If you had asked me a year ago whether I would ever do a huge endurance series ride again, I would have probably told you that it was unlikely. I was busted up and trying to kick the narcotic pain meds that had kept me inside my skin for a month. I felt not only broken, but aged. Significantly aged.
Feeling old, like feeling young, is a state of mind. My 2014 was chock full of life lessons. One of them was the power of states of mind. When you are a busted up 50-year-old sitting through whole summer days inside on a recliner, you aren't putting yourself into a picture that includes athletic achievement.
If you aren't careful, you can become that guy on the recliner.
Yesterday June 6, 2015 was the Salida Big Friggin' Loop, an event I've been putting on since 2012.
Blanks Cabin Colorado Trail trailhead
Some time between October and March of this past year, a kernel of desire started to establish. It was desire to have my strength back. Meaning, to have the belief, that I could be strong on the bike again. I worked on getting back fitness, which is necessary to achieve on the bike. But without faith there's only so much you'll be able to do.
Some time last winter I put my name onto the registration list for the Big Friggin' Loop. I put a stake in the ground. I cleaned up my diet and started living a little more cleanly, and I started putting in bigger miles on the bike. And I started making myself believe.
Yesterday was test day. Time to answer the question, "can I still do something like this?"
Not going to do a blow-by-blow, but suffice to say the weather looked threatening at times but turned out to be 5 different kinds of late spring weather, each with something pleasant to offer. I got very tired, but kept the cranks turning.
About 5 hours in I had an awkward stuck-pedal crash and fell over into a pile of rocks. I banged down hard on my right elbow and thigh. My blink reaction was fury. I swore and yanked my bike back upright, pushed it to the top of the climb that I'd dumped on. When I started riding again I found that it wasn't shifting right. Must have bent my derailleur hanger. Fuck!
Then I got a gift. Having been through situations on big rides where something bad happened and it took me down a negative road, I stopped myself from going that way. And then realized that, even though this setback had happened, I was still rolling. My forearm was stinging, and I felt joy in the sting. I was on a finisher's pace in the SBFL! I'm out here doing this, and feeling this! The pain means I'm alive. What a privilege! What a blessing!
When I got to Buena Vista, I went straight to Boneshaker Cycles, to re-stock since they were so kind to set up a whole neutral support area in their shop, but also to see if I could borrow their hanger tool to fix my derailleur. The town was jumping. The street was full of cars, the sidewalks full of tourists. And Boneshaker was super busy too.
I was really hesitant to bug them; a busy shop in the summer doesn't need a distraction. I went back toward their service area, where the mechanic was busy working on a rental bike. When I sheepishly asked if I could borrow the hanger tool, the wrench said "want to come back here and put it on a stand?" That was exactly what I wanted, but I wouldn't have asked. Having it offered was really nice, and my new friend took a couple seconds to clear the stand for me. With a good stand and the right tools, I had my bike shifting right in a matter of minutes. I lubed the chain since it was so convenient up on a real work stand, then headed back out to see about finishing. Chatted with the Boneshaker guys for a while, and they really are wonderful people. Then topped off my water and rolled out into a hard rain in full sun.
I left BV feeling happy, positive and ready to go finish the long loop. The Barbara Whipple trail took a bit of the starch out of my collar right away. The punchy steep climbs made me really feel the miles that were already in my legs. And then about 15 minutes into the Midland Trail, I repeated the clumsy keel over crash into a new pile of rocks. Onto my right side again, but this time the elbow took the worst. Again, the quick rage followed by a sense of big picture gratitude. I chuckled at my own klutzy nature, and how dumb it had been to not take 20 seconds to lube my pedal cleat the first time it stuck and sent me crashing down.
I ground my way through the afternoon, deep in the pain cave. By the time I came to the turn-off for the base loop, I was there. I could tell that finishing the base loop would be plenty of challenge. So I pointed myself east and south and made for home.
The discomfort was from everywhere. The ass. Legs, butt, and back. My left foot was numb or in pain--an issue that started last summer. I think I had some gout symptoms that may have left a uric acid crystal in my forefoot. And then there's the feeling when you have to burn some matches to get up a steeper pitch, and there's a moment of nauseous breathless heart-pounding.
It was great. Full suffer, but with the acute awareness that I was back! I can get into the pain cave, I can live there for a while and my body will handle it. I was playing a game that I had almost convinced myself was a game for a younger Tom. A couple times on the way up to the Aspen Ridge summit, I choked up and felt my eyes fill with tears. What a privilege to have this suffering! My patched up, worked over, broken and healed body Can Still Do This! Through the intense discomfort, elation surged. I would choke up, and make a kind of asthmatic moan. If I there had been more energy and breath in me, it probably would have been a sob.
I've taken something back that was lost. I am so grateful. I guess in 2014 it was my path to see some misery and be challenged to survive it. I don't ever want to live through something like that again. But at least now I know that I can if I have to.