Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The price of failure is high here….

As I ride up to the group and unclip, I straddle my top tube, legs slightly bent and trying my best to look relaxed and at ease…..evidently I didn’t quite pull it off as the first thing Tracy said to me was “why are you standing all funny and grimacing?”

The reality was, I was fighting to keep my legs relaxed and trying to figure out how to lift my leg over the bike without them completely locking up from the cramps I could feel winding up in both quads… was a battle I was losing as I could feel the muscle fibers firing off like electrical charges and my legs continuing to tighten and loosen….oh please God, don’t let me cramp up and fall over in front of everyone……luckily, I was able to dismount, stretch, grab an electrolyte gel and some water from my camelback as battle swung in my favor. Eventually victory over the cramp monster was mine as the firing synapses and electrical charges slowed and then stopped altogether….whew….embarrassment averted….for now.

How did I end up here? Well, Saturday we had decided to ride Skeggs which, I was to find out is one of the most amazing riding spots in the area, and since my fitness level isn’t quite up to par these days, it was pretty tough.

The ride itself starts with a short climb on a road followed by a nice fast swoopy downhill on a fire road. As usual, when we first start out, I was a little tentative. As we finished the downhill and started to climb though, my confidence was up and I was in my groove.

The first climb is singletrack uphill with some tight switchbacks. It was a good workout and a couple of the switchbacks had me off the bike and walking but for the most part, it was awesome.

And of course once you’ve climbed, there’s the reward of the downhill…..narrow, fast, single track, swooping along the hillside surrounded by trees and greenery….simply fantastic! The only worrisome part was when I happened to look away from where I was headed and noticed that we were flying along on a very narrow trail on the edge of a very steep hillside…..even a minor mistake here would have major repercussions…..and possibly involve a long, painful hike out…..focus Rich, focus……

Not long after this thought went through my head, I came upon Troy, Nick and John stopped on the side of the trail. Well, technically Nick and John were stopped on the trail, Troy was laying right next to the trail. Evidently he had gotten some decent air and had come down on the hillside along the trail instead of on the trail proper. Luckily he landed on the uphill side and not the downhill side or we would probably still be out there looking for body parts. As it was, he ended up with some decent roadrash and some scrapes and what I’m sure will turn into a couple of nice bruises.

As the morning wore on and we alternated between climbs and descents, I could feel my legs beginning to tire. The trail though begged to be ridden hard….One of the trails, the Salamander I think, was so perfect that as Tracy so perfectly said it, "it could have been designed with the 29er hardtail in mind"….it was like surfing the perfect wave or ripping down the face on a perfect powder day….it was like I was above myself watching a slotcar rail around the track as my bike rode itself along the face of the hill curving, dipping, climbing, railing… heart rate high, my legs spinning, my mind somewhere else…..

Eventually though, we came to what seemed to be the bottom….and the climbing began for real. By now, my legs were definitely feeling the efforts of the morning. We climbed…and then we climbed some more. I could feel the electrical twinges as we came up to the bottom of the last hill….I’m fine I said to myself….just pedal through it…..and I did….right up until I came up to the guys and had to dismount. Interestingly enough, I felt like I was going to make it… up until I twisted my leg to clip out of the pedals and all of a sudden I knew I wasn’t going to be able to dodge this one.

After a few minutes of stretching, an e-gel and a couple of big chugs off the camelback I felt better. Better enough that I thought I’d be fine for the rest of the climb back up to the top. I held it together, alternating between pulling and pushing and spinning and the pedals until with less than 100 yards to go, and in full view of the guys at the top waiting for me, I cramped again and was forced to get off and walk…..

After regrouping we finished the last little climb, enjoyed one last amazing singletrack ripper section back to the start and found ourselves at the road where of course there was yet another small hill before we got back to the truck and the beers within…..

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's good to be back....

As I reach the top of Brandon, I can hear my heart pounding in my ears which is surprising.  Not because it shouldn’t be beating that loud, but because I’m huffing and puffing louder than a herd of wildebeests and am surprised I can hear anything at all….

Wednesday night I got the Jabberwocky back together so last night’s ride was the first time back on the single speed in a couple of months. Add to that the fact that in the last month, I’ve ridden like 3 times and it quickly becomes apparent why my heart was pounding in my ears and my breathing was loud and very “wildebeest-like”.

Jim, Lynn and I left before the main group since we were doing the long route and wanted a chance to finish at or about the same time as the main group.  Jim also hasn’t been riding much. He runs his own business and evidently his boss is a slave driver.

