great and definitely not what I would have expected with the training I've completed this year.
This hill is right at the finish line. As a side story, one guy came around the corner as Sam is in this photo and yelled out, "Oh, $#!^! I can't get down that!" and stopped dead in his tracks. Those of us at the bottom couldn't help but giggle, but warned him others were coming so he could get out of the way. Eventually he made it down, but not without saying to those of us watching, "No one saw that, right?" I just found it amusing that he thought that was the worst thing he'd encountered during the ride.
Despite my internal, child-like tantrum, I was excited to see Sam coming in at the finish line (and hey, my calculations weren't that far off, surprisingly). I felt bad that he wasn't going to get the finish time he'd hoped and trained for, but I was so glad that he'd made it in at all.

Right after the cut off time at 8 hours, the organizers start the award ceremony and lottery pull for the Leadville Trail 100. 

Because our dogs had been behaving so badly throughout the day, Sam and I had decided that I'd wait for him away from the award ceremony, just to keep anything from happening with them (well, one of them) and any other dogs. Sam headed over while I fed the dogs and tried to keep them occupied for a bit.

There were so many fast, amazing finish times in all of the age divisions. I was truly impressed! In my division, there were 20 regular coin slots (without dipping into the lottery). So many people had declined the coin that I actually thought I might have a chance to get in straight up without the lottery, but they finished just before calling my name. 

No need to worry too much though, I thought. There were a total of 50-75 coins to be given away randomly to finishers for entrance to the Leadville Trail 100 in August. 

**We're leaving off here for this installment, but the last in this series will be ready soon!

Part 4 is now up and can be found here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 2: Mosquito Pheromones Dripping From My Pores

If you missed part one of this post, you can find it by clicking here.
As you will recall from the last post, we were on our way to the campground. I am not the best person when it comes to obtaining directions if I am at least somewhat familiar with a city. If I have a few anchor points or landmarks, I always figure that I can find my way just about anywhere. I'm not sure when it started, but for many years I have simply trusted my instincts when looking for a particular spot.

Occasionally, this doesn't work for me and I end up lost and completely confused as to how I got myself so twisted around, but as a general statement my directional instincts are pretty decent. Sam is the exact opposite in this regard. He could nearly get lost in our own backyard, so when I shared with him that I wasn't exactly sure where we were going in regard to getting to the campground, I sensed his concern.
Fortunately, my senses held up this round and we were on the right path, so finding the site was really very easy and not far from town at all. The roads, contrary to what I'd read in the reviews before leaving home, were actually quite nice. We had no problems traveling any of them and I wasn't sure what the reviewers had been talking about in this regard.

When we arrived, I went inside the main office to get registered and everyone was cordial, informative, and they even took the time to personally walk us to our site. I was convinced that the dozens of reviewers were completely crazy, or that they had been reviewing the wrong campground. Everything seemed great and I was excited to get to camping.

There were a lot of people on the grounds and some of the spaces seemed more cramped than others, but we were on a tent site and our neighbors were at enough of a distance that we didn't feel completely on top of each other. True, we could hear each other talking at regular volume levels, but that's to be expected when sleeping in a tent at a campground, I think.

We let the dogs loose on some attached-to-a-post cables so they could sniff around and still be within sight if we needed to pull them closer. As we started to take out all of the gear, I saw that a swarm of insects were following me. I was lightly brushing them away from my face when I suddenly realized these were mosquitoes.
These weren't little mosquitoes either. I have seen larger ones (not quite as large as Mosquito the movie - of course, those were infected with alien DNA), but these were definitely not the average sized version that we see at home... and they just wouldn't leave me alone.

Now, I get bit at home if I'm not wearing some kind of mosquito repellent, so I came prepared for such a situation, but I was amazed at the quantity of mosquitoes that were constantly landing or flying around my face. I doused myself in spray from head to toe a couple of times just to make sure they'd leave me alone, but they just kept biting.

I looked over at our Labrador and the mosquitoes were all over her face and legs. I use a Deet-free repellent that is made from oils and other extracts so I figured I'd put some on her as well as they were biting her. I sprayed her down, but they just kept landing. Neither of us could escape these little flying nuisances. Within a matter of no more than a couple of minutes, I had at least a dozen swollen, welting bites that were visible.

