September 9, 2014

Flying Solo at the Colorado National Monument

This weekend, I headed out to Western Colorado for an annual event that my friend Kelly and her husband Den organize: the Den Grand Fondo. It’s a cycling weekend where we do a 20 mile leisurely ride on Friday afternoon, going from winery to winery in Palisades and culminating in dinner and more wine. Carbs to fuel up for the next day, you know? Because on Saturday, we do a 50 mile bike ride that took us up and around the Colorado National Monument – a climb of over 2200 feet!

Colorado National Monument
Views from the top = WORTH IT

Friday was a beautiful day to drive out west. Even though it was a long drive (4 hours), the views were so amazing that I really didn’t mind. I arrived with just enough time to wolf down a power bar for lunch (since oops, I hadn’t stopped on the way) and don my new (borrowed) bike gear before meeting the group for the winery ride. It was a really fun group!

Colterris Vineyards
Posing by a giant corkscrew sculpture at the first vineyard

It was absolutely perfect sampling the wine at about a half dozen vineyards, while biking about 20 miles total. (Does that burn off the wine I drank? Probably not.) Although I knew that I was by far the weakest cyclist of the group, Friday’s ride was leisurely enough that it really didn’t matter. Short rides for the win!

On Saturday, though, things were a little different. After some last minute changes a few days before the event, I ended up heading there solo, whereas everyone else in the group was coupled up… and they were all avid cyclists to boot. I knew going into the Fondo that I’d be the slowest (since that was the case two years ago), but I hadn’t planned to be in the back of the pack by myself this year. It was a quick mindset-shift to adjust, though, and I set out on Saturday morning armed with out-of-ear headphones (so I could listen to podcasts while still being alert to my surroundings), some energy bars and a big Camelbak of water (so I could be self-sufficient on the ride), and even my Kindle tucked into a pocket of my backpack, in case I wanted to hang out at the top and read for a bit while enjoying the Colorado sunshine (more on that later). I can’t exactly say I was planning on a leisurely day, given that riding 50 miles is not exactly a piece of cake, but I was planning on taking a leisurely pace and just enjoying the views without worrying about how long it took.

Colorado Vineyard Ride
Views from the vineyard ride had me psyched to see even more beauty on Saturday!

When I met up with the group at our starting point, though, my mindset changed. We started talking about rendezvous points along the route, and my resolve to do the ride solo started slipping. I stood my ground in asking the group not to wait for me, and that I’d call for help if I needed anything. But once we got on the road, I found that I wasn’t that far behind the others. I was doing a lot better on the big hill than I had done two years ago, mostly thanks to actually paying attention to Den’s sage advice not to “mash” the pedals. If I kept my pedaling smooth and didn’t stop to rest, I was able to build up circular/forward momentum instead of wasting my energy pushing down – and it worked. Remember those tunnels that I bawled while biking through in 2012, and how I cheated and caught the sag wagon the last three miles to the top? This year, I cruised through the tunnels happily and made it all the way up without really all that much difficulty. It was a lot easier than I remembered it!

Throughout the first hour or two of the ride, though, a few people kept circling back to check on me. It was really nice of them, but it also got a little stressful at the same time. As much as I had improved, I knew that I could not keep up with those speedsters. But having them be so nice about waiting for me and checking on me made me want to try to go fast… and then I just ended up getting frustrated with myself and how inexperienced of a cyclist I am. As much as I love Flywheel Texas, nothing really gets you ready for this kind of climb/distance other than actual road biking, and I hadn’t done that! It was my own doing/lack of preparation that made me so slow, and it was hard not to beat myself up for it. So finally, at the top of the climb when I caught up to the stopped group, I told everyone that they should really just go on ahead, and that I would meet up with them later in the afternoon. Hopefully it came out nicely, even though I was busy being mad at myself!

Top Of Monument
How can you stay in a bad mood when you’re in this gorgeous place, though? Here’s one of my favorite pictures from this year’s trip, taken on some flat ground near the top.

But it was a good thing I said that, because once at the top, the road had a lot of downhill – and while you’d think that would be good news, it was exactly the opposite for me. I had actually done fairly well making my way up the road, but I was wayyyy too inexperienced and too much of a scaredy cat to do even a passable job on the downhill. Especially when the road was so curvy that I couldn’t see ahead to find out if there would be any incline to slow me down once I got going, before I careened off the mountain! Overall, I averaged about 10mph on the steep uphill… and about 6mph on the downhill. (If you aren’t a cyclist, 6mph is about a quarter the speed I should have been going.) Thank goodness I can laugh at myself! Once I got over comparing myself to the others, I had a fantastic time flying (okay, maybe more like crawling) solo.

In the end, I was proud of myself for how far I had ridden, and how I had really enjoyed myself throughout instead of freaking out like last time. The planned ride was a 32 mile loop, but I tacked on extra mileage riding to and from our group meeting point, and rode 50 miles total. As far as time? About five hours – which is seriously unimpressive as far as cycling speeds go. But I had done it – without either a meltdown or a walk break. Low bar to set, I know, but I was still psyched about that and the fact that I had so much fun, I even considered going riding again the next day. (I didn’t end up going after I surprised myself with just how late I can sleep the day after a long bike ride.)

So the reward for all that? This gorgeous and sexy tan.

Turns out another thing I had done this ride “without” was sunscreen. Oops. My legs have similar burns.

All kidding aside, the real reward was that I got to go to dinner with the group at the beautiful Wine Country Inn that night 🙂 When I did the Fondo two years ago, I had skipped the Saturday night dinner because I was too exhausted to stay awake for it. This time, I tried to nap in the afternoon, and I actually did manage to stay up till 10pm, but I was unfortunately not too peppy, and I worry that I wasn’t super fun company as a result. Riding that far had really taken it out of me! I was really proud of how well I had done though – I’ve come a long way since the last time.

So… maybe more bike rides are in my future? (And maybe I’ll even do them before next year’s Fondo, so that I’m used to that kind of cycling distance and can be rested for the Saturday night dinner?? Baby steps and small goals!) I just found this cool Bikes and Brews ride down in Canon City in a couple weeks – I’m thinking the 50K would be fun, and perhaps I’d even get more confident in doing a normal speed on the downhills. Any other Coloradans interested in joining?

Thank you so much to Kelly and Den for organizing this year’s fantastic event, and getting me (a little bit) into bike riding 🙂 I already can’t wait for next year!


5 thoughts on “Flying Solo at the Colorado National Monument”

  1. Sounds like a blast to me! Those tans are something 😉 I had the same thing happen and it made for an excellent beach look. I bet you slept really well that night though!

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