Shifting Gears

Ascending a hill begins with pedaling as long as you can in whatever gear you happen to be in.  As turning the pedals becomes more difficult, you shift into an easier gear with the push of a finger or two.  Leg muscles and lungs quickly adapt to the change in tension. When you finally get to the easiest gear, you settle into a rhythm and keep pedaling.  When you crest the hill, more tension is added with the push of a finger and once again the body adapts in a matter of seconds.

Wouldn’t it be great if our minds could adapt to change as quickly?

Fourteen years ago I became a mother.  My first mother’s day can best be described as weird.  When my daughter was born, I’d spent over 30 years making  Mother’s Day special for my mom.  My mom’s birthday just happens to be May 13th.  Some years, Mother’s Day and her birthday would fall on the same day.  No matter when Mother’s Day was observed, my brothers and

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Me, my mom and brothers on my 1st birthday.  Angel food is still my favorite!

 

I attempted to keep the two separate and special.

But there I found myself, at the center of attention on a day that felt like it was about anyone but me.   Eventually I shifted gears and settled into the rhythm of enjoying Mother’s Day, just like my mom must have done when it was new to her all those years ago.  After she died, I once again found myself in a strange place with Mother’s Day.  While I had been a mother for eight years at the time of her death, I’d spent nearly four decades making that day special for her.  I guess you could say I failed to shift gears and allow myself to adapt to a new meaning of Mother’s Day.  I could no longer look at cards for my mothers-in-law because they all made me cry.  The flowers at the store, commercials I saw on TV, and pictures on Facebook only reinforced what I no longer had.  If you haven’t lost someone you love, you might not understand what I mean when I say that she is never far from my thoughts.  The absence of that loved one leaves a large void  in each and every day, but especially on days like Mother’s Day or birthdays.

Motoman and I were talking recently and the subject of Mother’s Day came up.  I told him I no longer do Mother’s Day since I don’t have a mother.  He looked at me and replied “well, you should since you have a daughter.”  In that moment, recognized my failure to adapt to the new meaning of Mother’s Day.   I realized how selfish and unfair I’d been to my own daughter for the last six years.  She’s spent her entire life making Mother’s Day special for me and here I was, refusing to shift gears and adapt to life as it remains.

It’s been a challenging ride, but I think it’s time to find the right gear for the rest of this climb, settle into a rhythm, and keep pedaling.

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Spring 2002 – shortly after Sierra was born. 3 generations.

Keep Left… or Not

My dear friend JQ has been a great riding buddy and friend since I met her four years ago.  We normally mountain bike together.  I’d hurt my tailbone recently and couldn’t do anything too strenuous, so we decided to take to the road in Bear Creek Lake Park.  It was planned to be a slow, chatty ride so we could catch up on all the recent changes in our lives.  As we pedaled along the bike path, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the fact that there was an entire paved loop throughout the park that I had never ridden.  I typically ride the dirt there on my mountain bike, so this was an exciting discovery for me!  I’d always wondered what people were referring to when they talked about riding the loop through Bear Creek clockwise or counter clockwise.

As we climbed up a hill on the southeast side of the park, the path forked and I started to veer to the right.  JQ called out to keep left.  A bike in the distance caught my eye.  It was laying in the dirt beside the path with what appeared to be a sweatshirt or coat beside it.  I thought it seemed odd that there was a bike there, without a person nearby.  They do tend to go in pairs.  I looked left and then right again as JQ repeated to keep left.  I didn’t see anyone around the bike and decided to go investigate.  As I approached the bike, I realized the clothing on the ground was, in fact, on a person who was laying there, entangled in the bike.  I dismounted and approached the man as he lay in the dirt bleeding from his nose and head.  He was unconscious but breathing.  Beside him was a puddle of blood.  I started talking to him to see if he would open his eyes or speak.  After a few seconds we decided to call 911 and summon help.  I didn’t find any identification on the man and his phone was of no help.  We managed to get his name ~ Mark ~ and remove the bike whose handlebars had somehow found their way around his leg.  He was in obvious pain and could barely move.  As he moved in and out of consciousness, we kept him calm and still as the paramedics made their way up the bike path.