I decided I needed to distract myself and help Sam with getting the tent set up. We managed to get the tent upright, but I was swatting and slapping at mosquitoes the entire time. I kept saying out loud, "I don't know what to do. They won't leave me alone," but Sam didn't have any suggestions to offer.

As I glanced around the campground, wondering how everyone else was dealing with these pests, no one seemed to be mad swiping or even experiencing the mosquitoes. What gives? I couldn't help but wonder. Meanwhile, the mosquitoes were eating me alive. I couldn't even stand outside of the car without having dozens of them biting at me, and our Lab didn't seem to be faring any better.
So, we left Sam to fend for himself as the insects didn't seem to be biting him like they were us, and the dogs and I got in the car while I wondered how we were going to survive the night.

Sam had been busy bustling around the site, getting things together. We were doing our best to avoid the nightmare of bike races, camping, and dogs we'd experienced in the past and we really wanted everything prepared by the time the sun dropped below the mountains. That part was still going okay. Sam had gone into the tent to attempt to inflate our mattress and get the sleeping bag set up.

He had been in the tent for quite awhile when I started to wonder if he was okay. I really, really didn't want to exit the car though because the mosquitoes were everywhere just waiting to attack again. I had just decided to give it a few more minutes when Sam emerged from the tent.

He looked displeased.

As he strode over to the car and got in I asked what was wrong. He said that the air mattress wasn't inflating. We had brought a new set of batteries because we were pretty sure the ones we'd used the last time would be dead, but even the new ones weren't doing anything.

"I've tried everything," Sam stated with a look of defeat on his face. "I guess we're sleeping on the ground... or not sleeping on the ground more precisely."

My initial thought was to try and use the bike pump to inflate the mattress, but the connections were all wrong, so that just wouldn't work. Then, I thought that perhaps we should just go home as this really didn't seem to be going well. If we left then, we could be home at a somewhat reasonable hour, but then we'd have to be up again by 4a in order to get back up with enough time to prepare for the ride. Of course, that felt entirely wasteful and it just didn't make sense.

There aren't a lot of retailers or stores in Leadville. The population is small and doesn't require all of the typical stores available to those who live in moderately small cities all the way up to very large ones, but I thought maybe there was another option for us. I ended up pondering aloud, "I wonder if Safeway would have something that would work as a substitute? We might as well go and take a look. It can't hurt anything."

Sam agreed and we were off to see what we could find. We ended up at a dollar store that just so happened to have one air mattress tucked away in the back. Lucky us! With purchase in hand, we went back to the campsite.

On our way, I wondered if we should just set up sleeping quarters in the back of the car rather than in the tent. I was getting really concerned about these killer mosquitoes because I knew I wouldn't survive the night with constant bites. After attempting this, we realized that the back of our hatchback is simply not conducive for a queen sized air mattress, so we ended up going back to the tent to set up sleeping arrangements.

Sam had me go inside the tent to prepare the mattress and sleeping bag to get away from the bite-y creatures. I seemed to be safe once inside the zipped tent, so I was pleased to discover that I would not be eaten alive. Although, in many ways it felt too late as I was now covered in little itchy spots all over my arms, legs and back.

We were both pretty exhausted at this point and ready for bed. We didn't even care if we changed clothes at this point because everything seemed to be working against us. It was still fairly early (about 8:30p), but we both agreed that getting rest was important, especially with a tough ride the following morning for Sam, so we decided to call it a night and go to sleep.

It was a bit early for me personally to go to bed, but I really was tired, so I thought that if I counted sheep in my mind or told myself stories silently that eventually I would drift off. That did not happen.

Our tent seemed to be on a very slight slope and I continued to slip down toward Sam and he was getting pushed off the edge of the mattress on to the ground. Additionally, our dogs, who were nestled on top of us, refused to budge making readjustments nearly impossible. We were both frustrated and annoyed.

A new arrival to the campground had just drove in and they were attempting to set up. For what must have been an hour and a half (at minimum), we listened to the sound of stakes being hammered into the ground and people laughing and talking loudly. We realized it was still not horribly late, so we did our best to ignore it and hope that we'd drift off.

Then, just as the camper noises began to fade, the various dogs around the campground began to bark. It started with the dog two sites away from us and spread around the grounds until even our dogs were barking. This continued on until about 3am. Just as we would think we could drift off to sleep, another round of barking dogs started. At one point, some coyotes could be heard howling in the distance and that started the campground dogs barking as well.