This was the first week I had ridden where I was going to need lights so I made sure I charged up my battery, strapped it to the bike, threw my clear lenses in the camelback and had everything ready to go.  I even arrived early to the starting place…..only to realize I had forgotten my light….luckily Lynn had a spare.

Once we finished Brandon though and my heartbeat returned to normal, I started to feel better.  As we hit the short road section that connects to RedTail I actually felt good.  I was back in the groove on the SS, pushing and pulling at the same time as I climbed.  Unable to downshift and spin, you have no choice but to keep the momentum up and just keep going.  And without suspension, you really have to pick your lines carefully and not just plow down the hill.

Arms loose, knees bent, grip firm, the bike bouncing, bucking and skipping around beneath me I rip down the section of narrow single track on RedTail, watching the ruts, looking where I want to go and not where I don’t.  The bike feels good, she’s light, fast and together we’re one as we lean, pedal and carve our way though the fast downhill sections.

Eventually though, we cross the parking lot at the top and can see where the Park District has been working on their “trail maintenance”.  In District-speak, trail maintenance means “let’s drive the entire route with a bulldozer” which is pretty much exactly what it looks like they did.
The “path” and I use that term loosely since it looks more like a “road” is about 20 ft wide and a mix of bare hard rock that’s been scraped clean interspersed with loose, soft, dusty sections where they’ve spread everything they scraped from the trail.

It’s ok though, I’m on the bike and it’s a beautiful evening and even their destruction of what used to be a trail can’t ruin my mood.  It might be the endorphins, but I feel great!  There are a couple of decent climbs back here on this section of Soaring Hawk, but my legs just keep churning and pretty soon we’re headed downhill again.

The last section before you cross the road over to Bort Meadows is steep and deeply rutted.  The fact that it dumps you out onto a sharp curve on Redwood Rd, which is known for racing motorcycles and wannabe rally car drivers, only adds to the challenge.

Evidently, the driver of the bulldozer didn’t feel like risking his life, so this section is left unmolested. My front wheel of course, slips into one of the ruts, probably because that’s where I was looking and thinking “don’t go in that rut”…..luckily, I just let off the brake and the 29” wheels roll right out the other side. Wow, this bike makes me look good!

It’s getting dark now and I’m thankful Lynn had the spare light.  The path back down to the stone bridge is fast, loose and dusty and as long as I keep my legs spinning at about 130 rpm I’m able to stay ahead of Jim and Lynn.

The rest of the route is pretty routine, although we do come upon a guy pushing his bike, with no lights, up the trail.  When asked what happened he says he broke his chain.  Both Jim and I offer to help him fix it since we have chain tools, but he tells us he threw his chain away when it broke……not sure why you’d do that instead of just putting it in your camelback, but I guess I also don’t understand why you’d be out here in the dark without lights.  In his defense, it could be he didn’t plan on taking as long as it did to walk out.

As we came back to the marina, Lynn decided we should do the last, short, steep section up to the parking lot instead of the normal, not-as-steep road.  It was half way up that last section, where I wasn’t sure which would explode first, my lungs or my legs, that I formed, joined and became chairman of the “I hate Lynn” fan club…..Once the beers at the end were passed around though, I quickly resigned my chairmanship and disbanded the club…..seems I was the only member anyway, and once I finished the climb, I couldn’t remember why I had formed the club to begin with…..

All in all, a beautiful night and a really great's good to be back!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Beauty of Grace….

Two weeks ago today my eldest gave birth to her second child, a daughter. Grace Sophia came into the world at 9:06 pm and weighed in at 8lbs 11oz. sporting a full head of hair. She’s absolutely beautiful!

Although there were a couple of week’s worth of false alarms preceding her arrival, when she finally did decide to make an appearance, it all happened pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I had the flu so wasn’t able to meet her until Friday when she came home.

As I sat on the couch the other night holding her, amazed by her smallness, her vulnerability, her beauty, I was struck by just how fast life goes by.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was holding her mom and her aunt in my arms, rocking them, talking to them, calming their fears, soothing their cries…..and now they’ve both grown into strong, independent, young women with lives of their own…

At some point in our lives, we realize that life is not about what we do for a living, how much money we make, how fancy the house we live in or the car we drive. Our legacy is in the lives we touch and the impact we have on our world.

It’s so easy to lose focus and get caught up in all the other crap of the world. We make decisions based on selfish goals and desires. Decisions that seem perfectly “normal” and are completely acceptable to the world we live in. We even go so far as to rationalize them to the point that we believe that what we’re doing is for the best of those around us.

