“Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard…with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.” – Hunter S. Thompson
With a racing season that starts in earnest at the beginning of March and typically stretches into September, coupled with endless miles and hours spent training year-round, I feel that most cyclists are prone to a bit of mid-season burnout once the sun truly begins baking down on them in the heart of the summer. Not immune to those “weasels” myself, I decided this past summer to take advantage of a relative lull in the NYC-area racing calendar and escape for some novel cycling adventures (minus the “heinous chemicals” of course). After some last-minute Airbnb searching and cat-sitting arrangements, I made a playlist and loaded my car for the long drive west to Boulder, CO.
The drive itself was perfect in that it allowed me to visit my parents in Chicago both on the way there and back. It really opened my eyes to how vast and varied this country is: rolling mountains through Pennsylvania; flat expanses across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; wind-farm pocked landscapes in Iowa; endless farmlands spanning Nebraska; and eerie, barren moonscapes covering Colorado until the Rockies rise in front of you.
A day and a half after leaving NYC, I made it to Colorado and, naturally, the first thing I wanted to do was go riding. I suppose it’s good that I was running short on daylight when I arrived because that first hour-long ride felt much harder than it should have. Heck, even walking up and down the driveway at my rental place felt like I was breathing through a straw. I made it back to my temporary home just after the sun went down and a light rain started to fall, ready to load up on dinner and plot my riding for the next few days of my trip. While common sense and good advice would dictate gradually acclimating to riding at altitude with a few easy rides, stubborn me decided to jump right in and make the most of my few short days in Boulder.
Day one, despite waking up late from a combination of highway fatigue and oxygen-deprived sleep, saw me set out on a 65 mile, 4-hour ride: not fast by any standard, but including 5500+ feet of climbing and traveling up to 9000 feet of elevation. Strange things happen to the body that high above sea-level. My hands and feet started losing feeling, head began swimming, and, despite drinking water like a fish, I suffered from dehydration as evidenced by the salt stains building up on my arms and legs. Those symptoms, however, couldn’t take away from the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the high point on my ride and couldn’t stop me from marveling in the sheer beauty of that place (after I stopped freaking out over the lack of cell-reception and started to trust in my navigational skills). The roads in the Boulder area, those not under construction at least, are seemingly built for the deep-rooted cycling community that lives there, and the lack of car traffic was quite the welcome change from the standard NYC-area craziness. Later that evening, I met up with an NYC teaching friend (small world) and found it surprisingly difficult to finish my beer at dinner, either because of altitude, exhaustion, or both. That night I slept like a baby.
The following days in Colorado were variations on the same theme: waking up later than normal because of fatigue and adaptation to altitude; rolling out for tough riding due to seemingly endless climbing, higher than normal elevation, or both; and generally winding down in the evenings after taking in some of what the Boulder-area had to offer. Other highlights of my trip included a bit of a self-guided tour of some of the local breweries and distilleries, because maybe I was interested in some of Colorado’s “heinous chemicals” after all. My trip also happened to coincide with the Boulder Ironman Triathlon in which a friend of mine was competing. Though my last day of riding saw some detours to avoid parts of the race course, it was still cool to see people pushing themselves to complete not only an Ironman, but one that happened to take place entirely above one mile in elevation. Though utterly exhausted by my whirlwind trip across the country to find a mountain or two on which to ride, I spent much of my drive home plotting a return. It was a nice way to break from the doldrums of the summer racing season and stave off a bit of burnout. And, it didn’t hurt to do so in some of the most beautiful bit of country America has to offer…for those who are outdoors-inclined at least. Boulder, I’ll be back.
Corey Williams – Cat 3 Road Racer