Through all of this, we had continued to slip off our sleeping spot and poor Sam ended up half on and half off the mattress (which was not holding much air at all, so we were really laying on the ground regardless).

The night and early morning had become quite cool. We were down to about 38F/3C, which, while not technically a freezing temperature, is awfully close when one is not covered completely and/or is in an already uncomfortable situation. Our Lab had begun to shake uncontrollably, so I pulled her up to me, trying to keep her warm. As I pet her, she relaxed, but couldn't stop shaking. I tried to wrap her in part of the sleeping bag, but it was twisted in such a manner that neither Sam nor myself seemed capable of moving.

At about 5a, we gave up on trying to sleep. We both realized it just wasn't going to happen, so we decided to get up and get ready for the race. The camp/bike/dog trip we'd hoped to not replicate seemed to be happening regardless of what we did. Sam was in some pain. His back was not doing well from the position he'd laid (though not slept) in all night. I knew he was hurting, but the only thing I could do was tell him that I'd support whatever decision he made. If he wanted to ride, I'd do whatever I could to help him, and if not, we could go home.

His response: "If I wasn't going to ride we would have gone home and slept last night. I'm riding... Oh, I'm riding."

Okay then, I guess Sam is riding, I thought to myself, and we got about the morning.

**That's it for part two of the Silver Rush tale. Next time, we'll get into the actual ride (finally, I know). 

Part 3 is now up and can be found here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 1: No Escaping That Feeling of Impending Trouble

We returned just a few day ago from another trip to Leadville, Colorado because Sam was competing in the Silver Rush 50, as a potential qualifier for the upcoming Leadville 100 MTB race. Sam has his own tale from the race itself that will be incorporated into this, but the couple of days that should have been a non-event (other than the ride itself) somehow had a way of turning into what felt like an epic disaster. So, for your reading pleasure, I thought we'd share the tale start to finish... because, what fun is a disastrous weekend if you can't share it with friends?

The plan was simple enough. We were going to leave on Friday morning to head up to Leadville with plenty of time to mosey around the city and settle in before the race on Saturday morning. Then, after the awards ceremony, we would spend another evening in the city enjoying the peacefulness (and the much cooler weather) and take our time coming home Sunday morning.
A trial run with mounting the bike to the car's roof basket
The original plan also included having a friend dog sit for us so we could be care-free and know that the pups were being well cared for at home. This friend has watched the dogs in the past and she does an excellent job, so when we come home the dogs are happy, relaxed, and don't feel as though they've been abandoned. We could take them with us, particularly as we were planning to camp, but it's a lot easier to do things when two dogs aren't attached at our hip. Additionally, one of the dogs is quite cranky about having dogs she doesn't know come up to her which has created some hairy incidents in the past, and since there tends to be a lot of dogs in Leadville at the races and also at campsites, we decided asking our friend to watch the dogs was probably our best course of action.

As the event date grew closer, I started to wonder whether or not we should have our friend watch the dogs though, or if we should just take them with us. If Sam was going to do the LT100 ride, we'd have to have them with us (as we had no one to watch them), so maybe it would be a good trial run to see how things went?  I ended up telling her not to worry about it and that we'd just take them with us.

But, as things sometimes go, when we hit the week prior to the Silver Rush 50, I started to rethink that plan. Did we really need a trial run? Wouldn't it be nice to just have a couple of days away and be able to enjoy without worrying about what the dogs were doing or what to do with them to keep them entertained? We have very needy dogs and I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with them.

When I inquired again with our friend as to the possibility of having her watch them, her plans had changed and she was now going to be occupied that weekend. Completely understandable, I thought, and so, we went back to the plan to take them with us. Yes, we may have been able to talk someone else into watching them, but summers are difficult to find people to do this sort of thing as generally people make plans for the weekends well in advance of just a few days prior to needing someone.

Although I wasn't thrilled about it, I did still believe that it would be a good, short opportunity to test things out with the dogs and be able to modify whatever we needed to for the next round. Maybe it would be a good thing after all.

As we got closer to the time to leave, I started to have a bit of anxiety, but figured it was just fabricated, unlikely scenarios taking place in my mind; but, as Thursday evening rolled around, the ball of yarn began to unravel.

"What'cha working on?" I asked Sam as I passed through the bike work space area of the house. "Just tuning up your bike for the ride?" I could see the look of frustration on his face, but I let it go, thinking it was a temporary moment of annoyance.

"Yeah," was his short and to-the-point response. I decided it was best to leave him be and just continued on my way.

Unbeknownst to me at this juncture in our tale, Sam had switched out the wheels and cassette on his mountain bike just the day before. I had wondered what it was he'd been "testing" the day prior, but it all became clear when that information was finally shared later.

So, as Sam stood tuning the bike at 5:35p on Thursday evening, the evening prior to our departure, I began to get concerned.

"What if you just ran over to the bike shop to see if Paul can help you get it sorted out?" I began. It's SO handy to have a bike shop so close by. "Sometimes a second set of eyes helps when you're frustrated. The shop doesn't close until six, so if you go now, it may be quiet enough that he can help you figure it out."

Sam looked at the clock, looked at his bike, put on his shoes and walked out the door with bike in tow. I was relieved because I knew he was frustrated and hopefully they would find quick resolution.

At about 10 minutes after 6p, Sam walked back through the door without his bike.

"So, how did it go?" I asked. "Did you get it fixed?"

"I'm going to go back over in the morning when he opens. Paul had to leave, but he said he'd try to get in a little early so he can look at it before we leave tomorrow," Sam said.

Now, I am not a bike mechanic, but generally speaking a quick tune up seems to go fairly easily from what I've observed. Sometimes things just don't shift well or there's a broken part, but it seems that resolution - in whatever form it comes - tends to be pretty fast. I wasn't sure if I should be concerned or not, but I let it go.

The following morning we decided to go and have breakfast out early before people were out taking care of business or headed to work. It was quiet and calm -- What I hoped was a good omen for our impending trip. I was relaxed. Sam was relaxed. I was even ready to tackle (not literally) the dogs and their needy tendencies.

Speaking of tackling dogs... we had chatted about wearing them out before getting in the car to drive up to the mountains. They seem to do much better when they're a bit worn out, so the plan was for me to go and walk them and attempt to tire them out and Sam would go over to the bike shop and retrieve his bike. We assumed by the time I finished with them the bike would probably be just about ready, which would be perfect for our traveling-with-tired-and-therefore-quiet pair of dogs plan.

So, I went to work throwing tennis balls to play fetch with the dogs and then had the girls drag me around the city for a few miles. It's amazing how much work goes in to tiring out a couple of dogs. As we were headed back home, the dogs and I stopped off at the shop to see how things were going.
Paul had Sam's bike up in the rack and they were still fiddling with and musing over various possibilities. Sam was trying to stay out of the way and let Paul do what he does. There were theories at this point about what was going wrong with the shifting, but they were still trying to get it right. After chatting with them for a few minutes, I headed home with the dogs thinking that they needed water and it would give the guys a little more time to sort through the issues.

While I was home, Sam came back to the house to pick up another wheel and cassette. They had decided to switch things out to see if it would resolve the problem, so I said I'd walk back to the shop with him.

Truthfully, I felt bad for Paul. I knew we were putting unnecessary pressure on him with our very short timeline and I hadn't expected this to be such a difficult fix. He was doing everything in his power to get the bike perfect because he knew Sam was heading out to a race, but the bike just wasn't cooperating.

Meanwhile, time was ticking away. There was nothing we could do about it. Sam and I had anticipated leaving town by about 10a. We figured if things got delayed, we'd be gone no later than noon which still gave us plenty of time to get Sam's race bib, set up camp, and so on. It seemed like a reasonable timeline, but we were coming to understand that time was not our friend this day.

I was getting antsy about leaving. I knew we had time and there wasn't any rush, but I couldn't help but feel as though we would run into problems along the way and I really just wanted to go.

After several switches and fixes at the shop, we ended up leaving town closer to 2:30p, which wasn't ideal, but still gave us time to get to Leadville with daylight remaining and set up camp for the night. We thanked Paul for his help and Sam seemed to be satisfied that the bike would now do well.

The drive to Leadville is about two and a half hours (less depending upon traffic), but because it was a Friday afternoon, the normal traffic of weekenders getting away had begun. The sheer volume of cars was slowing down our travel speed, but eventually we were able to break free and we arrived with enough time to spare. Sam went to get his packet of information while I walked the dogs around the city for a bit.
It was nice to be back in Leadville. It was cooler (70F/21C) than down at the base of the mountains where we'd been experiencing temperatures in the high 90s F. It felt restful, relaxing, and I was ready to set up camp.

