“This shouldn’t be this hard.”
Scott had sat down on the side of the Colorado Trail, bike laying in the trail, at the top of a descent, a descent that was a well-known hike-a-bike in the other direction, one that we’d have to do on our way home. We were headed over to the Mt Shavano trailhead as part of a bike-to-the-hike adventure and were getting worked.
“Maybe once we get on foot, things will get better,” I’d said encouragingly.
But I knew that I also wasn’t firing on all cylinders, physically or mentally. We’d been in the Salida area for a week between dog sitting duties and had tried to approach the week as if it were our last of the summer. Three weeks in Boulder had greatly increased my yearning for high mountains, and the moment the Scamp set wheels in the Arkansas Valley, I’d hit the ground running.
And I was paying for it.
You see, I signed up for the Ouray 100 earlier this year. It’s a cool event, and I always seem to think, when presented with an opportunity, that I should say ‘yes’ to events, because it will provide motivation to get in shape. Or something.
But (hindsight 20/20), all it really does is mess with my head.
Once I realized that race-day was two months away, I started a mini-panic. I’d looked at the calendar. I’d mapped out 4-week training blocks – three weeks of building mileage and elevation, a week of recovery. Repeat. Taper. I started worrying about acclimatizing to high elevations, planning camping spots for the rest of the summer based on how high they were.
Our week in Salida was the third week in a “training cycle.” I’d done two big (for me) weeks in Boulder, and the moment we set the Scamp up, I headed up Mt Antero, the nearest 14er from our camp.
It was a slog. As our friend Denny once described a ride as “There was pedaling, but there was no joy”, this was definitely a “There was hiking and moments of jogging, but there was no joy.” All I wanted to do was up my weekly mileage, up the weekly elevation gain, build some red blood cells.
Luckily, any time at the top of big peaks is quality time in life, but the enthusiasm with which I normally approach big peaks with just wasn’t’ there.
I blamed it on the altitude. I blamed it on the stress of taking care of one sick dog and one crazy dog for three weeks. I blamed it on Boulder.
I blamed it on everything except for the fact that maybe my psyche has officially exited the realm of ‘racer’ and the conscious or even sub-conscious thought of training for something wrecks my head.
So I kept going. More elevation. More miles. Scott at least had the brilliance to find some off the beaten path runs from camp. The exploration made me happy. Nothing is more satisfying to me than coloring in areas of my mental map of an area.
After a few miles of questionable deer trails, we found ourselves back on the CT. It was definitely cause for celebration.
I was still finding myself looking at the big mountains that towered over us with a mixture of dread and indifference. I simply didn’t want to put in the effort to hike mountains I’d already been up, and there was still too much snow to really access anything too deep in the hills.
So we went across the river to Browns Creek Wilderness Study area for a little on-trail, off-trail adventure.
The off-trail was the highlight, connecting two dead-end trails that the kiosk at the trailhead had explicitly said not to try to connect due to rocks, cliffs, and steep slopes.
It really wasn’t that bad. When I don’t get scared scrambling, it’s not bad.
The week was progressing, but not how I had hoped. My visions of big peak after big peak, 20,000 feet of elevation, you’ve got this, let’s aim for 60 miles this week, very simply wasn’t adding up. There was some level of distress. I’m never going to be ready for Ouray.
Luckily, our friends Dan and Elaine timed their CDT hike just perfectly to snap me out of my pity party. They’d just come through the San Juans, on skis. With too high of a snowpack to hike, most hikers had chosen to do the classic CDT flip-flop of going up to hike the Great Basin in WY. But Dan and Elaine had decided to put their backcountry ski skills to good use, employ a bit of creativity, and ski through the imposing mountain range.
We took them out to breakfast at Patio Pancake in Salida in exchange for their stories from the trail. These two inspire me with their willingness to do things differently. After taking them back up to the trail, we told them that if they made it to Raspberry Gulch, they should detour off the trail to our camp and have dinner with us.
They ended up making it, and we had an amazing evening eating cheesy potatoes and swapping stories. They definitely lifted my spirits. People doing cool shit. I need more of that in my life.
With only two more days before we had to head back to Boulder, we rallied for a lap of Shavano via a bike approach. The approach had 2,000 feet of elevation gain on a combination of good dirt road, forgotten dirt roads reclaimed by mountain bikers and skiers, and the Colorado Trail. We struggled mightily.
A three-toed woodpecker guarding her nest in the tree. The baby birds created quite a commotion.
But we continued to slog, leaving the bikes hidden in the woods at the base of the trail and starting to walk.
The whole way up, I kept up mantras along the lines of ‘The only way to adapt to elevation is to slog it out up here’ and ‘You’ll be glad you did this later in the summer when it’s easier to move when this high.’
But the joy. The joy of movement very simply wasn’t there. I was tired.
I was tired of thinking about my adventures in terms of miles and elevation. I was tired of being mad at my body for being tired. I was tired of feeling guilty for not doing big days when all I wanted to do was sit by the river and read a book. I hated the fact that I’d gone and looked at a calendar and mapped out an approximate training plan. I hated the fact that my shins hadn’t felt 100% for a while, yet I continued to baby them along.
I hated the idea of doing anything in the mountains for any other reason besides that I wanted to.
I’ve been an ‘athlete’ for much of my life. I’ve done the training. The focus. The commitment. The striving to be the best.
And I’ve walked away from it.
Yet somehow I keep, through no fault of anyone but myself, getting pulled back in.
The downhill was heaps of fun. Both Scott and I have, on some level, figured out how to run downhill without wrecking our legs. And the ride back, even with the two hike-a-bikes, was a hoot. 2,000 feet of down is definitely more fun than 2,000 feet of up.
We were wrecked the next day. Our last day in the Ark Valley for the next week and we did next to nothing. And at first, I felt guilty.
And then I came to my senses.
I, very simply, am not racer anymore. And I need to stop pretending that the desire to train will someday come back, because after four years, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that it won’t.
I need to stop pretending because it freakin’ stresses me out trying to be something that I’m not. I’m a Type B personality hanging out in a Scamp who wants to see new places and go on cool, creative adventures with friends. And I don’t give a shit about how many miles I’ve run in a week.
And for the Ouray? We may spend the next month gallivanting around Colorado, and on August 2nd, I’ll decide that I want to tackle 100 miles through the San Juans after all. Or maybe I won’t.
But right now, I just want to play. Play without the worry of a big, looming, and scary goal.
So that’s what I’m going to do.