Thunder and Lightning (Day Twenty-Two)
The nerve-wracking incident of Day Twenty-One was definitely on our minds as we pulled out of Montrose. I was glad to be able to borrow some of The Coach’s wisdoms as perspective was put into place. My goal was to approach the day with a guttural calmness while taking a renewed vigilance with regards to safety; specifically, I wanted to be mindful about the concept of anticipation. They say that ‘safety is no accident’, and it’s clear that SGT Mincio shouldn’t be the only safety officer out on the course.
Our day was front-loaded with climbing; our first 30 miles ‘gave’ us 4,600 feet of elevation gain. It was a steady grind, though, and for the most part our spirits were high. Kevin was definitely deep in thought however. So, with focus, we climbed. Throughout the day, we would encounter two storms and outrun a third. This came as no surprise, as there were extreme weather warnings throughout the previous evening as well as that which the radio burped out as we geared up and packed the support vehicle.
The first storm caught us just as we were a short few miles from our first summit. It’s truly amazing to ponder how it works here in the mountains when it comes to weather. To say that things happen quickly would be a colossal understatement. I’ve never had an appreciation for the way that patterns can shift, but then…I’ve never attempted to ride a bicycle across deserts, high plains and the Rockies. So, anyway, this first storm was just suddenly on top of us. Not a lot of warning, other than what we’d heard through the media. With a quickness, she just announced that she was there. Loud thunder grumbled, but we pushed on. It sounded like it was miles away, so we thought that we could beat it through the pass. The next grumble was more of a rumble, though, so with a stumble we decided to make some moves. As luck/fate/blessing would have it, we spotted a small grove of trees in a rising meadow, just across the road. The fortune/karma/divine intervention that I mention comes from the fact that, for miles before and what would be miles after that particular moment, there were no trees. Anywhere. Just shrubs and bushes, all of which would have very little to offer in terms of shelter from the lightning which was going to be coming in a hurry. It’s one thing to get surprised by thunder. Lightning would be slightly worse. I mean, if I thought I was sore now…
So with safety in mind, we scrambled across the field to the grove and huddled under the trees with our bikes in tow, taking it all in. It was a wise decision. We watched the storm move over us, and it was clocking some speed! I think it was moving faster than Kevin and Heather’s whippets (have you seen those dogs run?!?!). With a schedule to keep, though, and also armed with the knowledge that there were multiple weather systems in the area that day, we got after it again as soon as the danger was gone. But...lack of danger doesn’t mean lack of bad weather, so we accepted Mama Nature’s decision to dump on us with rain as we continued. It was actually pretty cool. At one point I looked down and the rain bouncing off of the road was coming up around 12 or even 18 inches. We got soaked. In full control of our optimism, we realized that at least the rain would cool us down as we continued to climb. So, we climbed.
Just before we got to Pleasant Valley (yes, it was pleasant; and, I suppose you could call it a valley. But, I’m using its formal name, here), the sun came out and the road we were dominating became dry as a bone. Again, pretty amazing the way it works here in the mountains. The rain had not stopped for five minutes when everything looked so strikingly different.
In Pleasant Valley, we enjoyed the opportunity to have lunch, drain our shoes, wring out our shirts, and just sort of exist. Met some great people at lunch, and when the Austin Healey fan club rolled through, all of them to have lunch, it was a very surreal experience. I guess that the owners, with their fabulous roadsters, were all headed for a show that was in Colorado Springs for the holiday weekend. While we were at Pleasant Valley’s best restaurant (OK, it was the only restaurant, but it had a gas station as well, and a tackle shop, so it was sorta nifty that way), there were nine Austin Healey masterpieces that showed themselves. We mingled and next thing I knew, I was watching my friend Kevin, again improving on his abilities/inclination to ‘put himself out there’. He was having a great conversation with a gentleman who is a veteran, who served in the Air Force for 21 years. Overall, the experience made me realize that A) it’s great to have a passion; these people were brought together for their love of British-made, ubiquitous roadsters. They were living life to the fullest; they were seizing their opportunity to engage. And, B) them Austin Healey whips are really cool. Bet my brother would have been in heaven, as would have my friend Jesse Evavold. Jesse would have really liked the convertibles! Headroom!
So, with full bellies and fuller hearts, we headed up to the next pass. After safely negotiating some slim (like, 3 inches) margins on the side of the road, we arrived at the top. It wasn’t easy, either. Pretty sure that it was ‘bring your combination tractor-trailer full of lumber/heavy machinery/large manufacturing iron pieces through the pass’ day. Because there were more big rigs than cars. Us cyclists were definitely outnumbered, as the only other person peddling was a grown man on a twelve year olds BMX bike, and he was just doing laps in a parking lot.
Anyway, it was at the top when storm two came on. It was beautiful. I’ve never heard wind do what it did, and what it chose to do when we were at the top. It felt like Armageddon was coming. The deep howling sound echoed through the valley ahead of us and the canyon we had just owned. To see its effect on a mountaintop lake was even more stunning. It shredded the still water and turned the estuary into a living organism. The thunder clap that ensued was still at least two miles behind us, although the rain was visible, and just a few hundred yards back. We looked at each other, knowing that we’d promised to ‘put safety first’. Then, we grinned and decided to outrun the beast. And run we did (pedal, in fact). What an amazing sensory experience, at all levels. We could hear heavy rain slamming the earth behind us; a river was raging to our right and we rode harder than ever towards a jagged split in the rocked wall that careened the road. We neglected our brakes and pushed our pedals hard, fast and often. We left that storm in the dust, and would have outpaced the whippets as well, had they been on the course. A single marmot chirped approval as we coasted to victory on the stretch into Curecanti National Park.
We were cruising with a vengeance, smelling the finish line when Bev and Mike McTigue pulled over in front of us. They were on their way to visit friends in Crested Butte, and recognized our Stars and Stripes gear. They had most graciously opened their home to us when we were in Telluride, and it’s safe to say that all who were there learned a thing or two about being a great host that evening. We talked for a few minutes, and then they pulled out again.
To our left, and closing fast was the third storm. It hadn’t started making any noise yet, but it was easily the darkest and widest of the three we’d seen. But, again, we were smelling the finish line, and the course that wound around the inlets and coves of Blue Mesa Lake was a stunning backdrop for our third race of the day.
When we rode into the lot at our hotel, my theory that ‘it’s all about the people’ rang true, as the McTigues were there again, this time just with intention (as opposed to random fate) and they were prepared to greet us with refreshments and a final farewell.
We took the opportunity to enjoy their company and the aforementioned refreshments.
As we checked in and got our rooms sorted out, we heard the thunder outside, and then it started pouring. We’ve got another two days of this weather, and my hope is that it’s as fun as it was today.
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit,
Care Creates Community,