As we traveled to the campsite, I told Sam that I'd read some reviews about the site just prior to leaving and not many had much of anything nice to say about it. There were several complaints about the road leading to the camp stating that the terrain was nearly impassable, that there was no space on the individual camp site plots, and that the owners were quite rude.

"Oh, good," Sam mused with sarcasm dripping from his lips, "That sounds promising."

** That's where I have to leave off for today, but I'll have the second part prepared soon and ready to share.

Part 2 can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Adventures in Urban Hiking

In a recent post, I mentioned that I've been exploring outdoor activities other than biking this spring and summer. While I enjoy riding a bicycle and I don't think anything can quite replace it when combining reliable, self-propelled transportation and speed, there are times when it's nice to try other activities.

Additionally, I'm still attempting to figure out the boundaries for my body and its injuries. While some things are obviously off the list in my mind, others seem to be more of a gray area, and these are the activities that I can undertake -- as long as I don't attempt too much at once (which isn't always as easy as it sounds).

One of these activities I have begun to call "urban hiking." Now, I know what some people are going to say... isn't that just walking? My response is both yes and no. In the sense that we can call hiking "just walking" as well. If one lives here in Colorado though, hiking is generally reserved for those who attempt the many 14ers (the term for mountain peaks that reach over 14,000 feet in elevation), but I grew up in California and we used to hike regularly and it wasn't nearly as strenuous as the elevation gain here.

Of course, one doesn't have to summit a 14er in order to call him or herself a hiker. That would be ridiculous as there are innumerable lower elevation trails, fire roads, and so on and I would still term these walking activities as hiking.
I would call this walking the dog if it was a short distance, only through residential neighborhoods, and I wasn't carrying a load on my back.
The criteria in my mind that has differentiated urban hiking from the act of simply taking a walk are the following:
* I (and sometimes the dog too) carry a backpack that contains hydration, snacks for the dog and sometimes the human too, poop bags, a towel, phone, extra leashes (if you've ever had a leash break while out, you'll understand this one), and any other necessities that we may require for our travels
* The distance must be greater than a usual just-walking-the-dog walk, which for me is currently falling between 5-7+ miles
* The hike transitions through at least three different types of areas (residential, commercial/retail, industrial, greenspace/trails, etc) and has me (or us) walking on at least two different kinds of surfaces (pavement, cement, dirt, rocks, gravel, grass, etc)
* There is at least one strenuous portion of the hike (such as a steep hill)

After hiking (For real hiking - you know, with forest-y stuff, mountains, critters and such) just recently with a friend and our dogs, I realize that the muscles used are a little different (Okay, very different, as my calves will attest) when it comes to regular hiking and urban hiking, but I also think there are some similarities - enough so that I have decided that urban hiking is an actual "thing."
On this particular day, the two of us set out for the post office. I had an item to drop in the mail (returning a pair of bib shorts for riding actually, that just didn't work out) and I figured we could make an urban hike out of it, even though the post office is only about 2 miles from home.
On our way to drop off the package, we continued through a slightly more industrial part of town. I'm always fascinated both by how close these areas are to residential portions of the city and by how much the feel changes as we move from one area to the next.
Before we were able to get too far along though, our Golden was getting pretty thirsty. Granted, she's a retriever, so she's almost always thirsty, but it was pretty hot and when her tongue starts hanging out the side of her mouth, I know it's time to find her a water source. Unfortunately, I forgot my own water (While I could use her water, she likes to lick the lids of the water bottles as I pour it out, so it didn't seem appealing at the time), and later regretted it as the sun continued to blaze. For anyone who may be curious, I usually carry about 3 liters of water (2+ for the dog, and 1/2-1 liter for me). I'm sure we lose at least half of hers on the ground as she's an entirely sloppy drinker!
Once the water was close by, the pup started pulling as she desperately wanted to swim in it.
After we dropped off the package, we found an even better water source... the river. Although it doesn't look like much in this photo, there were lots of spots to stop and let her dip her paws or outright swim in the water.
We even came across some fowl friends as we walked. The geese usually hang out near the lake and river areas of the city throughout a good portion of the year.
This gaggle didn't seem to be overly thrilled with our presence though, so they began making their escape into the water. As much as I'd have enjoyed watching our Golden swim after them, I wouldn't want to know what would happen if she caught one (I'm not sure if I'd be more concerned for her or the geese... some of the geese get pretty frantic when we get too close and start to hiss, and I definitely don't want her to kill any of them), so she begrudgingly stayed within reach.
One of the really intriguing things to me about an urban hike is getting to see so much of our city. We can go from turn-of-the-century houses to shops to trails and industrial settings all on foot over the course of relatively few miles. We can be in the shade, exposed to the sun, or switch back and forth depending on the area of the city.

