Weekend Recap: 80 Miles in Colorado Wine Country

Boy, it took me a week and a half to write my Wineglass Marathon race report – and now I’ve already had another epic weekend that I want to write about! I really need to get better about blogging in a timely manner…

After some morning meetings in Dallas, Friday found me on a tiny plane to Grand Junction, Colorado. The second I stepped off the plane (and actually, even while we were coming down for our landing and I was staring nose-to-glass out the window), I felt happy and at home. As BF teased me about many times throughout the weekend, I seem to have some kind of mountain fetish – throw any kind of mountains in the background and I think the scene is so stunning that it requires me to interrupt all conversations and gawk. I love the Rockies!

But before I could get too enamored, I had to spend a day being nervous about my reason for being in Colorado in the first place. My friend Kelly and her fiance organize an annual bike tour out in Western Colorado, and this time I was invited! However, Kelly and Den are pretty avid bikers – they’ve done multiple century rides and are constantly spending their weekends biking in the hills and mountains. How was I going to keep up?

To make things worse, I didn’t really prep at all for the ride – I logged a few sessions on the stationary bike at my hotel gym, but my actual bike remained locked up in the bicycle room at my New York apartment. (It has also now occurred to me that it has been there for two years, and I sincerely hope that it hasn’t been trashed by my building due to disuse; I need to break it out soon!) Friends assured me that I would be okay since I was in good shape, but I honestly didn’t believe them. Surely biking had to be very different than running? And while I can go out and run a marathon with no training, that’s only because I’ve done it so many times that my body is perpetually trained – I couldn’t imagine doing that for my first time.

But ready or not, it was riding weekend! First stop was Rapid Creek Cycles, to pick up a rental bike. If you are ever in the area, I’d highly recommend it! Dave was fantastically helpful and kitted out the bike with baskets on the pedals (so that I could ride with my sneakers instead of fancy clip on shoes), water bottle cages, a repair kit, and a light for going through the dark tunnels. Combine that with the cute Athleta outfit I had picked up for the occasion (the Seamless Moorland half-zip and padded Spin Shorts). Despite not being an experienced cyclist, I had all the right gear, which helped to give me some confidence!

I joined the small group that had already gathered at the Wine Valley Inn B&B (others wouldn’t be arriving until later that night / Saturday morning), and we headed out. I had been warned not to fear the steep 1/2 mile long hill that we faced early on (that was supposed to be the worst of Friday’s ride), and soon enough we were happily pedaling through wine country. Just a few miles in, we hit our first winery, and I was glad to try the yummy offerings!

Before I knew it, it was onto the next one just a few more miles down the road. We ended up hitting four wineries in pretty quick succession. You know how they say “tequila makes her clothes fall off?” Well, turns out that alcohol also loosened my inhibitions about biking as well. After trying the wines at four different places, I was a lot less scared of biking and I felt pretty confident about our ride the next day. I was pleased that the 19 miles we ridden hadn’t seemed to take its toll on me, since that was the most I had ever ridden. In fact, so far, this didn’t seem too bad! Sure, BF and I would probably hang in the back of the pack (and by “back of the pack” I mean “miles behind everyone else who is actually in the pack”), but I could do this!

After cleaning up and enjoying an incredible dinner in downtown Grand Junction with all my new biking friends, BF got in and I shared with him my excitement for the next day. We were going to rock this!

Saturday morning dawned bright and early, and we fueled up with bagels and cream cheese – a luxury I typically only allow myself when I’m gearing up for a marathon. I think biking close to 70 miles counted as an occasion to require extra fuel! I know that you’re not supposed to reward yourself for physical activity with food, but it makes it easier to avoid treats like that the rest of the time if I know it will be coming at a certain time. Besides, I do enough marathons that it’s not that infrequent an indulgence!

After going back to Rapid Creek Cycles to get BF’s bike gear all together, we met up with the group and headed out pretty quickly. BF and I were immediately left in the dust at the first big hill (the same one from our wine tour the day before), but we had expected that and were fine with it – we had a list of directions for the entire ride, and I figured I could always use Google Maps on my phone to figure out where to go if we got lost. In the meantime, we enjoyed the gorgeous views and talked about anything and everything while we rode. I couldn’t get over the stunning Colorado scenery (I think anyplace in the Rockies could be in contention for most beautiful place on Earth), and kept remarking on it to the point that BF was like “okay okay I get it, you like it here.” Yes I do! So when can we move??

We caught up to another rider briefly (only because he had made a wrong turn) and stuck with him a few miles, but once we reached the entrance to Colorado National Monument, he headed off way ahead of us… and BF and I were left with a steep climb that would last 15 miles. This was going to be the toughest part of the ride, and I honestly wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge. I considered dropping out (our sag wagon was nearby, ready to take us to the top and let us resume from there), but BF convinced me to give it a try.

As we started the climb, it became clear that it wasn’t really possible to stick together. We were required to go single file on the side of the road so cars wouldn’t hit us, and it was tricky for BF to wait for me when I was behind, because the incline didn’t make it easy to stop and start. I told him to go on ahead – but immediately regretted the decision. The road was so steep that I had trouble keeping my wheel straight as I tried to pump my legs back and forth and get into a rhythm, but just a foot to my right was a steep drop of thousands of feet – and no guardrail. I was terrified that I was going to find myself going over the edge, particularly when cars would pass and freak me out.

