On Saturday I took on what was planned to be a 98+ mile gravel bike adventure taking me over Cottonwood Pass twice and Cumberland Pass once. I knew it would be an epic day and was pretty stoked the day before. I rolled into Buena Vista an hour late on Saturday morning after getting stuck in traffic from the Copper Triangle. Cyclists!! As I readied to roll doubt settled in. Did I sleep enough? Did I eat enough in the previous days? Did I take in enough calories this morning? Could I do this?
I was planning to ride 98 miles and climb around 10,000 feet completely self supported. No one to talk to. No wheel to follow. Me, my whit, the food I had on me, and what I found along the way in a remote part of the Saguache Range.
I rolled out of Buena Vista just before 9am. I knew the immense challenge ahead of me. On Cottonwood Pass I had to climb 4114 feet in the first 19 miles hitting gradients around 13.5%. Needless to say self doubt kicked in. What was I doing? Was it too smokey from the wildfires? I can still turn back can’t I? Are you sure you slept enough? A second breakfast sounds nice doesn’t it?
Somewhere around 10 miles my motor got going and I accepted climbing as what I was doing. The first shot of excitement came at rounding the high altitude switchbacks and seeing the pass high above me. Onward I climbed. At the pass I stopped for a photo op, but knew I had a long day still ahead of me. I descended into Taylor Park where I topped off my water. Tarmac yielded to gravel and I pressed on into Tincup.
In Tincup I listened to my body and got off my bike for a bit. I devoured a giant hamburger and basket of fries. I had already watched my calorie count pass 2500 on my headunit. I knew I needed something more than bars and gels to survive the day.
Up next was a grueling nine mile gravel grind up Cumberland Pass. I pedaled on. I was almost at the halfway point. I had come too far to turn back short of the pass, but my mind really wanted to. What if I got back too late? Would it be dark? Did I have enough layers? What if I had a mechanical? What if I cut a tire?
Reveling on Cumberland Pass was short lived. The smoke obscured the awesome views. It was already mid afternoon. I had nearly 50 miles to go and it included climbing Cottonwood Pass, again. I knew I couldn’t dwell on that fact. There was no point since there was no other way to get home. I cruised back into Taylor Park where I again topped off my water and sat for a few minutes. I didn’t delay. I knew I had to climb 13 miles heading east and I would be above 12,000 feet on Cottonwood Pass somewhere around 6pm. Cold!
So started the last big climb of the day. Deep into the mantra, I just kept moving. Stopping only to eat. I focused on calories every 30 minutes for fear bonking. I was deep in the gray matter. My legs were tired, but it was my mind that needed convincing.
At the top of Cottonwood Pass I chatted with a couple driving to Crested Butte to mountain bike. On hearing that I had not only climbed Cottonwood Pass once, but twice, in addition to Cumberland Pass and was expecting a 98 mile day, he said, “That is bananas!” I agreed. At this point my thoughts were of being done with this adventure.
Most everyone I spoke with on this adventure acknowledged just how epic the ride plan was for one day. Everyone but me. In my mind it was what I was going to do. It was an objective. I forgot to have fun. Descending the pass, heading back to Buena Vista, and thinking of a hot meal and warm clothes I hit the gas. I found a whole new reserve of energy I didn’t know was there. I finally relaxed and looked around. I even smiled.
At the end of the ride I had logged 99.3 miles, 9347 feet of elevation gain, with a moving-time of 8:30:57. I learned something deeply about what I can do. I had a long time to think about fear and self doubt. I just kept saying yes you can. Keep going. I just kept saying, “Never let yourself give in when you are trying to start again.”