08 September 2015

The University of Hard Knocks

Springtime in the Rockies

I thought I saved all my old Geocities trip reports before Geocities went the way of internet dust. (Did you know spellcheck doesn't even recognize Geocities anymore???) Apparently I missed this training ride prior to my very first Ride the Rockies. Not only had it not been published yet on this blog, I also had to reconstruct the trip report from my 2003 journal because the old file is nowhere to be found. I attribute my oversight to this tale not being a 14er trip report.

Re-reading (and severely editing, although it's still long now) this journal entry was educational yet painful and embarrassing. I remember having no experience as a cyclist or mountain climber, the humility of running into trouble three or four times the two months before my first Ride the Rockies because I was ill-prepared for sudden weather changes and having to ask for help.

I wanted to reference this particular training ride in an upcoming blog post (which I'd planned for today), when discovered the need to backtrack in time.


or hide white eggs...

5:42 p.m., 19 April 2003

I suppose it was time for another learning experience.

I checked the weather. Isolated showers mixed with snow. High of 60. Sunshine in the afternoon. I wore layers, thinking I would be fighting cold the first part of the day. I'm spoiled by our drought, I suppose. I expected no precip whatsoever, maybe sprinkles. Count the drops. I even opted for sweats in my backpack instead of my waterproof wind pants because I was so sure I'd stay dry.

I was having an absolutely phenomenal ride. I had gone ultra-light to see if I could reach 80 miles and get the feel of being on an actual Ride the Rockies. I didn't even take my camera. I almost didn't take my hat or my gloves. After locking my front door, I changed my mind on those two items. Good thing.

I saw a bunch of pelicans during the first segment of the South Platte, which is running full. Spring run-off is in full gear.

I found a bird in the middle of the trail near I-270. The bird looked half baby, half adult, and apparently couldn't fly yet; it had no tail feathers. His body seemed full grown. He looked like half a bird without his tail feathers.

I saw this guy collecting cans in a big black trash bag. It began to sprinkle. The man started dancing! He was totally oblivious; of course, there wasn't anyone else on the trail for as far as the eye could see, and he still hadn't noticed me. As I grew closer, he began doing what looked like a ballet, his arms in an arc above his head, the bag on the ground by his tiptoeing feet as he swirled and swayed. Then he twirled, which must have been the equivalent of a 7.9 on the Richter scale, because he froze in place, then immediately dropped his arms and stared straight at me as I approached slowly. I had braked to cautiously go around him, planning to announce my presence, as I always do when I come up behind people. But he turned before I was close enough to speak. I really alarmed him. He quickly picked up his bag and turned his back to me, but did not move, as if he wasn't sure what to do, after being caught in such an innocent act of joy.

As I passed him, he gruffly stated, "You scared me."

At the time, I was thinking what he had been doing could be considered sort of scary, too. Good thing I didn't take it that way!

Further down the river, gobs of people were at REI. Weekend warriors were passing the less-than-perfect weather at the outdoor gear unofficial convention center. The only time I ever see that huge parking lot that full is when the weather is bad.

A little bit further down the river, kayakers were practicing. That's always fun to watch. Today was exhilarating because the river was so full, they actually had water with which to practice.

Bronco Colors

As I passed Invesco Field, where the Broncos play, I noticed for first time ever that one of the sculptures near the trail has loose pieces. The coin-like metal discs were ringing in the wind, and as the wind velocity varied, so did the musical notes. I don't know how to describe it except it sounded something akin to aspen leaves dancing in the wind, except metallic instead of breezy. Whoever designed the artwork must really have an ear for music, because it wasn't intrusive or loud or annoying. It was beautiful!

A little further down the river, I passed dog obedience classes I pass every Saturday when I ride the South Platte that far. It's fun to watch the dogs doing things in sync as I make my way past them. Each time, they are practicing different skills, probably because I've caught different classes at different stages. Sometimes they are chasing and retrieving things, sometimes they are walking right alongside their masters, and sometimes they are rolling on command and then wagging their tails when they get their treats.

Pretty in Pink

When I passed Council Grove, which has rows of trees, one each for city council members who were serving when this section of trail was built, for the first time ever for me, they formed walls of pink blossoms on the west side of the trail and walls of fragrant white blossoms on the east side of the trail.