By the time I got to the first tunnel, I was beyond scared. I had to stop in order to turn on my bike light, but then I couldn’t get my feet back in the baskets. Furthermore, I only had a light on the back of my bike (not the front), and I was terrified that a car coming the other direction would swerve and blindly hit me in the pitch-dark tunnel. I emerged from the tunnel a crying mess, and was so glad that BF was on the other side to calm me down. An even better sight was our sag wagon only about another 1/4 mile up the road – I just had to make it to her and then I could toss my bike in the trunk and meet BF at the top. I skipped only about 3 miles, but as we drove the “course,” I was really glad that I had dropped out. While the road didn’t get any steeper, the dropoff on the side of the road continued the rest of the way. I couldn’t have made that on my own!

…or could I? When I met up with BF and started biking again, I felt so completely recharged that I wonder if a quick rest stop and a sanity check were all that I had needed. Furthermore, he told me it really hadn’t been that tough riding, and that he thought I absolutely could have made it. What had I done?! I was furious with myself for letting my nerves get in the way and calling it quits when I should have just toughed it out. Why did I second guess my ability? Why didn’t I challenge myself to see just how far I could push it? That was the attitude that had led me to make the jump from trying to run just one mile to eventually finishing my first marathon, and I was really disappointed that I still didn’t seem to have that bravery and drive that I once did.

I couldn’t spend too much time mulling it over, though. We had now reached the highest point of the peak, which meant there were gorgeous views to experience – and still another 30 miles home to ride!

Ironically enough, I found the downhill even scarier than the uphill – mostly because I was terrified of speeding out of control and going over the edge. Did you notice how in all those pics above, only one has a guardrail? Most of the time there was nothing between you and the sheer drop, and I worried that my fatigue would cause me to lose my grip on the handles and also the brakes (which I was clutching pretty much the whole way down). By the time I finally reached the bottom, the sun was starting to set, and BF and I had to hustle to get back before dark. In the end, we took a shortcut to our hotel (instead of biking the extra miles to our friends’ B&B where we started) to avoid being caught in the dark. This took about 10 miles off our route, but our total still ended up being 64 miles for the day (mine was 60 thanks to the cheating car ride in the middle).

Arriving back, I felt conflicted. I had a wonderful time on the ride and was so incredibly proud of myself for biking 60 miles in the mountains – especially when my “long ride” before that had only been 7 miles, and on a stationary bike at the gym, no less! But at the same time, I was really disappointed with myself for being a baby and a quitter when I cried going through the tunnel. Why couldn’t I have handled it with a smile on my face? Why didn’t I just try to keep going? Sometimes athletic pursuits can teach you a lot about yourself and your true character, and I really hated what came out of me on that ride.

But! The rest of our time in Colorado was fabulous. Too tired to join the group for dinner, BF and I hit up a local bar that was known for a great craft beer selection (where I had a few sips and then came close to passing out at the table since I was so exhausted). On Sunday, we journeyed with our friends to Aspen to check out a few wedding venues (they’ll be getting married there in June), and then went to an incredible wine bar in the Denver area where we joined up with some college friends who moved out to Colorado about a year ago. BF and I had taken Monday off work, so we then spent that checking out downtown Denver, going to the zoo (at first I thought it would be lame but I ended up loving every second of it and thinking it was the best “date” of my life!), and catching up with some other friends for another beer dinner before catching our late night flights home. It had been a whirlwind weekend tour of Colorado, but definitely a successful one.

So I’ll conclude this long weekend recap with the top three things I’m pondering as a result of my trip:
1. Am I a wuss for quitting? Has something about my personality/drive changed over the years? And, how can I be more relaxed in situations like this instead of turning into a dramatic crying baby that no one wants to be around?
2. Should I move to Denver? (Currently at 90% yes.) When? Where? More trips needed – I love it there!
3. What is the optimal ratio of biking to craft beer consumption that will allow me to maximize the latter while minimizing my waistline? I think a lot more research is needed on this one…

Comments

  1. Wow, you are being so hard on yourself! If a friend had the same experience as you and was beating herself up about it, what would you say to her?

    You’ve had so very, very little biking experience in the last two years and probably never on mountain roads with cars, that would bike plenty of people uncomfortable. Maybe, crying isn’t the best coping mechanism (said with love and a smile because I was crying about something stupid just yesterday), but calling yourself a wuss certainly isn’t necessary. Riding 60 miles with hills is a huge triumph in my book. I ride my bike nearly everyday, but I still hate hills and my wrist, shoulders, and butt are killing me by mile 50. You did a great job Laura!

  2. I totally understand your fear on the mountain road… I was once in that situation DRIVING up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in NH…I was so paralyzed by the narrow road and sheer drops that I had to let someone else drive. Fear of heights is legit! Don’t feel bad.

  3. Girl you are braver than me! I don’t even know if I could handle going thru all of those mountains! I would probably bust my butt and hurt myself :-/ Anyway sounds like a fun trip and Colorado is beautiful!! I would definitely love to do a race up there one day!

  4. There’s a big difference between stopping because it’s difficult and stopping because it’s dangerous. This was dangerous, so I think it’s OK to cut yourself some slack.

  5. Thank you for sparing me this post until now. I will share it with Janet from Norwood Street who is a huge fan of your running achievements. She and her significant other, both experienced bike trip enthusiasts, take large bike groups around the country. I am certain she will be in awe of your 60 mile feat with minimal training and applaud the detour via sag wagon as a pretty smart survival maneuver on your part. You did an awesome job given the rigorous terrain and potential for human error on the part of those vehicles with whom you shared the road (and tunnel). Be proud!

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