Saturday afternon, we sat around trying to decide if we were in the kennel of death, the hurt locker, the prison cage. These are all terms to describe the level of pain we were in on the bike except we can't decide exactly which one fits best.
One thing is sure – we were not in the tunnel of fire because you can see your way out of the tunnel of fire. We could not see the way out because when your Boulder friends pick the route and tell you “we’re going to climb”, you’re not sure how high, how long, how far, or when it will end. No visible end in sight, not the tunnel of fire.
Seton, Sarah, Jeff, Chris and I started from Louisville, met up with Red Bear, Jenni, and assorted other riders in Boulder then rode Peak to Peak. I speak of this route like I know it. I don’t. I didn’t. I still don’t know what was going on. All I know is that we made a left turn and the climb began.
I tried to stay with the group for all of about 5 minutes. The entire group passed me and not even a super extendable bendy straw could have helped me suck wheel as they went by. As they passed I asked if they noticed a bear that might have jumped on my back. Then Red Bear took my wheel and said “there is now.” From there, Red Bear and I rode together the rest of the way.
Almost immediately into the ride, the lactic acid started to settle into my legs and wouldn’t get out. I’ve realized that at altitude, lactic acid becomes a leash you are tethered to and you cannot get away. One of those retractable leashes. Every time you think you are about to break free from the lactic acid, someone at the other end of the leash presses the button and pulls the leash, and your legs, back towards lactic acid burn yet again.
Little did I know that the leash was being held by The Wizard. You see The Wizard when you do climbs like this. You find yourself in his dungeon filled with lactic acid and stinking of your own pain. The Wizard looks much different at this altitude. I almost saw him in the pool yesterday. And I think he was with me on this ride, hiding behind the tree, just around the bend, just when you think the climb plateaued or was about to end.
Actually, Red Bear said that when climbing a route like this you see what happens when you go one step beyond the wizard. He said you find yourself visiting your spirit cave. The spirit cave is a place you find at the peak of despair (the peak of despair is another place you would find yourself on this type of a climb). If you’re lucky you may just find your power animal in your spirit cave. If you’re not lucky, you’ll find that your power animal is a Red Bear whose wheel you have been sucking for the past 5 miles on the climb until he falls back and says “my pilot light just went out” leaving you to climb the rest of the way at 8 mph - when you're going fast - alone.
After 75 minutes of climbing, we reached Peaceful Valley. Red Bear said it was a moderate descent – which it was, for about 5 minutes - before we started climbing again. Red Bear mentioned there might be another climb. What he didn’t mention was that this climb would last another 60 minutes.
Red Bear and I made it to the peak of the second climb, descended into Ward to find the group waiting there and considering a climb up to a point at 10,000 feet. Apparently we had been at 9,500 feet which may have explained the feeling of someone squeezing my head, lungs, and legs for the past 8 miles. So climbing even higher? Sounded like something that would send me straight to my spirit cave. Excellent. Let’s go.
And what do you find on the way to 10,000 feet? There was no spirit cave. Instead it was hell. A burning hell of lactic acid and head throbbing pain. Jeff said it would just be 20 minutes, I don’t know I lost track at 20 minutes and almost lost myself. Right before the top I just stopped. My head hurt, I couldn’t breathe, and my legs just wanted to be done. I stopped for a moment, gathered myself, then continued to the top. From there we descended, rode back towards Boulder, and then on towards Louisville. I fell behind for the 100th time before Red Bear finally picked me up in his truck and took me back.
After the ride, we went for a 40 minute run. As Chris ran faster and farther away from me, I thought to myself I have to find the secret altitude tent he has been spending time in at our house. I was slow, my head hurt, and I was huffing - again.
I’m tired now. I told my coach this town is kicking my sea level ass. And that's a good thing. Let it get ugly, let the ride get really low. I don’t want brilliant superstar rides, runs or swims here. It’s training, I need to unravel really, really low. For now, let me get dropped or lapped. Let me gasp for air on the side of the road. I want to find myself scraping the gears hitting the bottom of my workout soul.
And I’m still waiting to pee myself or have the desire to hurl my bike over a cliff but with two days left, there's still time.
Here we are at 10,000 feet: