Friday, July 30, 2010

What if.....

One of my all time favorite quotes is by Helen Keller – Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

I was thinking of this quote this week as I worked on my list and prepared my stuff for the upcoming Hut Trip that Chris, Jerry and I are doing. It’s funny that many of the people I’ve told about our hut trip think we’re crazy.

The trip will be 7 days in the San Juan Mountains riding our bikes from Telluride to Moab using a map and GPS as our guide. I agree that this will be an adventure. But when you really look at it, it’s not an outrageous adventure. Each night we stay in a warm, dry, fully stocked hut. The route we’ll be riding on for the most part will be fairly well marked fire roads and trails and we’re all in good enough biking shape that the 30-40 miles per day we’ll be riding isn’t that insane.

I guess though, when you look at our society today, where any trip that isn’t within 5 minutes of a Starbucks or an ATM is considered remote, this is kind of an adventure.

Why though do some people actively seek out these types of adventures and others, prefer to try to live life eliminating every possibility of injury, discomfort or risk? Were we raised this way or is this a behavior we’ve learned?

Evidently, as I found when I did a google search, risk-taking behaviors have been the subject of much speculation and the opinions vary widely. From Sigmund Freud's belief that dare-devil stunts arise out of humans' innate "death drive," to some modern psychologists' view that dangerous activities can make us feel more alive.

As a kid, I was a huge chicken. I wouldn’t jump off high rocks into the lake with my cousins, I didn’t like any type of change, I would rather cross country ski than downhill since I didn’t like going fast, I hated scary movies etc.(ok, I still don’t like scary movies)

At some point though, it changed. I started seeking out the higher rocks to jump from. I skied faster and steeper hills, I took up motorcycling, and mountain biking and enjoy riding my road bike as fast as I possibly can down the steepest roads in the area.

So, what changed? And, to the original question, why do some people seek out adventurous activities and others are perfectly content to sit home and read a book. Is it a genetic trait that suddenly kicked in, is it because there are no more lands to conquer or dragons to slay or is it just a desire to recapture my youth?

You would think that now that I’m older and have a stable life, home, family and job that I would be less adventurous and make every effort to preserve that. Or is that the thing that drives us? As we get older does our life become so stable and comfortable that we seek out adventures and chances to feel alive? Do we still long to rescue the maiden?

If that's true, then why doesn’t everyone do this? Why do many of my friends and co-workers think that adventures such as the skiing, the Death Ride and riding my bike through the mountains of Colorado and Utah are crazy? Why do some people always forcus on the what ifs? What if you crash, what if you break down, what if you get attacked by bigfoot and torn to bits?......

Now, I’m not a psychologist, although I probably should spend time with one, but I believe that it’s really more about fear. I think that, for many people, the fear of injury or discomfort or the unknown is enough to keep them from taking any risks. While for others, the ability to see beyond that fear to the possibility of experiencing something truly cool and amazing, is worth the risk and prevents them from even thinking about the what ifs… least that’s my opinion...after all...what if you die in your sleep and never get to see the sun rise over the San Juan mountains....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Death Ride….Passes 3 and 4…..

The elevation at the top of Monitor Pass is 8314ft.

For those of us that live at sea level, the air at this elevation is way too thin and exercise at that level can cause some pretty interesting reactions. In addition to not being able to keep my heart rate under control, shortness of breath and an overall lack of oomph in my legs, I was also having issues with my stomach. I wasn’t actually sick to my stomach, I just never felt good. Everything I ate or drank left my stomach feeling upset.

The last time I attempted the Death Ride I cramped up so badly part way up the third pass that I fell over still attached to the bike so I was obsessed this time with not cramping and was making every attempt possible to eat and drink on the bike. The problem was, everything I took in, immediately caused my stomach to start doing flip-flops...

I was determined to eat and drink as much as I could though and after splitting up with Tracy, putting down a V8, some fruit and a few chips at the rest stop at the top of Monitor and enjoying the amazing downhill that followed I started off on the road to Ebbett’s Pass.

The road for the first several miles is relatively flat and I actually felt pretty good. Once it started climbing I downshifted, slipped into my pain cave and focused on making circles.

Ebbett’s has some pretty steep sections and whenever I tried to stand my heart rate would immediately redline so I spent the next couple of hours alternating between standing for a few pedal strokes then sitting and grinding away.
With a compact double, I had fairly low gearing, but there were times where I REALLY wished I had a triple with the granny gear and a big ole rear cluster.

I chatted with others when I could breathe, but pretty much I just and suffered along in silence with headphones on and the scenery to keep me company.

The higher we went, the worse I started to feel. My stomach was really getting kind of queasy and as I hit the water stop at the mid point to fill my bottles, I was just taking sips to keep hydrated. Any more and I was worried about a full on revolt by my digestive tract.

Eventually, I made the summit of Pass 3 which was a total madhouse. There were bikes laying all along the sides of the road, volunteers in the middle yelling at everyone to stay out of the roadway, bikers coming and going in both directions and a general feeling of pandemonium. As soon as I could, I pulled off, found a place to lean my bike and headed over to the rest area to try to force some food down.

A V8 and a few pieces of watermelon were about all I could handle and since the crowd was pretty crazy, I figured I’d fill my bottles at the bottom.
Getting back on my bike I made a couple of pedal strokes, got out of the crowd and immediately had to pull over to toss up the watermelon and V8...not sure why people feel compelled to ask if you’re ok when you’re obviously hurling...I guess cyclists are just thoughtful that way.

After purging like a supermodel, I actually felt a lot better. (hmmm...maybe there’s something to this) The fact that I was heading down hill instead of up may also have played a factor in that.
After way less time than it took me to get to the summit, I made the bottom, which although still crowded seemed a lot less chaotic. I had another V8, some chips, more watermelon, filled and drank a bottle of water and got back on the road feeling pretty good. It wasn’t long before the feeling good thing passed though, pretty much at the exact same time as the road got steep.

