A week and a half ago, Chris and I went to go see Ride the Divide here in CB. At the time, I had pulled the plug on the CTR for a whole variety of reasons which added up to a heavy bag of excuses. I still had the time off at work, but I was 12 hours away from telling them that I could actually work. During the Q&A with the film director, someone asked what he thought contributed to Matt Lee's success in the race, or anyone's for that matter.
He said that the people who succeeded were those who thought of the ride as vacation, who got up excited to ride their bikes in the morning because the opportunity wasn't something they got every day. He pointed out that it might be hard for those of us living in Crested Butte to fathom, but the very large majority of people can't walk out their front door to be greeted by awe-inspiring landscapes and epic adventures. That these 'races' were their adventure for the year.
I thought about ringing up Snickers bars and taking reservations for a week versus riding some of the best trails in the state for a week, went home, and packed my gear up.
At the start, Stefan told us that he was certain that the 40 people he had lined up in front of him had a wealth of life experiences, but that we were all about to embark on a very major one. He told us that he hoped we all had good rain gear, and sent us on our way.
Now I sit and wonder, how do I synthesize what very much was a 'life experience' into words. How do I do it justice. Do I sum it up in song?
Do I recount a play by play? We rode a trail with rocks and root and trees, and then in rained. Then there were too many rocks so we walked our bikes and it rained again. And then we went so high into the mountains that there were no more trees, and it rained yet again.
Do I talk about the emotional highs and lows. Of emerging from Sargents Mesa with my will to live sucked dry only to find Trail Angel Apple chasing chipmunks away from his truck and a cooler full of cold drinks and a box full of chips, cookies and white-cheddar cheese-its. He had white-cheddar cheese-its! Or the ultimate low of sitting at 11,600 feet at treeline on Indian Ridge at 8:45 in the evening, a mere 27 miles from a warm bed, pinned in the woods by thunder, lightning, and rain only to emerge the next morning to the single most spectacular sunrise I've ever had the joy of experiencing.
I could talk about the fears. The fear of never having actually camped alone in the wilderness, of breaking something on my bike or body, of causing permanent damage to my feet when I couldn't stand on my pedals to descend rocky sections of trail any more. Bears, which were near the top of my fear-list starting out, didn't even factor into the fear equation 12 hours into the race, instead, it was the constant threat of weather, wet sleeping bags, and cold that caused the most consternation. I slept with trail-mix by my head and it didn't even phase me.
I could talk about the solitude. I left Chris in Bailey thinking that he'd catch me over Georgia. He was riding the trail sections so fast while I struggled to fine-tune my bike packing setup on the fly but after descending Georgia Pass on flooded trails and a downpour of proportions I haven't seen in years, I knew that anyone with half an ounce of common sense would bivy up on the other side of Georgia and wait for the storm to pass. I kept moving to keep warm. The last racer I saw was at the gas station in Leadville. Emerging on Junction Creek Trail in Durango around noon on a beautiful Sunday afternoon was nothing short of a culture shock. So certain I would make it from Silverton to Durango in a day, I didn't pack a dinner. Bonking ensued.
How do all the stories floating in my head link together? In the end, is it really nothing more that 6.5 day of riding 13-18 hours a day linked together by 6-9 hours of sleeping/shivering in my sleeping bag? Maybe in the end, that's all it is. Maybe, the attempt to turn it into something more cheapens the experience.
I sat atop of Indian Ridge for a little bit that last morning, looking over the cloud shrouded landscape with the San Juans creating a majestic backdrop and thought to myself, 'In a few hours, this will all just be a memory.' I sat for a few more minutes, soaking up the first sunshine of the day, and started down the last leg of my journey, a little rough around the edges, a little thinner to the point I couldn't cinch by bag down tight enough, but no different. Still loving riding my bike. Still loving exploring. Still excited to see Chris at the bottom, ready to drink beer, eat burritos, pizza, burgers, fries, and Sour Patch Kids.
Excited for a hot shower, clean clothes, and to soak my feet in the river so they'd shrink back to a size I could actually fit into my shoes.
What a trip.