Keep Left… or Not

My dear friend JQ has been a great riding buddy and friend since I met her four years ago.  We normally mountain bike together.  I’d hurt my tailbone recently and couldn’t do anything too strenuous, so we decided to take to the road in Bear Creek Lake Park.  It was planned to be a slow, chatty ride so we could catch up on all the recent changes in our lives.  As we pedaled along the bike path, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the fact that there was an entire paved loop throughout the park that I had never ridden.  I typically ride the dirt there on my mountain bike, so this was an exciting discovery for me!  I’d always wondered what people were referring to when they talked about riding the loop through Bear Creek clockwise or counter clockwise.

As we climbed up a hill on the southeast side of the park, the path forked and I started to veer to the right.  JQ called out to keep left.  A bike in the distance caught my eye.  It was laying in the dirt beside the path with what appeared to be a sweatshirt or coat beside it.  I thought it seemed odd that there was a bike there, without a person nearby.  They do tend to go in pairs.  I looked left and then right again as JQ repeated to keep left.  I didn’t see anyone around the bike and decided to go investigate.  As I approached the bike, I realized the clothing on the ground was, in fact, on a person who was laying there, entangled in the bike.  I dismounted and approached the man as he lay in the dirt bleeding from his nose and head.  He was unconscious but breathing.  Beside him was a puddle of blood.  I started talking to him to see if he would open his eyes or speak.  After a few seconds we decided to call 911 and summon help.  I didn’t find any identification on the man and his phone was of no help.  We managed to get his name ~ Mark ~ and remove the bike whose handlebars had somehow found their way around his leg.  He was in obvious pain and could barely move.  As he moved in and out of consciousness, we kept him calm and still as the paramedics made their way up the bike path.

As the ambulance drove away, we observed 10 feet or so of silver scrape marks on the sidewalk that led directly to the puddle of blood.  It appeared Mark was descending when something went dreadfully wrong.  The few cyclists who had gathered had a brief discussion about the risks of riding alone. Phones that require a touch ID or key code are of absolutely no use to a complete stranger trying to offer help to someone incapacitated.   Some of us were wearing our Road ID‘s, others were not.  Each of us keenly aware that it could have been any one of us laying there in the dirt.

Have you ever observed how people come into our lives at just the precise moment when we need them?  Then, when their job is done, they’re gone. I’ve observed this a number of times in my life and the timing of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  It’s sort of like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide.  As you walk along a beach, you’ll encounter shells and sand washed in by the waves.  Some of the shells will catch your eye, some will not.  Some will end up in your pocket to keep and others will disappear back into the water as quickly as they appeared.  And like the grains of sand under your feet that make your path of travel easier, some people are simply there to lend a hand when you are unable to help yourself.  I’m not sure what compelled me to go right rather than left.  I guess on this occasion, I was meant to be the grain of sand. beach

Finding Peace on Two Wheels

There are 365 days each year, most of which pass us by with little to no fuss.  But there are a few days each year that we anticipate ~ be it with excitement or dread.  The days I look forward to are primarily happy days: my birthday, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, June 21st (the longest day of the year), July 4th (who doesn’t like fireworks?), December 21st (because it means the days are getting longer and we’re halfway to June 21st).  Someone queue Bon Jovi.

Then there’s my daughter’s birthday on February 9th.  It was certainly a life changing day and is one of the happiest days of my life.  Next month she’ll be 13; a teenager.  January has been my least favorite month for most of my adult life.  It’s such a dark, cold month.  There aren’t many January days that are good for outdoor riding.  Combine that with back to work and school following the holidays and it’s simply dreadful.   However, after I had my daughter I found a new way to make the passing of January more tolerable.  I went into birthday party planning mode January 2nd.  Now that she is getting older, the party planning has dissipated and the January winter doldrums have returned.

In 2010, on February 7th after my daughter’s 8th birthday party, we returned to our home.  It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon.  At that time, we still had a “land line” to our house.  The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door.  When I realized my husband had picked up a call from my mom and she was inquiring as to whether we had received the birthday gift she had sent, my daughter and I quickly bundled back up into our snow boots, coats, and hats and ran down the street to the mailbox. After retrieving the box from Texas, we ran back home as fast as we could. My mom got to be “with” us on the phone as my daughter tore into the box. It was a joyful conversation.  Later that night after the Superbowl, the phone rang again.  This time it was my dad calling to say that my mom had collapsed and died just a couple of hours before.  February 7th officially became the saddest day of my life.

