I finally made it! I put over 3,000 miles on my mountain bike in the last 12 months and made it to the summit of Pike’s Peak, Colorado on July 21, 2013.
I spent the night before my big ride in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This would be my first cycling race and supported ride I have been on. I had been training very hard for this for the last 12 months. I felt confident with my fitness level but knew the elevation would surely take its toll on my body.
I got out of bed at 4:00 am as I would be grinding up the mountain in two hours. The night prior I had laid out all of my gear and gave my trusty Specialized, Crosstrail steed a once over check.
By 5:45 I had turned my gear bag and was at the start. I was filled with a combination of excitement and anxiety. I was one of but a few mountain bikes in the herd. I did not have clip in or basket pedals. I had my usual other gear still on my bike such as pump, rack, mirror, and such. Many of the other riders came over to chat with me and try to figure out who this crazy guy was that would take this bike up the mountain. Several of them asked about the bike’s weight. A few took up my offer to lift it and determine the weight themselves. The reaction was universal and usually followed by, “Oh my God”, “Geeze” or “Bloody hell” as one English chap put it.
My heart rate increased as the official announced, “One minute to start.” This was the start of a 20 km race that begins at over 9,000 feet above sea level and ends at 14,100 feet. The air was already thin at the start area and I could feel the strain in my lungs and muscles.
I knew of the aid and support stations every two miles up the mountain but vowed not to stop or use them. I had a goal of making this ride in under three hours as the road would be opened to vehicle traffic after that. By the first support station there were already two dozen riders off their bikes. With every support station I passed for the rest of the ride, the number of resting or broken riders increased.
I was only 1/3 of the way into the race when I was feeling the weight of this task. My muscles and lungs were searching for oxygen that just wasn’t there. One-by-one I would hear the sound of defeat as riders fell victim to the bear on their back and threw in the towel. An estimated 300-400 riders never finished the race.
There are 154 switchback turns up this mountain and this race hit most of them. The head wind for the last 1/2 of the race was strong and tested my mental fortitude many times. I seldom made it out of first gear and spent most of my time off of the seat. My hands were fatigued from holding onto the handlebar as I pulled my body down onto the pedals. The view from this top of the world was incredible. There were many points when I could see down to the valley below and the road I had just traveled. The hundreds of cyclists below gave me motivation to keep pushing on.
I could now hear the cow bells and crowd cheer as I neared the summit. This last mile was the hardest. My mind and body wanted to stop but I would not allow it to. I pushed through it and passed another few riders. I saw the finish line and sprinted the last 100 yards. I have never passed out before but believe I came close this day. My vision was shaded by a pulsing darkness, like curtains on the side. My bike wobbled a bit and I thought I was going down just as I crossed the finish. I made it in 2.36:00. For the first time since leaving the start my feet touched the ground. Mission accomplished!
My brain was impaired by the strain and lack of oxygen. I stumbled to where our gear bags were and found mine. A simple, loose, overhand knot in the nylon cord on the bag overwhelmed me with its complexity. I felt as if I had a few too many glasses of wine. I was happy to see that my systems starting returning to normal within ten minutes and I was able to defeat the knot that kept me from wearing my warmer clothing. It was sunny but cooler on this summit. When we were at the start of the race it had been below freezing here and only 42 degrees at the bottom.
I got my race medal and watched the others cross the finish line. My sister Susan and husband Randy soon arrived on the Cog Rail Train that stopped in that same area. After hanging out and taking countless photos, they headed back down by train and I on two wheels. The ride down was incredible. I stopped a few times to let the cars get ahead of me as they traveled much slower than me. This allowed me to take in some of the beauty around me that I could not fully enjoy earlier.
This ride was the final leg of my Mountain Quest mission. I will, however, continue to enjoy the outdoors on two wheels and by many other means. These adventures helped me to overcome many physical and emotional mountains in my life. It has allowed me the time by myself to focus on what’s really important in life. We live in a beautiful world full of wonderful people and I intend to soak it all in.
Until the next adventure.