As the ambulance drove away, we observed 10 feet or so of silver scrape marks on the sidewalk that led directly to the puddle of blood.  It appeared Mark was descending when something went dreadfully wrong.  The few cyclists who had gathered had a brief discussion about the risks of riding alone. Phones that require a touch ID or key code are of absolutely no use to a complete stranger trying to offer help to someone incapacitated.   Some of us were wearing our Road ID‘s, others were not.  Each of us keenly aware that it could have been any one of us laying there in the dirt.

Have you ever observed how people come into our lives at just the precise moment when we need them?  Then, when their job is done, they’re gone. I’ve observed this a number of times in my life and the timing of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  It’s sort of like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide.  As you walk along a beach, you’ll encounter shells and sand washed in by the waves.  Some of the shells will catch your eye, some will not.  Some will end up in your pocket to keep and others will disappear back into the water as quickly as they appeared.  And like the grains of sand under your feet that make your path of travel easier, some people are simply there to lend a hand when you are unable to help yourself.  I’m not sure what compelled me to go right rather than left.  I guess on this occasion, I was meant to be the grain of sand. beach

Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

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The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

Finding Peace on Two Wheels

There are 365 days each year, most of which pass us by with little to no fuss.  But there are a few days each year that we anticipate ~ be it with excitement or dread.  The days I look forward to are primarily happy days: my birthday, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, June 21st (the longest day of the year), July 4th (who doesn’t like fireworks?), December 21st (because it means the days are getting longer and we’re halfway to June 21st).  Someone queue Bon Jovi.

Then there’s my daughter’s birthday on February 9th.  It was certainly a life changing day and is one of the happiest days of my life.  Next month she’ll be 13; a teenager.  January has been my least favorite month for most of my adult life.  It’s such a dark, cold month.  There aren’t many January days that are good for outdoor riding.  Combine that with back to work and school following the holidays and it’s simply dreadful.   However, after I had my daughter I found a new way to make the passing of January more tolerable.  I went into birthday party planning mode January 2nd.  Now that she is getting older, the party planning has dissipated and the January winter doldrums have returned.

In 2010, on February 7th after my daughter’s 8th birthday party, we returned to our home.  It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon.  At that time, we still had a “land line” to our house.  The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door.  When I realized my husband had picked up a call from my mom and she was inquiring as to whether we had received the birthday gift she had sent, my daughter and I quickly bundled back up into our snow boots, coats, and hats and ran down the street to the mailbox. After retrieving the box from Texas, we ran back home as fast as we could. My mom got to be “with” us on the phone as my daughter tore into the box. It was a joyful conversation.  Later that night after the Superbowl, the phone rang again.  This time it was my dad calling to say that my mom had collapsed and died just a couple of hours before.  February 7th officially became the saddest day of my life.

When I started riding the bike in the fall of 2011, it was one of the best things I did for my mental health.  In another blog post I wrote about how I was not a cyclist when I joined my team, but quickly started pedaling my way to becoming one.  While I longed for someone to ride with in those winter months before my first race, it was more therapeutic that I was riding alone.  I’m not going to lie, there were many tears shed behind those sporty Smith sunglasses.  As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I began to notice the birds chirping as I pedaled along.  One day, as I pedaled along a familiar road,

I heard the distinctive song of the meadowlark.  My mom always loved that sound and would point it out to anyone nearby whenever she heard it.  I started spending more time riding on this road because it was one of only two roads where I heard the meadowlark.  Being out on those deserted roads with the sound of the meadowlark made me feel closer to her.

As I gained strength and endurance during that summer of 2012, I began to ride further and further from my home, and further from that road where the meadowlarks sing. But I’m frequently drawn back to that road.  Sometimes I hear the meadowlarks calling to me as I go by; sometimes I call out to them.  Riding on that road is where I found peace on two wheels.