As I hit the 25-mile mark, I realized my pedaling was effortless. I was cruising between 13-15 mph nearly the whole way, and my knees didn't hurt. I wasn't tired. I wasn't forcing anything. I didn't feel like I needed a rest. This was one phenomenal ride. I felt so confident I would get my 80 miles. I even toyed with the idea of riding Waterton Canyon for my break, adding another 12 dirt miles, if I had time.

I reached Chatfield Reservoir in three hours and seven minutes, my best time ever. Boy, was I excited! I pushed a bit going up the tough climb to reach the lake because I was so excited with the progress I've made in my training. I was so happy!

I passed one rider going the other way. He smiled at me. Then I passed a group of what looked to be recreational riders going the other way. They smiled and said hi. Everyone who passed me was wearing a rain coat. I ordered one online yesterday. It should arrive at my work Monday or Tuesday. I was happy I would now have almost everything I need for Ride the Rockies. Tights are the only item remaining on the suggested list, and I'm still looking for just the right bargain on that one.

I pedaled all the way around the lake to the south end, looking for the trail I knew led to Waterton Canyon. My paved trail kept turning to dirt. I'd go along the road for a while until I found a new paved path, and then I'd repeat the process again in another few minutes.

actual 2003 RtR footage

Suddenly, my dirt gravel road turned to ankle-deep mud. No, not mud – clay. I couldn't go more than three feet, and my wheels were caked with about four inches of soft, goopy black mud. I walked my bike to the lake shore about eight feet or so, getting my beautiful cycling shoes caked with mud in the process. I took off my gloves and washed off my brakes and gears as best I could, then dipped my feet in enough to get the mud off the sides of my shoes without getting my socks wet. It began to rain. Before I could get back to the path, which I wasn't about to put my bike on again because I wasn't going to do another mud bath, although I've heard they do wonders for the skin, the downpour turned to sleet, which stung like the devil as I braved the headwind to turn back. Forget Waterton, forget mileage. Head for shelter.

By the time I reached the next restrooms, the sleet had turned to all-out hail. I thought the sleet stung!!! Oh, my gosh! I've always wondered what deer and elk must think when suddenly pelted by ice projectiles. I know what this stuff is, and I didn't like it much. I can't imagine what the animals must think, especially if people are around. They must think we're shooting them! No wonder they are so afraid of us!!!

I parked my bike and dashed to the restroom, pulled on the doorknob, only to nearly collapse in disbelief. I had not been miserable until that second. I thought I'd wait out the storm in the restroom, then be along my merry way. The restroom was locked. I was glad my helmet was protecting my head from the ice shards that seemed to be zooming at me from every direction. I looked around the landscape for the first time, and was shocked to see no visibility because the hail was so thick.

Chatfield State Park Reservoir

I ran back to my bike, mounted it, and watched water practically shoot out of the soft gel seat as I put my weight on it. No, I wasn't miserable at the restroom door. I was miserable NOW! This dowsing was the worst feeling ever.

I raced to the next bathroom, which was closer to park headquarters. I realized for the first time I was out in the boonies. I hadn't realized how isolated I was until I started looking for shelter. I was upset I brought my hydration backpack instead of my overnight backpack because my overnight backpack always had a spare change of clothes, even though it is not waterproof. I was upset I hadn't worn my wind pants because they are slightly water-resistant. I was upset my fleece gloves seemed to weigh 18 pounds each, fully loaded with a year's supply of rainwater.

Storm!I was hoping lightning would flash, too,but alas, the electrical movement finished too quickly.

I can't be mad at the rain; we need the moisture. We really, really need the moisture. But my fingers were frozen, and my toes were getting there. My fancy bike shoes are not like hiking boots; they are not waterproof, and they are not good for up to 26 below like my hiking boots. In fact, I felt as if I was barefoot. I didn't feel any protection from the elements at all.

I reached the next shelter, which entailed taking a gravel road instead of the path. This shelter was locked, too, and I decided it would be better to keep going on the gravel road than to backtrack and get even wetter than I already was, although I wasn't sure where the road would lead.