When I started riding the bike in the fall of 2011, it was one of the best things I did for my mental health.  In another blog post I wrote about how I was not a cyclist when I joined my team, but quickly started pedaling my way to becoming one.  While I longed for someone to ride with in those winter months before my first race, it was more therapeutic that I was riding alone.  I’m not going to lie, there were many tears shed behind those sporty Smith sunglasses.  As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I began to notice the birds chirping as I pedaled along.  One day, as I pedaled along a familiar road,

I heard the distinctive song of the meadowlark.  My mom always loved that sound and would point it out to anyone nearby whenever she heard it.  I started spending more time riding on this road because it was one of only two roads where I heard the meadowlark.  Being out on those deserted roads with the sound of the meadowlark made me feel closer to her.

As I gained strength and endurance during that summer of 2012, I began to ride further and further from my home, and further from that road where the meadowlarks sing. But I’m frequently drawn back to that road.  Sometimes I hear the meadowlarks calling to me as I go by; sometimes I call out to them.  Riding on that road is where I found peace on two wheels.

Lessons in Encouragement

This post has been percolating in my mind for several weeks.  It’s about the affect our words can have on other human beings.

At a recent cyclocross race I was very near another racer whose family speaks a foreign language.  On each lap when we passed her family members, I would hear them shouting to her in what could have been Russian or German.  Since I don’t speak the language, I was unable to understand what exactly was being said to my competitor.  Regardless of which language it was, I didn’t get the sense that what was being shouted at her was entirely encouraging nor supportive.  At the finish line, I saw an exchange between this competitor and her family that clearly was not supportive.  As her family walked away in what appeared to be disgust, the cyclist sat down in a heap on a curb in the shade by herself to catch her breath.  At about that same time, my family approached me and offered hugs, high-fives, and congratulatory words, despite the fact that I finished nowhere near the podium.  When I finally quit coughing, I looked around for that competitor because I wanted to congratulate her on a tough race, but she was already gone.  I was disappointed that I missed her and I thought of her and what I had seen at the finish line often over the next few days.

At the next race, I arrived at the start line a little early.  As I stood there, my competitor from the previous race appeared.  Since her family was not around, I immediately approached her and struck up a conversation about the previous race.  I told her that I was sorry that I had missed the opportunity to tell be positiveher after the previous race what a strong racer she is.  As I finished this sentence, I notably saw her stand a bit taller as her chest expanded with pride.  She began to radiate confidence as we talked.  Not long into our conversation I realized that she was just a child.  A younger child than my own, in fact.  I wished her good luck on the race as the call ups began.

I once heard a phrase or saying that went something along the lines of: you are responsible for how another person’s words make you feel.  I never agreed with the saying because it implies that one person’s words should have zero affect on another person.  But clearly from this example, they do.   Especially when they come from the people you know and love.  I’m grateful that the opportunity presented itself for me to offer kind words to that young competitor.

I challenge you to find one person each day who you can offer kind words of encouragement to, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, a team mate or competitor, a child or an adult, even your partner.  Then sit back and watch that little seed of confidence grow into something bigger.  Sometimes you’ll get to see it blossom before the conversation is over.

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Firecracker 50 – My First Endurance Race

I was recently talked into racing in the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado on Independence Day.  I was told I would get a fabulous pair of Woolie Boolie socks AND get to ride my bike in the town parade.  Then, if I didn’t get to the cutoff point in time, I’d be sent down the mountain with a beer!  Having never ridden my mountain bike for more than 27 or so miles, I was a little concerned about my ability to actually ride the entire 50 miles (that’s what the 50 in Firecracker 50 represents).  But, I was really excited about the socks, parade, and potential for a beer hand up.  Besides, I can’t think of  a better way to start Independence Day then spending a few hours on the mountain bike.

Terry and I arrived early in Breckenridge on race day.  We went to the race headquarters and picked up socks, t-shirts (bonus!), and race numbers.  Then we returned to the car to suit up and warm up our legs for the race.  The race would be two 25 mile laps with ~4,000 feet of climbing per lap.  My goal was to make it to the aid station before the cutoff time so I would at least have the option to ride the entire second lap, if I thought I was able to do so.

We lined up on Main Street by category; as a sport woman racer, I found myself in the back as usual.  When the whistle blew, I took off up Main Street with about 15 other women in my category.  I rode as far as possible to the left so that I could hold out my hand and touch as many of the little hands reaching out to me from behind the barricade as I could.  So many people were clapping and cheering as we rode by… maybe because they knew seeing us meant the real parade was about to start?  Regardless, what a fantastic way to start a race!

For several miles, we pedaled up Boreas Pass Road to the first aid station.  This served to thin out the racers before we reached any single track.  I did not stop at the first aid station and continued onto the single track where I was able to pass more frequently than I got passed.  At one point I passed Terry without recognizing her.  As I pedaled past her, I heard her yell “go Amber!”.   Before I knew it, I was at the second aid station where I took in some of the plentiful nutrition being offered by race volunteers.  I knew that proper nutrition would be critical to successfully finishing this long race.