Lessons in Encouragement

This post has been percolating in my mind for several weeks.  It’s about the affect our words can have on other human beings.

At a recent cyclocross race I was very near another racer whose family speaks a foreign language.  On each lap when we passed her family members, I would hear them shouting to her in what could have been Russian or German.  Since I don’t speak the language, I was unable to understand what exactly was being said to my competitor.  Regardless of which language it was, I didn’t get the sense that what was being shouted at her was entirely encouraging nor supportive.  At the finish line, I saw an exchange between this competitor and her family that clearly was not supportive.  As her family walked away in what appeared to be disgust, the cyclist sat down in a heap on a curb in the shade by herself to catch her breath.  At about that same time, my family approached me and offered hugs, high-fives, and congratulatory words, despite the fact that I finished nowhere near the podium.  When I finally quit coughing, I looked around for that competitor because I wanted to congratulate her on a tough race, but she was already gone.  I was disappointed that I missed her and I thought of her and what I had seen at the finish line often over the next few days.

At the next race, I arrived at the start line a little early.  As I stood there, my competitor from the previous race appeared.  Since her family was not around, I immediately approached her and struck up a conversation about the previous race.  I told her that I was sorry that I had missed the opportunity to tell be positiveher after the previous race what a strong racer she is.  As I finished this sentence, I notably saw her stand a bit taller as her chest expanded with pride.  She began to radiate confidence as we talked.  Not long into our conversation I realized that she was just a child.  A younger child than my own, in fact.  I wished her good luck on the race as the call ups began.

I once heard a phrase or saying that went something along the lines of: you are responsible for how another person’s words make you feel.  I never agreed with the saying because it implies that one person’s words should have zero affect on another person.  But clearly from this example, they do.   Especially when they come from the people you know and love.  I’m grateful that the opportunity presented itself for me to offer kind words to that young competitor.

I challenge you to find one person each day who you can offer kind words of encouragement to, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, a team mate or competitor, a child or an adult, even your partner.  Then sit back and watch that little seed of confidence grow into something bigger.  Sometimes you’ll get to see it blossom before the conversation is over.

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Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

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Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

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Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Triple Bypass – A Ride Review

I signed up for a ride called the Triple Bypass back in January.  I’d heard about this ride for years; it’s been around for 26 of them!  It’s a 120 mile ride over three Colorado mountain passes, with 10,000 feet of elevation gain.  And for those who think that distance and elevation gain are simply not enough, there is the Double Triple Bypass option where you turn around and ride back to where you started the next day.

I had plans to pre-ride all the passes, but unfortunately, time got away from me and before I knew it, the ride was here.  I went into the ride knowing I was capable of the distance and elevation, but unsure of how long it would take me.  The other concern was the stormy weather we’ve been having in Colorado recently.  I knew the earlier I started the ride, the better my chances of finishing it.

I departed promptly at 6:00 AM.  As I began to pedal my way up Squaw Pass Road, I knew that I could go faster, but I intentionally kept a pace that would be sustainable for the entire ride.  The road had recently been repaved and was super smooth with a very nice bike lane.  I was surprised at how many cyclists insisted in taking up so much of the roadway.   The road was closed to all traffic but law enforcement and Sag vehicles, and apparently the meaning of the words “keep right” and “ride single file” were not clear to some cyclists.  One State Trooper actually pulled a cyclist over for riding on the left side of the road in the wrong direction.  I’m not sure what the outcome of that meeting was, but the conversation sounded unpleasant as I went by.  I stopped at Aid Station #1 (18 miles into the ride) and had a banana and bagel and refilled a half full water bottle.   I pulled on my wind jacket before leaving for the descent into Idaho Springs.

