Friday, July 11, 2014

81 miles

(This is the third in a series of posts about our Colorado vacation)

It was Friday evening, June 27 - the night before Bike MS. Though I'd been thinking about this event for months, emailing Snowcatcher weekly and sometimes daily with regards to training and plans, it still seemed surreal. I couldn't quite believe the time had come - and I knew I wasn't ready for it.

Almost at the last minute, I'd learned that the Bike MS routes had changed: last year's 73-mile course had been expanded to an 81-mile course. (There were also a 68-mile, 100-mile, and 122-mile course to choose from, the latter two being obviously out of the question.)

"What do you want to do?" asked Snowcatcher. "I'll ride with you, whichever course you choose. If you want to do 68, that's okay. Don't push yourself."

"Well, I'd hate to drive all the way from Wisconsin and not challenge myself," I said. "I'd like to try for the 81. Let's see how it goes tomorrow."

After supper, we packed for the weekend, while the Lizard loaded the bikes so as to be ready for Saturday's pre-dawn drive to the staging ground. Then we bid each other an early goodnight, and hit the hay.

~ ~ ~

Saturday morning the alarms go off at 3:15. A quick breakfast, some last-minute stowing of gear, and we're off. Reality has kicked in, and I'm beginning to feel excited. After weeks of riding alone on country roads, struggling with post-accident panic every time a car passes me at speed, I'm looking forward to the security of being surrounded by other cyclists - lots of other cyclists - all of us pursuing a common goal. The big picture is coming into focus, and my fear is no longer at the center. There are hills out there, and with the help of God (and plenty of Gatorade) I will climb them if I can.

Team Snowcatcher at the staging area, smiling in the morning sun:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Bikes lie on the ground as we pin numbers on each other:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Lizard and Snowcatcher; photo courtesy of Mr. M

Heading off to the start (with about 3000 other cyclists):

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Camera? Check!

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Turtle? Check!

Team Snowcatcher at the gate....

Then we're off, riding through the glorious clear air, with miles to go and mountains ahead.

(That's the Lizard in the photo above, and this is the last we will see of him until journey's end. He's riding the 100-mile course.)

How's this for a view?

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

I had planned to meet Mr. M at the other end of the ride; I thought he'd spend his day doing something fun, like visiting bookstores, searching out bakeries, and drinking leisurely cups of coffee. Little did I know that he'd decided to drive the course, meeting us at each rest stop, and taking photos of his own (many of which are sprinkled throughout this post).

Mrs. M and Snowcatcher tooling along on their way to the first rest stop:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

All kinds of bikes and riders participate in Bike MS. Every year, there are plenty of recumbents to be seen:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

And many riders in costume or team-themed gear:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

This rider (whom we also saw last year) definitely deserves an award for Coolest Bike Ever:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

And here I am with Snowcatcher at the first rest stop, fuelled up and ready to start the next stage:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Snowcatcher fires up some tunes (classic rock, if you must know - perfect for cadence)...

...and we're off for Stage 2.

Rest stops occur about every 12 miles, and in between we enjoy the most glorious Colorado scenery:

The morning flies by, and before we know it we've reached Rest Stop #4, which means lunch and a chance to sit down. I'm staying well-hydrated and fed, but my shoulders are getting very sore; it will be nice to have a rest from the bike.

Lunch takes place on the grounds of a country church. Bicycles are strewn along the dusty drive:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

The food looks (and tastes) as good as it did last year: couscous, sandwiches, potato chips, cookies, and lots of cold drinks to replenish tired riders.

The view from the lunch tent is outstanding:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M - isn't this an awesome shot?

Snowcatcher looking cheerful after lunch:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Then it's back on the road, and into a headwind as the climbing begins. Snowcatcher reminds me again not to push myself - and I don't. I stick to an easy pace, but the strain is beginning to tell.

We reach Loveland and Rest Stop 5, where the wind is so strong it sends one of the tents tumbling end-over-end. We fill our bottles and eat some fruit; we sit in the shade for a few blissful minutes, then head back out.

The day is now heating up considerably, and the merciless sun beats back from the pavement. After Rest Stop 5, the routes diverge: 68-milers turn right, while 81-milers keep straight. We go straight, and the die is cast. I'm committed to an 81-mile ride, the farthest I've ever attempted.

The scenery remains spectacular:

Coming out of Loveland, we catch a glimpse of what I believe is the Continental Divide (those snowy bits peeking out from behind the nearer hills):

Wondrous rock formations rise on every side:

Soon another climb looms, and I stop at the base to shrug the stiffness out of my shoulders before starting the ascent. The climb, though hot, isn't bad; legs and lungs are holding up fine. We reach Rest Stop 6, famed for its snow cones - but I'm more interested in shade and Gatorade. The first is available, under numerous trees and tents; but alas, the drink tent is out of the electrolyte-laden elixir. (Rest Stop 5 was also out.) So once again I fill my bottle with water and hope for the best, as the worst climbs are still to come.

The less said about the next two climbs, the better. On each, I do something I've never done before - stop in the middle for a breather. I find myself muttering that I'll never ride my bike again; I think with longing of getting off the darn machine and just walking away. To pass the time on one endless climb, I count pedal revolutions, taking a swig of water with every 60 turns. My shoulders hurt, I'm miserably hot and tired, and my knees are reminding me that I'm well on the wrong side of 50. Will these dratted hills never end?

Eventually they do. We reach the outlook over Horsetooth Reservoir, and - joy of joys - someone has set up an unofficial rest stop. With Gatorade! (Blessings on you, unknown young man. You have saved the life of this rapidly-aging cyclist who is too tired even to take your photo.)

