Way back when in Boulder, and during an era when the bike-rider-that-shall-not-be-named theoretically won a lot of Tours de France, I bought a charity ride with Tyler Hamilton. If you don’t know Tyler, he was the antithesis of the rider-that-shall-not-be-named. His teammates loved him. He was super exciting to watch. He had a tolerance for pain that was unworldly. He rode one Tour with a broken collar bone and proceed to win a stage on a crazy solo breakaway. Yikes.
We ended up doing a long ride up Left Hand Canyon, back down Boulder Canyon and then up Sunshine Canyon to his house. It was long ride with a lot of climbing. For the entire ride, it was me, Russ (a 3-time national mountain bike champion), Brady (a semi-pro racer) and Tyler. On the way up Sunshine canyon, I totally bonked. Just ran out of juice. I kept telling Tyler to let me suffer alone, but he would not.
Susanne was going to meet us at Tyler’s house and as we were inching our way up the road, she showed up. I was like “whew, now I can just get a ride with her.” Susanne rolled down the window to see how things were going and I said I was going to get in the car. Tyler rode over to Susanne and told her to keep going that I wasn’t going to get in the car. Bastard!
I suffered my way up to his house and collapsed in the driveway with cramps. Ugh. What an embarrassment. After I had recovered and ate some food all was good. Tyler told me that he wouldn’t let me get in the car because he could tell I liked the suffering and that I would have been disappointed later if I had not completed the ride. He was definitely right about the disappointment part, but the suffering? Hmmm, jury is still out on that one.
I had read up about a mountain bike ride near where we are staying and to quote one reviewer:
“One of the absolute top rides in the state, the downhill flow of Devils Gulch, is the real deal. ”
Well then, how could I not want to do that!
The trail is rated as intermediate which is the level I like to ride. I am getting too old for more technical stuff. The one challenge is that it descends a long way and then you have to ride back up. Most people start at the bottom, ride up the ATV road and then descend down the Devil’s Gulch trail. That would have required a long drive which seemed a waste of time.
Susanne drove me up to the ski area (a very short drive from where we are staying) where I could do a short climb and then hop on the Pipeline trail that would take me to the start of the descent down Devil’s Gulch. It was cool at the start and the day was shaping up to be partly cloudy. Perfect for riding. I told Susanne that I would “descend like a grandpa on vacation” since I was riding by myself in a pretty remote area with little or no cell connectivity. I figured the whole ride would take me 4 to 4.5 hrs.
I headed down the trail with high spirits and a bit of apprehension for the couple of technical spots I knew were on the trail. Overall it was pretty easy going with the exception of it being quite a narrow trail. As I descended the trail got quite steep, but even more so the slope I was traversing was at times a cliff. Some of the reviews had described this trail as “flowy,” which usually means you can just relax and let the bike do the work and you don’t have to think about anything.
This was not that. It took total concentration. The riding itself was definitely blue, but consequences of a screw up were bad and at times probably potentially deadly. The areas that ranged up into the “deadly” part of the scale, I chose to walk. The others required total mental focus on the trail. When you are riding on a steep side slope like that, it can really mess with your head and your balance, so you just literally have to block out everything except the trail.
To quote one reviewer:
“One of the most fun times I’ve had on my Mtn Bike. Very technical though and calling this a Blue is an understatement. Amazing views. Scary moments on side of cliffs.”
I continued cautiously down the trail without issue, but it was both physically and mentally exhausting. I made it to the bottom in about 1.2 hrs. A little slower than expected, but all in all I was pretty well on schedule. Now all I had to do was make it up the big ass hill, but it was all on dirt road or ATV trail.
I started up the road feeling pretty good. It was a gentle but steady climb up to the fork I was supposed to take. Sadly, I misread the GAIA map and went passed the turnoff and continued on up the road for about an additional 500′ of climbing. Bummer, the last thing an old fart on a long ride needs is to add even more climbing.
I turned around and headed back to the right trail and started up the final 2000′ of the climb. It was surprisingly hard in places because the dirt bikes had torn up the road and created some pretty thick sand piles in places that required a lot of effort to get through.
When I got to about 3000′ in elevation, I noticed that I just wasn’t feeling all that great. I was starting to suffer with some GI discomfort and my power was really dropping off. If you have never experienced what a bonk is like, it does not happen gradually. You don’t just start slowly fading, it goes from “I feel fine” to “oh shit, I feel terrible” in a heartbeat.
I slogged on slowly up the hill with a lot of self-talk along the way (see previous post). My GI issues were getting worse and I was just trying solider on. The last 400′ of climbing seemed to go on forever.
I really didn’t want to have to quit and the last couple miles was all down hill to the house, so I figured I could make it.
When I reached the summit, I let out a weak “Woohoo” and a big sigh of relief.
I cruised down the road to the house and just hung over my handle bars for a few minutes to gather myself. I took off my shoes and helmet and headed into the house. Susanne could tell I wasn’t feeling that great. I drank a ginger ale and tried to recover. I took a shower and laid down on the bed to try and get the body to settle down. After about 3 hrs I started to come back to life, mostly because Susanne made me some salty chicken broth that allowed me to start to process water again.
In the end, I am glad to have done the ride, but it is a good lesson that I need to not ride like I’m 26 and spend more time and thought to managing my old body on such a long ride. I would not, in a million years, describe this trail as “flowy.” It was surprisingly technical and the mental focus required was exhausting.
So maybe Tyler was right, I do like suffering.