The aftermath

The aftermath. Yes my feet are that white and my legs that dirty.

Between Aid Stations 2 and 3 is a little section of the trail called Little French Gulch.  This section is full of loose, chipped slate and at one point, the grade is 25%.  I found myself, and all of my new mountain biking friends, pushing our bikes up this section beside the snow banks and through ice cold streams.  At one point, I had sweat dripping from my eyelashes.  This is something I’ve only experienced in a winter spin class at Defined Fitness Training.  When the trail finally turned and leveled out, it was extremely narrow.  It was so narrow that passing required the rider in front of you to actually stop and pull off the trail.  I went as fast as I could here as I didn’t want to have to stop and let anyone by.  Before I knew it I was going down a fun terrain park-like section where I crossed what would be the finish line had this been my second lap.

As I continued on to begin my second lap, I grabbed food and some electrolyte drink as the hike-a-bike section, heat, and distance were beginning to take their toll on me.  I just kept telling myself to get to that aid station before the cutoff time.  This time going up Boreas Pass Road, the spectators were few and far between; only the occasional honk from a passing car, or words of encouragement from another racer.  As I reached Aid Station 1, I parked my bike and stood in the shade to have some food and catch my breath.  I asked if I had made the cutoff and was told yes by one of the volunteers.  However a few minutes later, another racer pulled into the aid station and asked the same question.  This time the answer was different from a different volunteer.  We had to make it to the second aid station in 20 minutes if we wanted to try to finish the race!  I debated about turning around now, but a little voice inside my head piped up “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now.”  So I hopped on the bike and pedaled.

I missed the cutoff at Aid Station 2 by about 8 minutes, but I was very proud to have made it there IMG_3150in the first place.  I was 37 miles into the Firecracker 50 when I was offered my choice of cold beers for the ride down the service road.  Heineken never tasted so good, and I didn’t spill a single drop on that bumpy road, steering my bike one-handed.

Lessons learned: read the race rules and COMMIT them to memory.  I wasted valuable time at Aid Station 1 on my second lap and could have made that cut off time at Aid Station 2 if I’d kept moving.  Gatorade is not a good drink choice for me; test the products being offered at a race BEFORE race day.  Oh, and let’s not forget to actually RIDE the distance of your race before race day.

I can’t speak highly enough about how well the race was organized, marked, the nutrition and hydration offered at aid stations, and the volunteers.  Oh, and let’s not forget that parade and all those little hands wishing us good luck… See you all next year!

 

Conquering Mountains

In my first season of racing bikes, I focused on a small hill not far from my house.  It’s somewhat funny to describe Lookout Mountain in that way, because there was once a time when I thought it was a big hill far from my house!  Later that season, I raced in the Guanella Pass Hill Climb.  Similar to many other race results, I didn’t come in first and I didn’t come in last.

I remember getting out of the car that morning and looking up at Guanella Pass from Georgetown Lake.  The wind was howling and I began to wonder about what I had gotten myself into.  There I stood, a petite woman closer to 5 feet tall rather than 6, looking up toward the summit of Guanella Pass towering over me at 11,670 feet above sea level.  The only things between me and that summit were 10 miles and 2,900 vertical feet beginning at 8,500 feet above sea level.  I was not concerned about the distance itself, but the elevation.  Denver is known for being the Mile High City, so I was already somewhat used to thinner air. But this race started so much higher!  I’d never actually ridden up a mountain pass at this point in my short cycling career.

I did not have the opportunity to do a pre-ride of the hill climb, so I had no idea what to expect. I was thrilled to have such a nice smooth road to ride upon. Immediately out of Georgetown, some fairly steep switch backs get your blood pumping and thin out the racers. Then the road levels out for a few miles before the sustained climbing begins. Looking back on the Strava data, there is one section with 27% grade…that’s probably where I was doing a lot of visualization. It was all I could do to keep going. I finished the race and even went back for more the following year. I cut 13 minutes from my time from 2012 to 2013.  I’m signed up to race this hill climb again this Sunday; I’m not sure what exactly it is that keeps drawing me back year after year.  A part of it is the satisfaction of conquering something so much larger than me.  Mantras and visualization were a big part of what got me through that thin air and up the steep sections.

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At the summit of Guanella Pass

This year I have a new bike. People have told me that I’d see a big change in my performance with a new bike. I’m a bit skeptical about that, honestly. When it comes to performance at my level, there certainly is a percentage that can be attributed to the equipment, but I believe the bulk of my performance is due to the training. I’m in a completely different place in my cycling journey than where I was two years ago.