The first few swallows go down like nectar, and I'm able to pose cheerfully with Horsetooth Reservoir in the background:

Photo courtesy of Snowcatcher

But this is what I really feel like:

Photo courtesy of Snowcatcher

Tallulah, however, is cool as a cucumber. (So would I be, if someone were carting me around in a comfy crochet basket.)

From Horsetooth Reservoir, it's nearly all downhill to the finish. We set off on the last leg of our ride, Gatorade once more flowing through our systems, the worst of the course behind us.

We fly past the reservoir (oh how I long to plunge into that cool blue water, and wash off the encrusted sweat)...

...then down the long hill into Fort Collins, where we race across town and finish with a sprint, Snowcatcher winning by a head. (Our husbands are at the finish line, but don't see us coming in, thus missing some magnificent photo ops of our final burst of speed.)

Day 1 is over, and we made it.

Snowcatcher checks her bike computer and announces that we've ridden 81.8 miles.


While Mr. M, the Lizard, and Snowcatcher stand chatting with one of the volunteers, I collapse on the grass and wonder:

a) Why oh why didn't I turn right after Rest Stop 5?
b) Will I ever want to get on that bike again?

Snowcatcher looks at me and says, "I don't think you should ride tomorrow. You're spent."

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

She's right. I'm completely trashed.

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

I would like nothing better than for someone to scrape me up and carry me off, preferably to this spot:

Photo courtesy of Mr. M

Mr. M does not carry me off, but he does oblige with a shoulder rub. Sheer heaven:

Photo courtesy of Snowcatcher

On the strength of the shoulder rub, I get back on my feet and stagger behind the others to the bike corral, where Iris gets parked for the night amongst thousands of other bikes:

Then it's off to the hotel, to a welcome shower and an even more welcome ibuprofen, plus potassium and magnesium to help restore the inner woman. Soon we are meeting Snowcatcher and the Lizard for pasta in a restaurant filled with happy, sunburnt riders.

A couple more ibuprofen after dinner, and I fall into bed, wondering what the morrow will bring. The shortest available route on Day 2 is 66 miles - and there's no way I can do that. (Really.) The question is, will I be able to ride at all?

Then sleep breaks over me like a wave.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



    81 miles and pictures too! (The pictures are gorgeous. What a beautiful place to ride. So, don't leave us hanging too long. Did you continue? Did you live to ride another day? Inquiring minds want to know!!!)

  2. WOW!!! Ditto what Dee typed!!! The photos are all fantastic, but I especially appreciated the one Mr. M took of the barn and the Rockies. I loved living in Nederland, CO for a little over two years so especially lie being reminded of that time through your photos. Bravo for you efforts, Sue! xx

  3. Oh wow Sue congratulations on managing to do that, how lovely of Mr M to be there for you too. The photo's are magnificent what beautiful scenery. I am now waiting in great anticipation to see if you managed to get back on your bike the next day. :) xx

  4. I do admire your stamina! I thought of you when we rented bikes in the Everglades and I then promptly fell off.

  5. I am in awe of you my friend, I am not sure I could ride 8 mile let alone 81.8. You are amazing for doing this. I bet you slept very well that night.
    Bless your heart, and tired body.

  6. The photos are awesome. Gosh, what a beautiful view. I do hope you recover and feel better soon. ((hugs))

  7. I am in awe that you pushed through 81+ miles. Not only were you injured in the accident, but it took lots of training time away from you. You did great.

  8. Wow Sue, you really are a star! Congratulations on that gruelling ride, I am in awe of your courage and tenacity! The pics are great, so lovely to see the country you are travelling, thank you. Now I wish you well and whatever decision you come to re riding, you've done one heck-of-a-job already!
    Blessings on you, Joy xo

  9. Joy said it all. Your courage and tenacity are awe-inspiring. I'm so glad you came out to do this, and it was such a thrill to see you and Mr. M together at each rest stop, to see such adoration for one another and such concern for each other's well being. You are a very strong rider, a great writer and a wonderful photographer. Seeing your husband's photography makes me marvel, too, because he's just as talented as you are!

  10. Dear Sue,

    My comment, though less pithy and wordy than would be fitting, is heartfelt. Sincere congratulations to you for this remarkable achievemennt. And also for being decidedly honest: you really were exhasted, weren't you? I am very proud of you.


  11. Yes, just what Dee typed: YOU ARE PHENOMENAL! I can only imagine how exhausted you were after that. I am truly in awe, ginormous congratulations! I hope you recover and get your energy back soon, I'm curious to see what you did the next day. Once again, wow! :)

    1. Also, forgot to add that I totally love those pictures of Tallulah...riding along in her custom-crocheted basket while you did the work. Lucky turtle. :)

  12. 81 miles?!! Whoohoo! I can't believe you did that in one day. Fantastic!

  13. My hat is off to you! What a feat! Gadzooks! I hope you are rested up! What an accomplishment!
    ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  14. Great posts, fantastic accomplishment!

  15. Mr M is wonderful! I think I'd be drinking coffee and reading while Fireman rode…
    I feel for you! You are doing an amazing job!

  16. Excellent post. You did well on the ride! As for next year... 100 miles!

  17. Wow !!! I have caught up after reading your newest post. Amazing!!

  18. Very inspiring in every way...BTW I've copied your idea...I love Tallulah and the company (she)gives...I've named my bike(scooter) Darlie:) it just give that extra comfort, isn't it!

  19. Oh, wow, Sue! Just amazing!!! You are so inspiring! And again, the pics are gorgeous! :)

  20. Well done! You are my hero (Confession to make: I hate cycling). Great landscape.


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