Continental Divide (Day Twenty-Three)
“All stations this net, all stations this net. This is Tomahawk Six. Operation X (real name classified) commences. Time now. (pause). Shoot first. Shoot straight. Protect the innocent. Punish the deserving. May God bless us all. Tomahawk Six out.”
-Anyone ever get a wakeup call like that? I know someone who has…
In light of the severe weather warnings, we got on the trail early. Rolled out under blue skies and they would smile on us all day. In fact, I didn’t even see a cloud until later afternoon, and it was a non-threatening, big puffy one.
We had been looking at day 23 since the trip began; while it was a mere 65 miles, its success would see us achieve a position atop the highest mountain pass in Colorado; also, we would cross the Continental Divide. Milestones, all of these things. BUT…to do it, we had to climb a mountain. While we’ e done that before (16 times, to my estimation) this one would be by far the most aggressive. Again, not in miles, but in the pitch and grade. We needed to climb 3,600 feet in only 9 miles. Steep! As we began to pedal the 33 miles that it took to begin the ascent, it sort of felt like we were walking to the principal’s office.
Since the beginning of my training for this task, I’ve been getting ready for that steep hill; the unyielding burn that comes from terrain that refuses to let go. It’s the climb that feels impossible at the beginning as will as the elusive ‘home stretch’, as well as all of the space in between. For this inevitability, I trained hard. We both did. I knew, though, that ya can’t control everything, and that sometimes the hill trains harder and longer.
At mile 31 (stop reading now if the ‘potty talk’ will offend you), we pulled over for a quick latrine stop. Word to the wise: never seek lower ground to use said latrine. Mosquitos will take advantage of anything and everything that can get. I’ll leave it at that!
We rode the final two miles in silence, putting the last of the bright green pastures behind us. Looking back, I’m certain that were both looking forward to being tested. We’d been challenged before, of course, but this was unique. It would be a question of pure strength and also of managing ‘the burn’. As we passed through the tiny town of Sargent, CO, and curved to face the mountains, the first foothill invited us to try. “Here we go, Matty-Boy”, said Mince.
Amped up and eager to prove, I sprinted ahead. Full-force, I was going to attack this big hill and when finished, summit Monarch Peak. My strategy was to push it to the limit and just force the bike over the hill. I was going to get scrappy.
It wasn’t a fair fight. Not in the slightest. I dominated that mountain. I’d have to say that it was one of the best feelings that I’ve had anywhere in the world of sports. Certainly a top three. I was up out of the saddle for the final mile or so, and I can’t say enough about how fun it was to have the opportunity to train correctly and then succeed in such a beautiful place. I wish all of the challenges in my life could end this way, but that’s just not the way it works. So, I’ll take the opportunity to enjoy today.
Kevin pedaled up the hill a few minutes after me; he had a different strategy, which was to take his time, pace himself and enjoy the views that the climb had to offer. He’s sick that way. I think he likes it sometimes!
For me, three thoughts kept me grinding away (again, I never slowed down one bit, much less stopped):
1) The quote at the top of this blog. This was a radio call that Kevin got at 2am on a summer morning in 2003 when he was in Iraq. It’s verbatim, and it came from a Brigade Commander, its audience being multiple Infantry battalions, including Kevin as a soldier. They were to wake up and rally their troops in order to, while still dark, drive insurgents out of a town that had recently been liberated. There were heinous acts taking place there, and Kevin and his peers had been briefed on the mission and the possibility of it being a ‘go’. What would it be like to receive such orders? I’m proud to know some people that can carry the burden the way that Kevin did. What a tough balance that amount of power and judgment must be. And it’s not like it’s the safest thing to be out doing.
2) Once again, Amaya Williams came to mind. It was nothing that specific, but was just the sound of her voice. She said, ‘Kevin, look at me! I’m flying!”. She was running around with her arms out like kids can do. It was the pitch of her voice, and that she wanted nothing more than to have Kevin see her. And…you bet Kevin stopped what he was doing to see, and make sure that she knew she was seen.
3) Plain and simple, focusing on breathing and form. I’ve had some great people help me prepare for this trip, and I’ve learned a lot from them. The game-changer for me on this climb was a nifty trick that I hope you can use as well. While my legs were burning (pain, but a healthy pain, nonetheless) and my neck was on fire from that pinched nerve or whatever’s going on there) I was able to manage it. Here’s how: instead of ignoring it, I acknowledged it. I admitted it was there, accepted it, then immediately demoted it. Didn’t give it any ‘playing time’. Instead, I thought about Kevin’s story (which was just one of many), Amaya and breathing/smiling and form. Hope that makes sense.
When we got to the top, it was quite a rush to be at the Continental Divide. We ate lunch and enjoyed the views. Meanwhile, a group of other riders came to say hello. There were around 15 of them, it seemed. They too were doing a cross-country trip, and also, they were doing it for a great cause. Theirs was an affordable housing project that was being done in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. They were great people and we enjoyed talking about our mutual causes, as well as sharing notes on what the other was about to encounter. Their organization is called www.bikeandbuild.org.
The afternoon was spent doing the best descent of the entire trip. 18 miles of cruising down the mountain. Kevin had a helmet cam on, so there should be some footage up soon. I wish all days could be like this one!
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit,
Care Creates Community,