The constants from year to year, however, are the thin air and steep sections. I’ll arm myself with some new mantras and perhaps some additional visuals. I’d share those with you IF I thought they’d work for you. Unfortunately, much of this stuff is concocted as I pedal through the discomfort and is unique to me. Just like I can’t pedal the bike for you, I can’t tell you what you need to hear to get through the difficult stuff… whether it’s on a bike or anywhere else. You need to look within and determine what kind of inspiration you need to keep going. Then create it for yourself or find it externally.

 

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A failed attempt at a mid-air picture – thecyclist-lawyer.com team

Riding With Your Senses

When I first started riding, it was simply to become a cyclist.  I had no idea how much more of my life would be affected by the simple action of getting on my bike and pedaling.  This spring is the third spring of my short cycling journey.  While I am able to ride year round for the most part, spring and autumn are my favorite riding seasons.  The reasons for this are many, but include the mildbike temperatures and great scenery, just to name a couple of them.

I shared in a previous post called “Simple Pleasures” some thoughts on spring riding.  In that post, I focused primarily on the sights of spring and the gift of witnessing nature’s rebirth from the moving perspective of a bicycle.  In this post, I want to share with you a connection with the outdoors that tends to get noticed a bit less.

As a cyclist on the road, I constantly call upon my eyes and ears to help navigate through traffic safely.  If I’m out riding my mountain bike, I’m constantly scanning the rapidly passing single track for rocks, tree roots, sand, and other obstacles that require reaction.  The sense of touch also comes into play when making clothing choices for a ride, feathering brakes before rounding a corner, or feeling for sharp objects inside a tire.

But smell??  I’ve learned over the years that my nose has the ability to pick up scents that go unnoticed by many of the people around me.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  Because of my sensitive nose, smell is a component of each of my rides.   Some smells are obnoxiously pungent… like the dead animal along side the road.  Others are subtler… like the

lilacssmell of lilacs that linger in the air for a couple of weeks in late spring. I often wonder as I pedal along whether I will encounter the same smell in the same place as I last experienced it on any given route.

For the last two years in a row, I’ve encountered a sweet fragrance that lasts only about four days before it dissipates.  The first time I noticed it, I wondered what it was and before I knew it, it was gone.  Last year when I smelled it, I remembered it from the previous year and knew that I needed to get out and ride while it was there or it would soon be gone.    I’m anticipating that fragrance this year.  I hope to be able to identify which plant is giving off that scent.  It will likely be difficult to pinpoint because it thoroughly permeates the air.

I like to think that all the time I spend riding my bikes has made me a wiser person as I pedal along and ponder life.  Here’s the correlation I have made between that fleeting scent and life as I have experienced it: We may or may not have the opportunity to re-encounter an experience, let alone realize the significance of any experience until it has passed.  Engage your senses ~ all of them.  Thoroughly experience what life offers you, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment in time.  Take in the experience, and take it with you when you go.

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Day in Denver

Not long ago my husband announced that he would be going to downtown Denver on a Friday morning for a meeting.  He proposed that we meet for lunch and spend the afternoon in Denver.  Having been married for fifteen years, I could read between the lines and see I was being asked out on a date.  Like any cyclist, I managed to work a bike ride into the logistics of this date.   While he was in his meeting, I would pedal my way from the suburbs into the city and meet him just in time for our lunch date.  We could then put the bike in the car and go from there in one vehicle.

I have become quite familiar with the “good” (read: bicycle friendly) roads near my home.  I know just where to go to keep my ride relatively flat, which is not an easy task when you live along the foothills.   I know where to go when I want to climb.   But most importantly, I know which roads to avoid because they’re just too narrow to accommodate cars and bikes safely at the same time.  But pedaling into Denver?  This was new territory for me.

I did some online research using sites like Strava and RidewithGPS to determine the best route from my house.  I committed the route to memory so that I could avoid any unnecessary stops along the way.  After all, I didn’t want to keep my handsome date waiting!  I had no way of knowing that construction would close parts of the bike path I was planning to use; or that detours along the path would have useless or non-existent signage for directing bike traffic.  Once I left the bike path, I had no idea if the roads I would be traveling would have bike lanes or shoulders.  It was an adventure on carbon fiber.

Tulips in full bloom!

Tulips in full bloom!

While I did encounter some unexpected construction, I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the irises were taller, more flowers were in bloom, and the grass was greener as the elevation dropped the nearer I got to the city.  The construction and the detours did slow me down, but all I had to do was look up for the skyscrapers to know which general direction I needed to be going.

Sometimes all you need to keep moving forward in life, or to keep from going in circles, is a general sense of direction.  Yes, any ride along a new route is bound to have some unexpected turns and obstacles, just like life does.  So look up for a brief moment, get your bearings, and keep pedaling.  You might look down to see something you hadn’t noticed before!

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