The descent into Idaho Springs went smoothly and the route through town was well marked by volunteers and law enforcement.  As we headed west, I found myself in a sustained climb for the next 28 miles.  When I came to Aid Station #2 (42 miles into the ride), I stopped to eat and refill my bottles.  The best snack of the day was had at this aid station:  it was a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with peanut butter and banana filling…mmmmm!  The weather this far into the ride was still perfect: blue skies and lots of sunshine. I hopped back on the bike and continued to pedal towards Loveland Basin where I knew lunch awaited me.

As I approached the third Aid Station at Loveland Basin Ski Area (56 miles into the ride), I could see it was quite crowded with cars and cyclists.  I found a place to park my bike and made my way to the food tents.  Here I discovered an extremely long line of hungry cyclists awaiting their turn to grab food.  When I finally got my chance at the food tent, I had the BEST ham and cheese sandwich ever, a handful of pretzels, half a banana, and a cookie.  The line was moving so slowly that I was able to stand and consume all this food before I had moved 10 feet toward the water table.  When I realized that I had already been there for 30 minutes and it would likely take another 30 minutes to fill water bottles, I decided to go with Plan B.  Plan B was relying on my one full water bottle to get me to the next aid station where I was hopeful I would find less of a clusterf@ck.

loveland passI began to pedal up Loveland Pass, which I can’t say I’ve so much as driven over before.  It was quite scenic and a rather short ascent of 4 miles.  On the other side of the continental divide, it was quite windy.  As I approached Aid Station #4 at Summit County High School (77 miles into the ride), I was nearly out of fluids.  I was delighted that there was virtually no waiting at the hydration station and lots of shady places to sit.  I picked up a small sack of trail mix, an orange slice, and a Cliff Bar and found a shady place to sit and eat.  Keeping a close eye on the clouds to the west, I didn’t sit for too long before hopping back on the bike.  I was thrilled to have made it this far into the ride and knew without a doubt that I would be finished not long after summiting Vail Pass.

The last time I rode my bike over Vail Pass was during the Copper Triangle two years ago when I ascended from the west side and descended on the east side.  I was pleased to see that the east side of the pass had been repaved recently and was silky smooth.  The

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

ascent from the east went quicker than expected and I’m pleased to say that I passed, but did not get passed by anyone.  As I pulled into Aid Station #5 on the summit of Vail Pass (92 miles into the ride) I could see some dark clouds building to the west.  I grabbed just a few pretzels, an orange slice, and another bag of trail mix.  I had topped off one bottle with the Cytomax hydration mix at the previous aid station and had not had any gastrointestinal problems with it, so I decided to go full strength with the drink mix.  If any problems arose, I only had 18 downhill miles left.

As I descended into Vail I was struck in the lips by an insect with a very sharp stinger.  In my efforts to rapidly brush it from my lips, I nearly crashed.  As I sit and type this blog post two days later, I have swelling in both lips as neither were spared by the angry insect.  I’m just grateful that I had my mouth closed!  As I continued to pedal through Vail, I kept looking down at my Garmin to see how much further I had to go.  On the summit of Vail Pass, I had somehow mis-calculated that I had only 18 more miles to ride, but it was in fact 28 more miles to the finish.  Those last 10 miles, despite being flat, felt like the longest miles of the day.  At one point, I began to think I had missed a turn as the signage was not as prevalent in Avon as it had been along the rest of the route.

I did it!!

I did it!!

As I approached the final round-a-bout, I was greeted by Avon Police Officers with “Congratulations! Welcome to Avon!”.  It was the best news I’d heard all day.  By this time, I’d been listening to my bike make lots of noise for the last 90 miles and couldn’t wait to get off (check back for another blog post on that… I have video!)! Not to mention that my legs were a little tired.  As I pulled to a stop I felt a tickle under my jersey near my waistline.  I lifted up my jersey and saw what I can only conclude to be the little insect that had stung my lips 20 miles ago.  Now he was leaving his mark on my tummy.  I guess it’s my very own souvenir from the 2014 Triple Bypass!