Once again, I downshifted, headed in to my happy place and disappeared for the next hour or whatever it took me to reach the top. I did stop once to take a picture. Yes, I stopped to take the picture dammit...It had absolutely nothing to do with my being tired and unable to breathe. The ONLY reason I stopped was so I could share this picture with you guys. (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)

After reaching the summit of the 4th pass, I had pretty much made up my mind that I was done. I wasn’t having fun, I was tired, and in addition to my legs, my butt, back, neck and shoulders hurt. Even the amazing downhill to the lunch at the bottom of Pass 4 wasn’t fun due to everything being sore.

As I rolled into the lunch stop I caught up with Dwight again. He had done 3 passes and was also pretty much finished. We decided to relax, take our time eating lunch and then just make our way back to the start area. And, after a veggie burrito, some chips, a little fruit and a soda, that’s what we did.

I started to feel good after lunch and we made good time back to the start area. Dwight stopped to pick up his car and I pedaled back to where we had the RV parked. I actually felt so good I was considering attempting the last pass. But, when I rolled into the camp area, I found Tracy sitting in the sun and enjoying an ice cold beer. That was pretty much all I needed to drain the last of my resolve and I called it a day.

All in all, I ended up with 93 miles and 11,300ft of climbing. Next year, I plan to go up early and get some rides in so I’m better acclimated. One of these days I’m going to have to actually finish this thing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Death Ride....Passes 1 and 2

It’s 4:00 am and the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner is blaring out of someone’s stereo...I guess this is the wakeup call for the Death Ride?
I knew we were starting early, that’s why we brought lights afterall, but who plays the Star Spangled Banner at 4:00am??? That’s just wrong!

After dragging my butt out of bed, snarfing down a bowl of granola and putting on all the warm clothes I had brought, Tracy and I headed out onto the road to begin what was sure to be a long day on the bike. Surprisingly, we weren’t even close to being the first ones on the road. We had been seeing headlights roll by since we’d gotten up and now, as the sky in the east was showing signs of starting to lighten, we could see the lights from the earlier riders well into the distance.

The first run from the parking lot to the beginning of the climb up Monitor Pass is a few miles of fast, cold downhill and the shivering started immediately. Knowing I’d be longing for cool weather later in the day didn’t even help slow my teeth from chattering.

As we came through the town of Markleeville, we caught up to Bob and Leticia. Riding along with them we continued on as the sun started to rise. Eventually though, as we turned the corner, the road started up and being cold quickly became a non-issue. Breathing replaced staying warm as my primary goal...this, and keeping my pedals turning as the GPS hovered around 10% would occupy me for the next couple of hours.

Partway up we caught up to Debbie. She had started a bit before us and seemed to be doing well. The scenery going up Monitor Pass is amazing. You pass through high alpine meadows, beautiful stands of aspen and granite boulders larger than a house...of course I didn’t really care about any of that. I just wanted to reach the top so the pain in my legs and my lungs would stop and I could enjoy the long fast downhill to the bottom.

Eventually we did reach the top and after getting our first pass sticker, a V8, a bagel and some chips, the fun began. With almost 10 miles of smooth fast downhill to look forward to, we quickly forgot the suffering of the past couple hours and stomped on the pedals as our pace increased quickly and the road flew by beneath us.

Of course, as with everything, all good things must eventually come to an end and the bottom soon came into view. After getting our second pass stamp, we immediately turned around and began the climbing once again. It’s amazing how quickly the fun passes yet how long suffering can last. We also ran into Dwight at the bottom. With over 3000 entrants, its incredible that by the second pass we had run into almost everyone we knew that was doing the ride.

The weather was definitely warming and as I stopped on the way up to take a picture -you can see the road and riders disappear into the distance - it dawned on me just how few trees grow on the back side of Monitor Pass.

It was about this time I realized Tracy was really not feeling too well. Normally, I’m killing myself just trying to keep him in sight, but today was different. Not only was I keeping up, I was actually ahead of him most of the way. As we came to the mid-mountain water station, we got separated. They had kids running up, grabbing our bottles, filling them and running along side to catch us so that we could keep moving.

Thinking that Tracy may have gotten hung up I stopped for a bit. Not seeing him come, I assumed he must have passed me in the mayhem and so continued on. Eventually, I caught up to him and it was pretty clear he was suffering. He said he couldn’t get his heart rate under control and felt like his legs were made of lead.

Evidently, our decision to drive up from sea level the evening before the ride with no acclimation period wasn’t our smartest ever. I, having found a pace that worked for me that was somewhere between slow and stopped, just put my head down and continued trying to make circles with my legs.

It’s amazing to me just how demented cyclists are and how the level of suffering only seems to increase their level of enjoyment. Some were quiet and had their heads down, but most were cheerful and pleasant as they suffered up the second hill of the day. The other thing I found amazing was just how diverse the group of people that continued to pass me was...I was passed older people, younger people, women, men, by a kid in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, I was passed by a guy on a fixed gear bike (granted his legs were as big as my chest and he was wearing a 508 jersey) I was even passed (while I was stopped of course) by a guy on a stand up scooter bike...craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

After reaching the top, and regrouping with Tracy, he decided to call it quits. In addition to the general feeling of crud, he was also getting dizzy. Deciding that he had had enough, we split ways at the top and after a couple more V8s, some oranges and chips, I began the long fast downhill towards the bottom.

The road was wide open, smooth and really fast. At one point I saw 48mph and decided I needed to slow down. No sense ruining my day (and this beautiful face) this early in the game...