I felt as though the road was five miles long because it was so much harder to pedal on wet gravel. In some places the road was washed out by mini streams formed by the storm. More soft mud. Sticky clay. I kept having to get off the bike to walk it across these sections to prevent the necessity of an icy mud bath. The hail had now turned to big flakes, and boy, was I shivering.

The road seemed to go on forever. Finally, I saw a paved road, and I decided I would bushwhack to reach it if I had to. I told my bike I would give him (he's a Gary Fisher, so I figure he must be a boy) the day off tomorrow if he would just get me to the paved road. I told the brakes, which were no longer functioning, to hold on just a few feet further, just a few feet further, just a few feet further…

By this time, of course, I realized I was totally alone. I could now see cars speeding along on Wadsworth way above the lake. I realized my moisture wicking jersey, which, by the way, may wick sweat away from my skin but does not wick away rainstorms, was bright enough to be seen by all those distant motorists. As I pedaled along, I tried to pep talk myself into remembering forever to always stop and offer a ride if I see a cyclist struggling in bad weather.

green to be seen

I tried to bribe myself: If I could make it to Mineral, where a side trail leads to a small shopping center, I could buy a new, dry pair of gloves. Yippee!!!

I kept myself company the entire 3.8 miles beyond the lake to the shopping center. I really had no choice. There were no people anywhere. Even the fishermen had left the river. There were no animal owners walking their pets. There were no hikers or runners or photographers in the wildlife area. There were geese and ducks all over the place, and they weren't hissing at me now. They were pecking along the ground as if one had lost a contact. The snow had turned to rain. The rain was bringing worms out of hiding. The storm had created nature's buffet.

cold and hungry

I took the fork to the shopping center and pedaled up to Mineral, where I took the sidewalk to the shopping center. I parked and locked up my bike and walked along the shopping center in search of a store with gloves. Eddy Bauer didn't have any. Victoria's Secret didn't have any. (duh) Eagle Outfitters didn't have any. Abercrombie didn't have any. But Noodles & Company had hot tea!

I went inside and ordered a hot tea and a bowl of pesto fresca. I didn't know what it was. I really didn't care. I just wanted to get out of my gloves and socks, or at least the gloves, being as I was in a public place.

I noticed while I waited for my food that my sweats had been chemically altered and were now approximately 38% Chatfield. Not just lake. No, I had to bring some of the dirt road home as a souvenir.

I tried to stand so other diners, which fortunately were few, would not be able to stare at my attire. Then I took a seat in the back, behind the drink station, where I had solitude and no view of the raging storm outside. Customers began charging in, all with umbrellas, all dripping wet. One customer gawked at her view once she'd shaken off like a wet dog and announced, “Wow! Look at that! Look how hard the rain is coming down now!"

I stood and peered around the corner at the street, which now looked like a fog bank because the rain was coming down in sheets. People were running every which way with colorful umbrellas bobbing like wind-driven kites.

I returned to my table and realized the wooden bench where I'd been sitting was utterly soaked. I tried to dry up the seat, but there weren't enough napkins.


When my food arrived, I dug in. I could hardly hold my fork steady. It kept clashing against the glass bowl.

I hadn't realized how cold my whole body was until that moment. I hadn't realized how soaked my whole body was until that moment. I hadn't noticed until that moment my whole body was shivering.

I thought I could finish my meal, warm up and wait out the storm before heading back home. Half an hour later, the storm still hadn't let up, and now the restaurant was uncomfortably full. I put on my hat, my helmet and my hydration pack and felt overwhelmingly cold . I hadn't really warmed up, but I made it worse by putting that soaked stuff next to my shivering body. I put my gloves on, then began to cry. My gloves weren't going to do me any good. I'd have hypothermia if I tried to ride home.

I stood and looked outside the front window again. The rain seemed to be falling even harder. It matched my tears.

I took the gloves back off. I hung them over the edge of the wooden bench and watched the water drip from them. I took off the hydration pack, helmet and hat, and leaned them against the back of the wooden bench, watching the water drip off them.

I felt defeated. I felt like a failure. I felt as if I keep having these stupid rescue-me episodes because I keep making such poor judgment about things I'm doing. I didn't want to call anyone. I was humiliated. And I was soaked. I didn't want to get someone's car all wet.