What I also appreciate about urban hiking is that there is nearly always someone nearby if something should happen in regard to injury (unlike hiking in the mountains where it could be more difficult to get a rescue, if needed). I also enjoy that we can easily stop for food or water without too much disruption in our route (assuming that I've remembered my wallet, of course). We also come across others we know or don't and get to have random and interesting conversations since the pace is slower than riding a bike.

While I don't think urban hiking will be replacing regular hiking anytime soon, it's been fun to explore the city by foot instead of on two wheels and although riding a bike provides a different perspective from driving, using two feet can take things down yet another notch, providing time to really absorb my surroundings. It may not always be the most efficient means of getting around, but traveling via this manner has permitted me to appreciate both walking and biking a lot more.

Are you exploring any new-to-you outdoor activities this year or re-acquainting yourself with a past enjoyable activity? I'd love to hear all about it!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Change Is Difficult... Even for People Who Like Transitions

To those who know me well, they are aware that I am a person who thrives with variation and change. I don't do well with the same old routine day after day, nor in traveling the same routes or even following an obstacle-free path that has been perfectly laid out in front of me. I tried for years to modify this quality, believing that something is wrong with me because I need to see new things, make my own path, and experience new adventures more frequently than the average person, but I think my last half decade of life (or so) has taught me that I need to stop fighting who I am - which is a struggle some days all its own.

There are always times when we need to, perhaps, reel ourselves in and understand when we're making poor decisions or choosing dangerous actions, but if no one is getting hurt, there's no reason to think that craving variety is a "bad" thing.
*Image found here
But, very few people live in a world of constant change. Habits develop. Routines are found. Whether enjoyable or not, realities of life take over and these responsibilities can't help but form a certain level of repetition. Ruts are developed, slowly with repeated movements and the thought of how one arrives in such a place comes into question. The thing with ruts is that if they go untouched they just get deeper and deeper until a giant, sometimes inescapable hole is formed.

A lot of change has happened for me personally over the last two years. Injuries compounded with other injuries, attempted and failed business, loss of family, the realization that my body may never do many of the things it once did, allowing myself to walk away from passions in life... just to name a few... they have all brought a reality check.

Some of the changes that took place I had complete awareness of as they were happening, while others kind of seeped in gradually laying the ground work to become unwanted attachments. When this happens so gently over time there's sometimes little consciousness about what is taking place. Life moves forward until one day I just felt heavy. Literally and figuratively.

Even though I am an emotional person, I am not weak. My passion about various topics or injustices comes from that emotion. Yes, it makes me sob uncontrollably at the Clydesdale and Puppy commercials, but that same emotion has the power to bring change, if put to use in a directed, purposeful fashion. The problem, at times, is recognizing that the passion is lost or has been guided down the wrong path.

This year, I have begun to recognize the potholes in the road and rather than just letting them sit unattended, I have made plans and directed action to help fill in those ruts, or in some cases, started building new roads to take me around the insurmountable obstacles. After all, some things aren't worth hitting head-on when it's easier to take a slight detour.

I have a lot of repairs to make right now and a lot of new roads to build. I'm ready to take on the challenge, even though I know I may not be able to take the most traditional paths along the way. I also realize that some things are more difficult than others to repair, rebuild, or even re-route, but things that come easy are rarely worthwhile.

To this end, I am still figuring out the blog. My suspicion is that it will remain in tact and moving forward, but I've found myself trying out some different adventures, so perhaps there will be some detouring into outdoor-related, but not exactly cycling-specific topics. We will see where the future takes this space. As always, thank you for continuing to read. I look forward to continuing to share and hearing your thoughts and feedback as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bicycles and Gear: Give Cheap a Chance?

