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Monday, 17 July 2017

Day 20... Swansong

Nothing worth having is easily won...

I woke up this morning with the knowledge that I was in for a hard day.
This day is what could be called in cycling terms... The Queen's Stage
The hardest of them all. Would I be equal to it?

This day was basically an uphill day from the very start to the top of the pass..  starting from 5500ft and rising once again to over 11000ft in just over 60 miles was going to test my physical and mental strength in a big way.

Once again it was already pretty hot by the time I got on the road... having stuffed down a few bagels and a make your own waffle type thing for breakfast.
The first 10 miles were on what is called 'false flat'... looks like a flat road... especially if driving it... but actually you are gaining height all the time. It saps the strength from your legs and mind. .. and that's all before the real climbing starts.

After about 10 miles I stopped at a coffee shop... seemingly randomly planted in the middle of nowhere. It had a steady stream of customers however and as I sat there with my banana smoothie and 2 bottles of gatorade I was thinking about what I had to accomplish today.... with more than a little trepidation.
Smoothie finished and procrastination done I set off again... the next destination was Ouray... the last town before the big pass.  This road essentially wound up a couple of thousant feet ... the mountains always in the distance... beckoning... calling... challenging. My brain was basically repeatedly going 'oh shit' as I got nearer and nearer... the scale of the climb was being revealled and it didn't look pretty... well it looked pretty... stunning in fact... but not pretty to my legs!

I eventually got to Ouray and looked for a place for food. I was already knackered from the constant drag upwards to get to this point and one part of my brain was looking longingly at the motels... vacancy... vacancy....
The other part of my brain was saying .. I WILL NOT be defeated. .

If I was going to do this... I had to get on my bike...
A fact I kept telling myself as I walked up the main street of Ouray... known as the Switzerland of America!

Stretching up above the town I could see the cars struggling up a series of switchbacks... cmon then... lets do battle!

And so it began... the first switchbacks surprisingly ok... lulling me into a false sense of security... just 13 miles of this then... thats ok... said my head...

But the altimeter told a different tale... still over 3000ft to climb in only 13 miles was a huge undertaking. Immediately I was high above the town and the view just got better and better. Surrounded by mountains it was justifying its name as the Million Dollar Highway for sure. My main problem was that there was no shoulder and no safety barriers... with loose gravel at the side leading to a very steep... very long drop off.
The wind was now buffetting me a little as well and I don't mind admitting that I was petrified at times...so much so that on many an occasion I was cycling in the middle of the road... just to feel safe..
I am not exaggerating the danger... if a car forced me to move a little to the right and I hit a rock or skidded... it wouldnt be hard to imagine skittering over the edge.


And so I progressed slowly up... the series of switchbacks switched for a 7-8% gradient which sapped energy like a fan heater... fast!

I passed some people getting their ATV'S ready to go up a dirt trail... a woman smiled at me as I passed and said 'I dont know how you do it'... my reply... Im not sure at the moment either...

I was gulping down gallons of water and gatorade but still felt like I was becoming badly dehydrated... the sun still out and relentless... though once again storm clouds were building. Much as the heat was bad... climbing this was bad enough when the cars had good visability....

Another series of switchbacks... and still it kept on coming... by now at 9000ft and still 2000ft to go... this was hurting. My knees were aching badly especially after a stop and my mental mood was sinking lower and lower... playing tricks on me...

Why don't you stop and thumb a lift to the top.... pretend your bike is broken... pretend your knee just popped.... anything to end this suffering ..
The scenarios being created by my brain were all plausible ways I could get out of this... and I think actually helped my resolve... bear with me....

I work better... i.e my stubborness works better if I think I have a choice. My brain was telling me that there was a way out of the pain and misery I was currently undertaking and therefore I was choosing to continue...

In the back of my mind... there was NO WAY that I would not get to the top of this under my own power unless I physically collapsed. But the body can take waay more pain and punishment than you think it can... just as you think you can't go on any more... it steels itself to once again move upwards and onwards. Whether that is because the mind is strong that the body follows I have no idea.... but somehow I kept going up... the pedals kept turning.