I saw the first light rail I'd seen go by. I considered walking over to the boarding station, if I could find it, and waiting for the next train, remembering full well weekend services had been minimized after the aborted strike. It could be half an hour in the rain waiting for the next train. I continued to silently cry.

I probably already had hypothermia, and decided, even though I was close to light rail, that I needed to call someone for help. I needed dry clothes, and I needed them soon.

No such thing as smart phones back then.

I scrolled through all the names on my phone to see who I should bug, who I should give reason to stop being my friend because I'm so stupid and independent and head strong and foolish.

Only three people in all of Denver made me feel semi-comfortable calling for help. Two of them live 38 miles from where I sat dripping. I tried calling Corinna first because she was closer and because maybe she wouldn't be mad at me, especially since I helped her paint her living room Thursday night.

Corinna didn't answer. My heart sunk.

Ardie or Tami? I felt really horribly incredibly miserably ruthless because I had to ask some to drive in this storm. This was the very same kind of weather we were having when I rolled my car. And I was about to ask someone else, someone I care a great deal for, to brave the very same elements. I felt like such a heel.

Ardie had just finished her second round of chemo. I called Tami. Tami answered. I had a hard time holding back my tears while I asked for a ride and dry clothes – a T-shirt and sweats. I was so humiliated. I assumed she probably thinks I'm one emergency after another. I felt as if all I ever do is ask to be rescued. Some friend I am.

Tami, true to form, jumped at the opportunity to help me, and chastised me for feeling guilty. She said she was so glad I called her, and she was so glad I had someone I could call.

I would do whatever any of my friends asked me to do if they were in trouble. I would not be mad, and I would not be judgmental. But I can't seem to put my friends in that role. I always feel horrible when I have to turn to anyone to save me.

I spent the next hour drinking more and more hot tea, trying unsuccessfully not to shiver. I periodically tried to dry up my mess, but I felt as though I'd unleashed a lake inside the restaurant.

Finally, just after the rain finally stopped and the sun poked out for all of about two minutes and 38 seconds, Tami's husband Don arrived, and he brought not only warm sweats for my top and bottom, but warm socks and a blanket. I asked if I could buy him anything while he waited for me to change. He politely declined, as always. He loaded my bike into his truck, the perfect gentleman. Then he apologized for taking so long. He explained traffic was horrible, with a baseball game (in the rain) and a hockey playoff game both starting at the same time, and he had passed a couple of horrible wrecks along the way, too. He said his needle didn't move above 10 mph for at least 20 minutes at a time twice.

I made my friend's husband do this. I felt so bad again.

He told me he is so glad I called Tami, and he said they are so thrilled to be able to help me.

I should get over this stupid attitude of mine, but I can't help it. I feel like a user. I feel like I always have to have someone else get me out of my own bad spots I bring upon myself.

Bears Roasting by an Open Fire

At home, I took a nice, long, hot, very hot, shower, then sat by the space heater while my hair dried. My skin first began tingling, then itching, as sensation slowly began to creep back through my body. I wanted to scratch all the itches with a hairbrush.

I had promised my bike I was giving him the day off tomorrow.

I feel much better now, and I no longer want to avoid my bike for the rest of my life. But I've been through quite a ride, and not one I want to repeat in the near future. Hopefully I've learned what to do to be better prepared, and maybe this was a necessary lesson before Ride the Rockies.

It is inconceivable I might have bad weather along the Ride. The year I covered it for the newspaper as the tour traveled through Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road, the sun never came out. It rained for three days straight. It snowed on Trail Ridge. There was concern the road might have to be closed during the ride.

I don't want bad weather on the Ride, but I am well aware it can happen.

Maybe if I hadn't done what I did today, I would have learned this lesson on the tour, and that would have been such a miserable and embarrassing way to learn.

The goal, after all, is to NOT ASK FOR HELP!!! I don't want to stop and walk my bike, and I don't want to have to call upon the SAG vehicle. Hopefully now, my continuing lessons in self-sufficiency will last longer than just one season.

Awesome 2003 logo


  1. Learning comes in many a way indeed. I never thought spellcheck took any words away once in. haha scaring the dancing can collecting man, how rude of you.

  2. In hindsight, look how far you've come and what you've accomplished.


Dusty words lying under carpets,
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locked inside, hidden deep from view?
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