9 min read

In Search of the Rocky Mountain High

Sailing between the pink and orange skies, we break for coffee, gas, and grass. I try to keep my eyes off the miles and minutes remaining. It’s easy to do once I reach Kansas; there’s only one way to go: straight.
In Search of the Rocky Mountain High
Boulder Canyon, Colorado

On the Road Again

I will use photos more than usual this week, and there's a good chance this post won't be of the typical Victory Lap length. Why? It might have something to do with the brick of a laptop I own, the new and improved glasses that make my vision even blurrier, or a sprained finger...but we'll get to that in a bit.

It's already been a week since Hazel and I hit the road, miles ticking away on the odometer, seconds rolling themselves up into minutes, sorting neatly into hours. Sunset: set camp; sunrise: wheels up. Sailing between the pink and orange skies, we break for coffee, gas, and grass. I try to keep my eyes off the miles and minutes remaining. It's easy to do once I reach Kansas; there's only one way to go: straight.

Two bikes, three water tanks, a bike stand, and plenty of tools. The Vandoit is packed!
Leaving the cool, wet climate of Canaan Valley, West Virginia.
Hazel and I make the trip's first pitstop at our beloved international coffee chain.

Enduring Kansas

Kansas, oh Kansas. She did not disappoint. Hazel is my barometer, stretching her way up as close to the front seat as her harness will allow. Storms on the horizon; I can see them now. Vast and expansive, chances of dodging this bunch seem slim.

Thick, heavy darkness in the distance gives way to lightning and thunder on top of us. Jostling winds, sheets of rain, I expect hail to follow. I take an exit; the sign says: no services. However, I find refuge at the Shawnee County Fire and Rescue station, one of the most critical services of all. I park away from tall trees and check the radar. A furious jumble of green, yellow, orange, with bright red centerpieces. Severe weather warnings and tornadoes to track. We're in Kansas, Hazel, but for how long? She quivers on my lap, and all I can do is hold her and tell her we're ok. After all, we're sheltering in our very own Ford Faraday cage.

After an hour and a half, I decide it's time to thread the needle and get back on the road. We are driving west; the rain is coming east. The only way to get through the rain faster is to venture into it. The sun is forcing its photons through the clouds. We're on the other side. Not long after, I see a colossal silo bent over at the top as if the Jolly Green Giant had a near-miss crushing an aluminum soda can with his foot. I realize it can get much worse around here.

Nothing like a tornado track to kick off the adventure!

Back to the GPS leaderboard, I realize this is just another game of endurance. My back aches for a quick scratch, my left knee is stiff, my eyes are getting heavy, and my mind is playing math tricks on me. Which time zone am I in? I shift and squirm in the seat. The sun is still above the horizon, so we're still on the road. I employ the same magical energy supplies I might turn to on the bike, if for no reason other than having a van full of it!

I kept my brain engaged with my favorite topic these days: the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. There is an entire podcast with six seasons dedicated to the topic. The hosts, Fatty and Hottie, have dozens of collective races under their belts. Fatty comes in under 9 hours more often than not. The podcast is exceptionally well produced, full of relevant information, including a 4-hour, turn-by-turn course description. As with all educational resources, the result can be increased confidence or solidified fears. The podcast triggered a little of both.

Speaking of races, I've toyed with the idea of eventually taking on the most notorious gravel race in the world, Unbound Gravel (originally Dirty Kanza). I don't know why. I don't even want to do 200 miles of Kansas in my posh van. Why would I want to experience the monotony on the bike, exposed to all the vengeful elements? If you are reading this and ever hear me talking about doing Unbound, please wave this paragraph in my face. Please.

Rocky Mountain High, At Last

On the border of Kansas and Colorado is a town called Kanorado. Really. I'm not making this up. And while it is a small town of seventy-some households, it's a monumental city for me—it signifies the Welcome to Colorful Colorado sign is fast approaching. However, no one told the Great Plains to give way to the Rocky Mountains at this artificial delineation; it will be another 150 miles before the craggy peaks of the Front Range reveal themselves behind the grassy hills of eastern Colorado. After two days on the road, there so no sweeter sight.

Well, maybe there is. Arriving at my western home base at my brother's outside Boulder, CO, my little niece jumps in the van. I'm unsure if she's old enough to realize she's standing in my kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom all at once. But she's fascinated by the space and brings serious cheer to the place. Hazel knows precisely where we are, and she celebrates by jumping out of the van and running up to the front door with her tail wagging furiously. Seeing the kids for the first time in months, I feel a welcome sense of homecoming.

This time of year, the sun rises early. Since Hazel has no regard for time zones, she wakes me up at 4:30 or 5 am, and my reward is watching the mountains move from blue shadows into sherbet-colored highlights.

My mother always said: Wherever you go, there you are. I didn't understand it as a child, "I" and "me" were still a single unit back then. But now I get it. My problems all came with me: my broken laptop, disappointing new glasses, finicky bike parts, and a pretty bad YouTube haircut. The good thing about driving 1,500 miles into one of the swankiest suburbs of the country is most of these problems can be solved within a 10-mile radius. So I have set about them, one by one. As I write this on a borrowed computer, I discover my silver brick will become an Apple again in exchange for a cool 700 dollars cash. Yikes.

Back on the Bike

All this time behind a steering wheel can be seen as a good bit of recovery for the legs, which I welcome, post-GRUSK. But once I settled in at 5,500 feet, it was time to get my first workout in. Miles and miles of gravel and paved paths connect the area's communities to the foothills, lakes, and grassy nature preserves. I needed to get in a couple hours of easy Zone 2 riding, with a skills session tacked on at the end. When I ride in a new area, navigation steals much of my focus and slows me down. But Ride with GPS and TrailForks are powerful tools and make getting around surprisingly attainable for an out-of-towner.

I spent about sixteen miles on primarily concrete paths. I was looking for gravel, but simply spinning my legs was enough to forget my problems. The trail meandered its way to a large lake, which I could see on the map. I didn't expect the expansive bike park adjoining the lake! A well-used pump track, multiple skills tracks, and a challenging series of jump lines. BMXers lined up to drop in; my full-suspension Yeti looked like a monster truck by comparison, but I joined them anyway. "Nice bike," someone called out. I think they just liked my gears. I kept the rubber side down most of the time but eventually stopped fighting the inevitable air. After all, jumping is one of my weakest skills, so what a perfect place to practice!

The other skill I am building is what we'll call a combat clip-out. Much like a combat roll in a kayak, I don't have one. I knew this in the back of my head but had it confirmed on my first trek up to Nederland, a 45-minute drive through the glorious Boulder Canyon.

The Magnolia trail system starts at about 8,700 feet, a playground of wide-ranging tech. It is perfect for my acclimation goals, cooler temps, and building confidence on my race bike with its skinny tires and clipless pedals. However, as I scrambled up a steep, punchy climb covered in loose rock, I stubbornly decided to stay clipped in and ride out the spin. I found myself on the ground, my finger jammed into a stump and my feet still connected to the bike. A failure to eject, as my 9-year-old nephew insightfully describes it.

I cut my ride short to return to the van for some ice. I relaxed and took in the magnificent wildflower bloom all around me, and Hazel enjoyed the cool shelter of tall grass. At least we got in some swoopy Colorado singletrack before the crash.

Yes, my finger is fat. It hurts. Typing is the worst thing for it. I've yet to try gripping a handlebar. But let's face it; much like the storms in Kansas, it could've been worse. I'll have plenty of time to practice my combat clip-out after the race. For now, I need to get back to acclimating and planning my Leadville pre-rides, drop bags, crew lists, nutrition, and of course: riding.

On, on!

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