My granddaughter’s name is Grace and her beauty is undeniable.

The other grace though, the one with the small g is defined as an immunity, forgiveness or reprieve, a favor rendered by one who need not do so. This is the grace that we need to receive and the grace that we need to offer.

It can be bestowed on us by our spouses, neglected, slighted or hurt, our children, who were left to face life’s battles as we made a name for ourselves in the world, our friends who again sometimes receive second tier attention when we’re pursuing our “dreams” or ultimately by God who’s grace we need more than any other.

There’s a song titled BLINK by Revive that I really like and that is so appropriate….

Teach me to number my days
And count every moment before it slips away
Taking all the colors before they fade to gray
I don't want to miss even just a second more of this

It happens in a blink
It happens in a flash
It happens in the time it takes to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there's no stopping time
What is it I've done with my life
It happens in a blink

Life does go by in the blink of an eye and we need to make sure we don’t miss it. We need to take the time to make sure we’re investing in the things that matter, and we need to recognize that we all need grace and that it’s there if we seek it, knowing all the while we don’t deserve it. And, in the same way, we need to be able to offer grace to those in our lives that we know don’t deserve it, but desperately need it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers….

As I wrapped up the blog about our recent mountain bike adventure, I spent some time just thinking about what a cool trip it turned out to be. Even with the crash and having to cut it short, it was still the trip of a lifetime.

In addition to the amazing riding, the gorgeous views and the time spent with good friends, the thing that really stuck with me was how nice everyone we met turned out to be…

It started with my email conversations with Nikki at the San Juan Huts company. She was so helpful on the phone and over email as we put this trip together, answering question after question after question. Never once telling me to just read the dang handbook even though I’m pretty sure every question I asked was covered in there. Pretty sure I would have pointed that fact out had I been on her end of the phone.

Then, the day we arrived in Moab, we wandered into Chile Pepper bike shop looking for info on where to ride. The gal that worked there, even though she was in the middle of a conversation, stopped, came to the front of the store and asked if we needed help.

Now, if you’ve been in to some of the bike shops here in the bay area, you know that we were already in uncharted territory since many bike shops here are staffed with people either too “busy” or too impressed with their own abilities to bother helping someone that walks in off the street.
Not only did she stop what she was doing and come forward, she spent the next half hour going over maps talking about different rides, and generally being really nice about helping us find a place to ride.

It’s one thing to help people that you have to help. Both Nikki and the lady at the bike shop were in the service industry. Technically we were their customers so the expectation is that they would be helpful.

It’s different though for total strangers that you meet on the trail. When Chris crashed and we ran into Dan and his wife on motorcycles, they went out of their way to help us. Not only did they give Chris a ride up to the road where he was able to get cell service, but Dan came back after dropping Chris off and picked up his bike to take it up to the road.

They also waited with Chris until Jerry and I got up there and while they were waiting with him, they shared their flask of rum. It should be noted that they were there celebrating her birthday with a motorcycle ride and never once complained about helping and never once thought about leaving us until they were sure we were taken care of and had everything under control. They essentially gave up more than a couple hours of their vacation day to help total strangers.

From there, we were in the hands of Tim from San Juan Huts. He showed up, loaded us into his truck, handed Chris yet another flask – this one with Tequila – and proceeded to drive us back to town. Not only was he willing to take us wherever we wanted to go, Telluride where we started, Montrose where they have an airport or Ridgway where their shop is located, but he did so pleasantly and cheerfully. Never once making us feel like we ruined his day or inconvenienced him in any way.

After deciding on going to Ridgway and planning on having Jim from the shuttle company come and get us, Tim took us to his shop so we could drop off the bikes and gear and not have to deal with them for the rest of the day. After giving us a complete tour of his shop and an update on everything they had going on (and introducing us to his 6 dogs) he took us to a hotel and made sure we were situated before bidding us good bye. Turns out he was heading out to find some hikers who hadn’t checked in yet on another of the hut routes.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that Chris was on crutches or that we looked so desperate, but the kindness continued as we checked in to the hotel. The young lady at the desk felt really bad that she couldn’t offer us any first floor rooms, but made up for it by giving us a really good deal on two upstairs double rooms. Then she actually got mad at me for teasing Chris about not carrying his own bag. She even went so far as to offer to carry his bags upstairs to the room….who does that?

So, the question becomes, is everyone that lives in CO and UT really nice or are they normal and I, having been born and raised in the bay area, just surprised when people offer common courtesies?