Growing up, I had a friend who was extremely frugal. She was and still is the sort who takes unopened ketchup or mustard packets left on a restaurant table so that she doesn't have to buy them for her needs at home. Even today, despite having a job that provides income to sustain her lifestyle, she sees no reason to go out and buy a bag of sugar when there are packets readily available during a meal out that can be collected for later use. I will never forget one outing during which I had ordered a cup of hot tea. The server had brought two tea bags and a couple packages of honey, and when I only used one tea bag and none of the honey she quickly inquired, "Can I take that... if you aren't going to use it?" She doesn't view it as stealing, but rather just taking what someone may have used while consuming a meal -- a means of conserving monetary funds. I suppose whether this is theft or not is somewhat debatable, but it's merely a representation of one of her habits to keep expenditures to a minimum and one illustration of her thrifty life choices.
Admittedly, I am almost the opposite of this. Well, perhaps the opposite isn't entirely accurate. I don't think I'm unnecessarily wasteful, but I don't feel the need to take unopened packets of various condiments home with me when patronizing restaurants, and I tend to live more by the saying you get what you pay for when it comes to acquiring goods for personal use or my home - even if it means having less things.

For example, I don't find most furniture manufactured in recent years to be of high quality, so if I have the option, I'd rather find a second hand item that has made it through several decades (or even centuries) than spend on a fiberboard or plastic piece that will likely end up in a landfill much sooner than furniture should. Life has taught me that thinking I'm getting a deal on something because it's new but cheap usually results in disappointment with broken or unusable items.

When it comes to bike parts and cycling gear, I tried less expensive options when I first started out and found that I simply didn't like what I came across, and so a kind of habit developed (unconsciously, really) that caused me to seek out more expensive items, believing that if I spent more I would get a higher quality, longer lasting, more usable product. Generally, that thought has held true. Which is not to say that every product that costs more is or has been of higher quality or functions better, but simply that I have found that being willing to spend a little more and perhaps have fewer of an item allows me to obtain more comfortable cycling shorts or a longer-lasting bike part.

I am by no means a snob (bike or otherwise), but I suddenly was jolted into awareness of my unconscious behavior when I realized I was mentally protesting a particular garment for cycling simply because it was 1) less expensive than other items I'd typically buy, and 2) it was being sold by a discount cycling outlet type of store that carries off-brands.

Oh my word... I am a snob, I thought. How else could I explain my reasoning for not wanting to try a product simply because it's less expensive? Maybe it wasn't quite snobbish, but I definitely didn't have any valid reason to not give the item a try.

I started thinking about other areas of life and bargains I have found on items. Several of my favorite pieces have been the least expensive items I've purchased and even favorite dining spots are often not the fanciest, most costly places. Basically, I reminded myself that just because something is less costly or appears on the surface to be less-than-desirable doesn't necessarily make it useless, bad, or inferior.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I decided to purchase said item and give it a try.

The funny thing is, it turned out to be a remarkably usable product that has functioned better than some items on which I've spent three to four times its price. Since then, I've had a couple of other this-shouldn't-be-this-inexpensive type of purchases that have panned out well, and even though I do think that there are times when spending more can save a headache in the long run, I was reminded that just as an item can be expensive and useless or of low quality, it is also possible that an item can be inexpensive and still quite wonderful and usable.

I am grateful that when I initially started to cycle in adulthood that I didn't run out and buy the most expensive things I could find, but on the other hand, once I knew what I liked and didn't, I know I started to accept that I would need to spend more on the items I wanted for my bike or for gear. Somehow that realization seemed to get warped into an idea that spending more was the only way to find good items, which I know is not true. Yet, that thought process seemed to prevail until I came to understand that I was unintentionally but quite routinely avoiding certain items simply because they appeared to be too inexpensive, even if I thought they could work.

What are your thoughts on less expensive parts and goods for cycling? Is cheap worth trying when it comes to parts, bicycles or other gear, or do you believe that spending more will always provide a better product? Are there certain items you spend more on and refuse to compromise on your preferences, or are you willing to give an off- or generic-brand an opportunity to prove its worth? Have you bought anything expensive that you wish you would've passed on buying after using it, and/or have you bought anything less costly that you found to be a remarkable item for its price? Feel free to share your experiences.