Day 35 Saturday, August 13 Estes Park to Grand Lake, CO 48 miles
As I have approached writing about the experience of today’s ride, I have been overcome numerous times–not unlike how I felt at certain points along the ride. It was a hard day. It was emotional and it was breathtakingly, almost overwhelmingly beautiful. There is beauty and then there is standing on what feels like holy ground. Many times the surrounding terrain choked me up with emotion.
The prior evening sniffles never seemed to materialize beyond the brief running to the Kleenex every five minutes. It is quite possible that I had a slight allergic reaction to the cat or something in my host’s house. By the morning, I felt like I had gotten my hydration and minerals back into balance. Marc made a great oatmeal breakfast with fresh peaches and toast. As I left town I felt a little sluggish and then I seemed to settle into a pretty good rhythm. I began to feel that all I needed to do was be patient, stay in a good spinning rhythm, and not try break any speed records on the road.
Trail Ridge Road isn’t actually the steepest grade I have faced. It has steep sections, but usually within a few hundred yards they ease off again to where one can let some of the lactic acid build-up in the legs dissipate. Where Trail Ridge gets you is that it goes on forever and the high altitude, the winds above timberline, and the cold air begin to take its toll. I rode well throughout but about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain I was beginning to feel the effects of the various conditions. With just three miles to go I was shot and it was the first time I actually thought I might have to walk my bike up a hill. The thought of that was mildly discouraging. I can’t let anyone see me WALK my bike!
I settled into a new rhythm that kept as much pressure off my legs as possible. This is really hard to do when you are riding a bike and climbing some rather imposing switchbacks, but I had to be careful not to throw my legs into cramps as they were constantly on the verge of locking up. That may have been some leftover effects from the day before with the problems with hydration and electrolytes.
As I neared the visitor center just over the top of the peak I found myself overcome with emotion. It is one thing to see the raw and stunning beauty of this range after driving up in a car. I don’t mean to take anything away from what others also must have experienced. But, to know that I climbed up beyond where trees can grow, into the remaining snow from winter, and just below some of Colorado’s famous Fourteeners, left me overcome with gratitude. I am sure the beauty seemed richer for the exertion that it took to get there.
Part of the reason for this trip was that I needed to discover who I really am at my core. I needed to set out on a journey that would allow me to discover my strengths as well as my limits. I grew up in these Rocky Mountains and in the course of marriage, ministry and children I think I allowed myself to lose contact with this part of me. There is a ruggedness to my personality that I think I allowed to become somewhat domesticated. I had to find the edges and the limits of that again. Truth be told, if I made it up half way today and realized that at age 51 I just can’t do what I did 30 years ago, that would have been okay. I needed to discover where the line was. In many ways I got everything I needed today. I was pushed right to the edge of my limit and I got over the mountain. This was the best possible combination of gifts from today’s ride. In fact, I would think twice about hauling packs up Trail Ridge again–not even young guys were doign that today!
I had hoped to get to Granby another 14 miles down the road today. But, there was no sense in pushing it any harder. I am staying in Grand Lake which is an active recreational resort town. Once again I have spent the evening slowly replenishing myself with liquids and electrolytes. A “Dairy King” is next door and a vanilla cone is sounding pretty good with the vitamins of dairy products and lots of “good” calories.
I will want to write a separate blog about meeting Michelle up on the top of Trail Ridge. There were dozens of cyclists climbing Trail Ridge today, although I only saw one other cyclist with touring gear. The rest were out for a day ride like I used to do 30 years ago. I shared with Michelle about being out here on behalf of Eastminster listening for the story of the shift from institutional religion to personal spirituality. When I mentioned the general decline of many of the mainline churches she nodded in agreement and said, “Oh…denominationalism.” After a day or two of good recovery I do want to share and invite more comment on that. Even the fact that I call Eastminster “Eastminster” and not “Eastminster Presbyterian” points to a lessening of “brand loyalty” in our culture and religious affiliations.
Finally, I am changing my route slightly starting tomorrow. Rather than go south through Colorado and then through southern Utah I will stay north in Colorado, cross central Utah, and pick up my route again in Ely, Nevada. Not only will it save me a few miles, but I am not finding the need to continue to put additional 10,000 foot passes in my way. I am now needing more time to actually process, reflect on, and write about this experience. These hard mountain days pretty much limit me to the riding and the recovery. It’s a full time job!
The loose plan is I’ll be in Walden, CO tomorrow and then Steamboat Springs on Monday. I imagine that as I leave the Rockies my thoughts will shift again as I begin making my way to the Bay Area where I went to seminary, where my children were born, and where my now deceased in-laws from my former marriage lived. Another stage on the horizon.