I came out of the scary... no barrier... big drop section into a high plateau.. once the preserve of mining companies that led the way across America...
I was struggling up and suddenly a mental boost appeared in the form of one of those 'crazy fools' or touring cyclists...
I crossed to the other side of the road to meet him...
Jason was a low budget nomad... touring and occasionally working...
It was a real boost just to see someone who knew how hard this pass was... who understood the rigours of the road. We chatted a while about the road to come... safety... sh!##!ng ourselves with the road and the drop off and no barriers... bears came into the conversation as they often do... it was just nice to chat
Thanks Jason for the mental boost and I hope you made it safely down the pass!!

So onwards and upwards....
To keep myself going and not just sitting by the road and breaking down... when I stopped I often looked at the altimeter and rounded up... only another 1500ft... thats nothing... already done waay over that...

If I felt I had been stopped too long (over 1 minute) then I would say out loud... 'not going to get anywhere just standing here Lid... time to move'... my little mountain mantra.
To say my LLFF score was approaching 11 would have been underplaying it... my knees were causing me some serious bother and I could feel that there wasn't much left in the energy tank... not just in the legs... body.. mind... FCUKED!

With about 1000ft to go (not sure re distance) I was trying to convince myself I was nearly there... so every time I went round a bend... only to see another series of bends ... it was a bit demoralising. Now however.. I noticed lots of drivers giving me a thumbs up ... or a wave and you have no idea how a)that boosted me and b) how that falsy made me think I was very close... turns out I still had a couple of very painful miles to go...

Somehow I still had a sense of humour... either that or the heat and dehydration had sent me a bit doolally... but I was laffing that I might still be on the mountain by christmas... I know but it kept me going by laughing at myself and my exhausted state.

Another ... yes... another series of switchbacks and as I wound round them ... I saw a car approaching... uphill... had I actually got there... the final big pass of this ride... or was there another bend and more switchbacks...
No... this was it... it was actually finally the top of the pass...my legs spun round to take me and my bike over to the summit sign...
Shakey legs got me off the bike...
I leaned it carefully against the sign...
Sat down...
And burst into floods of tears...

Why?
Relief... exhaustion... stress (physical and mental) ... sheer overwhelming happiness...
Sadness and pain in my soul missing those who can no longer follow the journey... the pinnacle of this journey starting to sink in to my being...

All of the above hit me at once

As I was sitting there head in hands .. a car drew up... two lads  and their dad ... asked if I was ok...
Yeah... I was ok...
Tried to explain... probably badly about the journey...
Gathered for a photo... strangers no longer as they are now part of the story and the journey...

Chase and Brian.. (wearing the Who T shirt) joined me for a summit photo..
Then Larry came from his car and held out to me an old dollar coin.. for me to keep.. part of the journey...
I protested... but he insisted saying it was worth more to him being given as a gift to me...
Stunned and touched from this gesture I shook  his hand... trying not to be overwhelmed again. It somehow meant so much... this gesture of togetherness I guess... especially in a world which at times sedms so full of apart- ness...

Larry... Chase..Brian... thank you so much... for making me smile and being part of this journey.


And then it was downhill..
Yeah my brakes still not working great...
Somehow the rumbling thunder to my left hand side had failed to materialise into the promised downpour and so it was on dry roads with shafts of sunlight through the greyish clouds accompanying me on my descent... which in places was sketchier than the ascent... but the cars were good... patient in overtaking. They didn't always have a choice when I was sat in the middle of the road but it ensured I was seen.

The mountains seemed less forboding and the red earth that gave the mountain pass (Red mountain) its name vividly shone out as I wound my way down... so little effort now required .. it seemed to make a mockery of the exertion required to get up.

I rolled into Silverton... relief the overwhelming emotion. I had booked in a hostel... a mixed dorm room... and made my way there... gaping open mouthed at this wierd.. quaint.. old-new... cowboy... town.
But exploring can be left for tomorrow.. as it was now firmly set in my mind that my knees and body required a rest day and this strange place was as  good a place as any!

I got food... and a most delicious ice cream sundae... and then collapsed. Blog... photos.. unwritten. That can be done tomorrow

I will fight back till the day I die...
But this... for now... is the Swansong... the pinnacle of this journey.

I have decided to at least cycle into New Mexico... so 2 more days of the ups and downs of life on the road.

Today... I truly #sufferedforsponsorship.
Everything I am was left on that pass...
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We are all part of this fight...
We are all part of this journey!

LOVE HOPE STRENGTH