Listen and Learn

IMG_2956One beautiful October day last fall I was out for a mountain bike ride near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.  I was riding with my usual mountain biking buddy, JQ.  We got off to a slow start as it had rained the night before making the first section of the trail muddy and slippery.  Our pace picked up as we reached some smoother single track.  Eventually, we got very near to the amphitheater itself and the single track became very groomed and un-technical.  Maybe that was why I let my guard down.  As I crossed a road and jumped over a water bar, I landed all wrong.  As I was sent sailing over my handlebars into the air, I saw that I was headed face first toward a group of large boulders, strategically placed next to the trail as a barrier.  The only thing I had time to do as the precipice of a rock rapidly approached my face was roll my head back toward my shoulder blades.  This slight movement prevented me from breaking my face, but the full force of the impact was taken in my chest.  I was not wearing a chest protector.  And I don’t have a lot of “cushion” in that area, if you know what I mean.

I laid in the weeds wondering if this was going to be the crash that I didn’t walk away from.  As I tried to catch my breath, I began to wiggle fingers and toes.  I tried to call out to JQ to stop and wait for me, but it came out as a whisper.  I slowly sat up and continued to gasp for breath.   Eventually I stood and was shocked and pleased that everything still seemed to work.  My bike was laying in a heap about ten feet away.  It, too, still seemed to work, so I climbed on and started to pedal in the direction of JQ.  By this time she was coming back to find me.  We took the shortest route back to the cars, which was up Morrison Road.  As the adrenalin started to wear off, the scrapes and bruises started to voice their discomfort.  I had an x-ray the next day which showed a bruise to my sternum.  I was told I could ride again when I was able to do a push up.  I was back on the bike about four weeks later.

Four weeks after the crash puts us in November, and I didn’t ride the mountain bike much through the winter.  In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing more mountain biking as I gear up for summer races.  As a result of that crash, I’m a little gun shy of riding over boulders that normally wouldn’t even give me a reason to pause.  It’s so frustrating to know what you are physically capable of only to have your brain bring it to a complete stop.

JQ and I recently weexpertnt and rode at Alderfer/3 Sisters Park outside Evergreen, Colorado.  The trail system there was great because there were many shorter loops you could connect into a substantial ride.  We started on some flat trails with minor obstacles.  Normally I have to try and chase JQ down to keep up with her, but that day, she held back and talked me through lines and over obstacles.  I guess she, too, had observed my mental block on previous rides.  Before I knew it, I was rolling over boulders like nobody’s business.

It would have been easy for me to let my pride get in the way of being open to her coaching.  But I decided when I started this cycling journey that I would have to listen if I wanted to learn.  I’ve learned so many little gems along the way because of that decision.  And those lessons often come from unexpected sources.

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Ridgeline Rampage – a race review

Having raced in the Ridgeline Rampage on Saturday, I can cross the first mountain bike race of the year off my list of things to do.  When I arrived in Castle Rock for the race, the weather was somewhat cool and overcast.  The weather forecasters had been predicting afternoon rain showers.  I had packed a variety of clothing so that I would be prepared no matter what conditions I would be racing in. I had ridden this race last year, so I knew what to expect for the most part in terms of course terrain and elevation changes.  However, this year, the course was going in the opposite direction.  Somewhere in the back of mind I thought this might mean that there would be more climbing involved, but overall, it should be very similar in either direction.

I picked up my race number, t-shirt and goody bag at the registration table.  All the while the sun seemed to be hinting that it might actually make an appearance and warm things up for the afternoon races.  I was early enough that I had time to cruise around looking for team mates and visited the pit area just in time to see my team mate, Carol, pass through.  After that I returned to my car, suited up, and began the process of riding up the nearby hills to warm up my legs.  I had heard that this year’s field of racers was bigger than ever and wondered how that would play out during the first mile or so of the race.  Last year, bikes had literally been tire to tire at the beginning, making for a frustrating and challenging traffic jam to navigate through.

As I pedaled around the neighborhood surrounding the race course, I came to see that the first half mile of so of the course went uphill through the neighborhood streets.  I suspected the course had been routed in such a way to thin out the racers before we rolled onto single track.  To some degree, it worked.  But eventually, there came an inevitable traffic jam when too many riders come together in one place on an incline.  This is my least favorite part of racing the Ridgeline Rampage.   I can’t help but think that spacing out start times would alleviate this problem.  As a few cyclists hopped off their bikes and began running them up the hill, I decided to do the same.  This turned out to be a mistake because everyone I had just passed ~and then  some~ eventually got rolling again and it was impossible for me to find a gap big enough to squeeze into to get rolling again.  Lesson learned.

Once I was on the move again, I settled into a steady rhythm of climbing, calling out “on your left!” , and assertively passing other

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

racers as I cruised up the hills.   Before I knew it, I was starting in on the food that I had packed with me.  I was surprised that I was feeling the need for energy so soon into the race.  This is when I concluded ~rightly or wrongly~ that more climbing was required to ride the course in this direction.  The good news was that the course was designed with the pit in the center of a figure 8, meaning that I could grab a hand-up of food or liquid if necessary at the middle and end of each lap.

I did pass a lot of guys and a few gals, but I never was able to chase down the one or two women in my age group who passed me during the run-up fiasco at the very beginning of the race.  As I was closing the second half of my last lap, my triceps were burning, my thighs were screaming at me, and I’m certain I let out more than one whimper as my body protested the continued pain of climbing.  After reviewing the statistics later on Strava, I realized that each ten mile lap of the race had 1,000 feet of climbing… no wonder my body was protesting!  The wind and rain moved into the area during the last few hundred feet of my race.  I rolled across the finish line and went directly to the food tent.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches never tasted so good!Post race

Simple Pleasures

Spring riding is some of the best of the year.  Let’s face it, we’ve been cooped up indoors all winter for the most part with only a handful of rides outside when it isn’t snowing, blowing like a hurricane, or just entirely too cold to be outside for any length of time, particularly on a moving bicycle.  Once daylight savings begins, the evenings are lighter longer.  Those precious extra minutes of light can mean the difference between a ride or riding longer.  Along with the birds, the wildlife, and the wildflowers, cyclists are also rejoicing for spring!

As I was out for my first mountain bike ride of the year the other day, I could hear the hawks soaring overhead.  Once in awhile as I pedaled along, they would fly close enough that I could actually hear the flap of wings as they cut through the air.  I heard meadowlarks whistle their greetings from fenceposts.

It’s not uncommon to see deer on North Table Mountain.  Typically, I see them in clusters of 2-5 deer.  But this time there must have been ten young deer grazing along the singletrack.  Most of them just stood there and watched me pedal by.  Typically, the deer will scatter when you approach, but I guess this young batch had not yet been spooked by a human before and saw no reason to flee from me as I went by.

A few wildflowers were blooming here and there.  In fact, they were so small I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t stopped for a drink of water.  Normally I wear a hydration pack of sorts while mountain biking, but on this day I had decided to forego it and loaded my jersey pockets with tools and filled a water bottle instead.  I knew it would slow me down to drink, but seeing the tiny lavender and pink petals made the stop worthwhile.

This connection with nature that you can only experience while in its midst has got to be one of the simplest pleasures life has to offer.  Experiencing it on a bike while your heart is pounding, your feet are pedaling, and your breath is audible magnifies the soothing nature of the experience.  It’s almost like you experience it in slow motion, from a hawk’s perspective.  The rhythm of your pedal strokes and breath colliding so perfectly with nature’s circle of life… it’s like they were made for each other!  But don’t take my word for it.  Go see for yourself!

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Jacquie outmaneuvering the water bars at Mt. Falcon