White, electric streaks sparked across the Kansas sky on a oily black backdrop of a vast western night. Flashes could be seen for leagues across the planes once roamed by a people who knew far more about simplicity than I could ever hope, but would soon appreciate for at least a few days.
The drive across America's middle was honestly not as tear jerkingly boring as I had remembered it to be so many years ago. Maybe it was the fact that with every wheel turn, I was moving closer to the next chapter of my life, I was moving closer to my favorite state where I would have many opportunities to explore like I've never been able to before. More likely, though, it was the steady stream of podcasts and satellite radio flowing from my Lancer's sound system. Either way, I ended up rolling into Denver a little ahead of schedule.
Last Friday, my 5 month training in a portion of the world I have no desire of revisiting came to a ceremonious close. My comrades fled from Ft Leonard Wood like rats from a sinking ship; it didn't take me long to reach Kansas City. My mother and her two sisters made the painstaking drive from Nashville just to witness this event and had even been so kind as to book an extra hotel room in KC so I could enjoy another weekend of crit racing. I've been very blessed this season with the huge number of races I've gotten to take part in. Win or lose, breakdown or breakaway, I've raced far more frequently now than I ever did running or triathloning. Though I was anxious to leave the state for good, it was a tough, fun two days of racing and for the first time I actually had a few spectators that cared how I did.
We bade farewell and started my week long trek to Colorful Colorado. I had nothing but time, energy, and the Colorado rockies ahead of me. For the last month I had been brainstorming where I might go with my bike. So many good options, so short a week.
My lungs got a good little wake up to mile high elevation. The climb up Lookout Mountain easily had more cyclists than motorists, even on a Monday afternoon, taking on this popular climb. I could barely believe I had actually made it out here. After so much dreaming of biking the foothills, here I was, panting and quickly emptying water bottles, with a million dollar view before me. This was gonna be an indescribable week.
Dozens of red pins fell on my phone's map indicating my coffee options this morning. I couldn't decide on just one...I ended up getting pretty twitching by the time I settled into my saddle. This biker's paradise of a city had other options I had difficulty deciding between: which climbs to tackle today. Well, I knew I had to do Flagstaff, every bit of which has been ridin and run countless times by some of the greatest talent in the world. And then there was four mile canyon...and sunrise road climb... screw it, do 'em all.
Flagstaff was a humbling experience, to put it lightly, but oh, what a spectacular reward you get at the top where you can see for miles.
After baking in the sun and getting a little lost, sort of on purpose, for 3.5 hours I pulled back into the REI parking lot I started from and found the nearest Jamba Juice for a much needed, but never quite sufficient, refuel.
I was ready to find a group to ride with today. I'd done some research, asking some friends and friends of friends and sure enough there was a Wednesday night world's riding happening that evening at 5. I sat down at that morning's espresso cafe around 10 or so and had a little time to kill. To say this town was biker friendly would be like saying London is taxi friendly. Roads with bike lanes were the standard, no one bats an eye when a fully kitted out rider click, click, clicks his way toward the barista to order his cup, and there's even a place called "Cranknstein's" where you can go to get your bike fixed, your day started with your favorite roast and your day ended with your favorite brew. What's not to love?
Just a few blocks from downtown, the famous New Belgium Brewery was giving daily tours, which I immediately availed myself to after I had finished my now well established morning routine. I quickly made friends with fellow craft beer enthusiasts and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of our stroll. It seemed to get better and better as it went on...something to do with all the free samples?
A food truck featuring Belgium waffles had pulled up just outside. Could this day get any better?
Yes. I got to ride with a huge group of Colorado folk and ended up hanging with the best of them, fueled on strawberries, whipped cream, and hops, before returning to my car and downing a gallon of fluid.
As a hill lover, I simply couldn't resist the urge to ride up to the highest point a road biker could go in the state. The climb up Mount Evans starts in Idaho Springs and follows an incredibly scenic road up to Echo Lake where it turns south onto a road that's only open in the summer months. With each turn of the pedals, I was at a new record high elevation for bike riding. Two and a half hours of solid climbing after leaving Springs, I made it to 14,140ft above sea level and was rewarded a metaphorical and very literal breathtaking view. I defy anyone to show me a more fantastic vista than this. A furry, white mountain goat showed me the way down and gravity took care of the rest for the next hour of descending.
Naturally, I had to stop in at the same Beau Jo's I'd been to so many other times after a long day in the mountains for a big ol' pie filled with artichoke, bacon, cheese and some other nonsense.
Evergreen, Morrison, Red Rocks
On Friday, I rode through those places, then had some chocolate milk when I got back to my good friends, the Hearrall's place where I was staying. Nothing too terribly more exciting today than what I'd done over the last 4.
Sonic Boom Crit, Louisville, CO
My first race in Colorado was about as fun as I could've expected. The town of Louisville is about as quintessential America as you can get, and you better believe there were plenty of coffee hangouts to watch the races from. The last 5 days of destroying my lungs and legs in this altitude had caught up to me to a degree. This race was lightning fast from the start and I often found myself gassed just trying to stay with the lead group, which I did to the end but not to much avail as far as top placement. Still, a great experience and another fun day in the mile high.
Guanella Pass Hill Climb, Georgetown, CO
For as many times as my family and I drove past this little mountain town wedged between I-70 and wicked steep cliff faces, we never really stopped to appreciate it. I had unsettled business to attend to here. Today's road race would be almost entirely about strength of the climber than strategy of the racer. A couple guys got kinda frisky starting out the first couple switchbacks but within 2.5 miles of starting, the field was whittled down to me and two others. Most of the race turned into a 3-way slug fest, each of us taking turns thrashing the pace, getting out of the saddle and laying it down. I pulled away for a little while but the 11,000 ft elevation was really taking its toll on my body. The two guys caught up with about a mile left and left me behind, but not before we all developed a healthy appreciation of each others's climbing skills.
Before leaving town for Edwards where a cousin of mine lives and where I would spend the night, the post race party featured live music and a free beer garden with IPA's fresh from Tommyknockers just down the road. I chatted away another hour with a man who had many interesting things to say about Alaska, Europe, the military, cycling, all that fantastic jazz.
Colorado, I do hope we meet again soon.