As we left off in the last post, Jessi and I had just come into Keystone, coming fast off the descent of Loveland Pass just a few miles – and a few thousand feet above us. I don’t know about Jessi, but I was absolutely enthralled by the experience at Loveland Pass. Seeing her success, taking photos and congratulation others were fantastic, but the icing on the cake was the bagpipe player perched high upon a hill, playing for us. That is a memory I won’t soon forget. His melodies came at a perfect time to seal the emotion of the moment.
Once in Keystone, BillyD met us at an appointed place where we had a little celebration. He had a different kind of music playing, some water and snacks displayed on the trunk of our rental car. This man knows how to celebrate! His encouragement and hugs were accepted heartily from both Jessi and me.
A friend had told me that there was a little bump in the road as we headed towards Copper Mountain next. Swan Mountain is just a little a 2-mile annoyance, but enough to garner one’s attention. Immediately upon leaving the potholed parking lot and waving a little farewell to BillyD, the short climb began. The gradient wasn’t so sharp, but as our wheels tipped upwards, we knew that our legs were – once again – being asked to push harder. The grade maxed out at about 8%, which is normally nothing to us, but felt a bit more challenging after 73 miles. We stopped at the top, as Jessi wasn’t feeling so well. After a few minutes, we were good to go. Copper Mountain and Vail Pass lay up the road….teasing us and beckoning us to push ourselves even more. Earlier, another rider had told us, once we were Loveland was behind us, we had this in the bag.
But did we really?
There were others around us: locals who knew the route, that gave us unsolicited advice. One told us that we had two separate 8-mile climbs ahead: Copper Mtn and Vail Pass. Jessi and I were doing the math, and we could not figure out how 16 more miles of climbs and their descents could amount to 106 miles that we agreed to. After all, we were close to mile 90 by now. We laughed a lot and tried all sorts of mathematical equations to make it make sense. We decided to just trust the computers and keep pressing onward and upward. We would be done when we hit the Finish Line.
As we climbed into Copper Mountain, a lady on the side of the trail was shouting, “Fireball ahead!” This was confusing to me in the moment, until we found her fella down the road with a handle of Fireball in one hand and a Solo cup with a shot in the other. He tried to hand it to us, but we graciously refused. Oh my! This was something that I hadn’t seen before! The scene did make us laugh – which is probably why they did it. While not sure how many takers they had, I just knew that it wasn’t a good idea for me to participate.
We hit the summit of Copper Mountain with no fanfare. Another local told us that we only had about 5 more miles to the top of Vail Pass. Jessi and I were confused, because we thought we had much more climbing to do. What about the two 8-mile climbs? Surely someone was mistaken. Another local near us and let us know that we only had 3.5 miles at a 3% gradient. We were very happy to learn this, as I was starting to feel fatigue bite into my legs. I knew that Jessi’s legs had been talking to her for some time.
We stopped every few miles to eat, refocus and stretch. The scenery continued to be beautiful to take in: wildflowers of various colors, a small creek to our left, mountains made of granite towering above us in different directions. What a nice diversion from the discomforts that tried to creep in.
Please allow to take a moment and boast on this young woman, who has been riding for just about a year. Jessi rode on a compact crank with a 28 cassette. I was on a giant 34 cassette. A big difference, but she is so young and strong. Her attitude is always positive. She is determined. The first time I met her earlier this year, I saw potential. She possesses a quality that I could easily recognize as one who is willing to learn, grow and challenge herself. Someone asked my why on earth I would encourage her to do this. My answer: I believed she could complete this course. Only she knew if she believed as well.
We climbed the final miles to Vail Pass on a bike trail. The same local man didn’t venture far from us, and gave us continual encouragement as to how much longer we had to climb. “We are 1.5 miles from the summit”, he declared with a broad smile on his youthful face. We were appreciative and let him know.
Near the end of the climb there were a few hairpin turns. We were at approximately 10,500′ elevation. We made it to the top of the final climb. Jessi requested a short stop with no ego present. When I looked at her, I saw it in her face: she needed to get off the bike immediately. I told her, “Give me your bike and go get your feet up.” She was pale and dizzy. She obliged.
Quickly, I leaned our bikes and attended to her. She was OK, but needed a little break. What she was feeling is not uncommon in these elevations. I encouraged her to take deep breaths, to fill the lungs. She sat on the side of the trail near a small outcropping of rocks. It didn’t take long for her attention to turn to a little chipmunk who seemed to be curious about her presence. I believe this was a pivotal moment for my friend.
Once she felt better, we were excited about this final descent into Vail. The narrow trail widened and with no one near us, I cut loose and pushed hard, using the pent up calories and energy that I had been preserving. My watts had been at an all-time low… just about 90, which was unheard of in my last few months of training. I pushed the descent and felt so strong. It was amazing! Several times, I sat up and waited for Jessi.
About 3 miles from the finish, I looked for my young friend again. The wide, trail disappeared and was replaced with a narrow and – at times – scary strip of asphalt. Only about 6′ wide with sharp descents and turns were a bit harrowing. Some portions were wet from a previous rain. Warning signs stating “Steep and Sharp Turns Ahead” dotted the trail. At one point 5 male cyclists passed me dangerously close and with no warning. I used the brakes a lot and chose the safest lines on this – my least favorite part of the route.
Finally the tail once again opened up to a full-fledged road, but it was available only to cyclists. I tucked in and relished every moment. There was one man, estimated to be in his upper 60s, who traded the lead with me over and over. My ego wanted to show him up, but he was stronger. He passed me on the final push into Vail.
I pulled over with 2 miles to go and waited for Jessi. I saw something different in her: something had changed. Her confidence prevailed. Her eyes danced with joy! The Triple Bypass sought to defeat her.
But she overcame. This event, I predict, will be have a big impact on her life in many ways.
Way to #Live It Jessi! Way to believe!