Joanne Palmer: Ride the Rockies, through a newbie’s eyes
I'm already ready for next year
June 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Click-clack. Click-clack. Click-clack. The fresh smell of morning dew combines with the welcome aroma of coffee. A swirl of yellow, blues and red spins around me. Grunts, groans. "Ohhhh, rub my shoulders." Diesel semitrailers fire up as volunteers finish loading luggage and securing doors.
Dozens and dozens of colorful cyclists click-clack by doing the penguin walk. There is nothing graceful about trying to walk in road bike shoes. The penguin walk provides comic relief from the fatigue of grinding up a 12,000-foot pass. I watch cyclists "penguining" about the aid stations to fill their water bottles, stuff animal crackers in their jerseys, peel bananas and make adjustments to their bike, their gear, their clothing. Sounds of laughter fill the air along with the call of the Cookie Lady.
"The Cookie Lady is here, right here. I will come to you if you're too tired to come to me."
The Cookie Lady, dressed in a summer skirt and big straw hat, carries a basket filled with oversized homemade cookies, oatmeal, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, flax and other goodies guaranteed to enhance your pedal power.
I've joined a cult. And for the past three days these sights and sounds have been my world. As readers may recall, in a moment of temporary insanity in February, I signed my true love and me up for Ride the Rockies. At the time, I did not own a road bike. I had never attended a spin class. I had never trained for an athletic event. I hate spandex. I hate the sight of myself in bike shorts. "Gu" was not part of my vocabulary. And yet. I needed something to motivate me to get back to the gym. I needed something to cheer me up. I had weathered an intense high-stress period of losing my mother and almost losing our house. I needed hope. Life affirmation. And of course, the promise of rock-hard quads. I scanned my bucket list. Tahiti or Ride the Rockies?
Fast forward to June 11, Crested Butte. The ride begins tomorrow. Instead of rock-hard quads I have diaper rash from too much time in the saddle. Steamboat's spring never happened, so my training suffered. My true love and I were filled with equal parts of anticipation and dread. Nevertheless, the alarm went off at 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, and by 6:30 a.m. we were on the road. Fellow cyclists whizzed by me, calling out, "On your left." "Car back." "Have a great ride."
My spirits soared at aid station No. 1 when I spied half-and-half for my coffee. Everyone has their vices, and half-and-half is one of mine. The portable toilets had mirrors and hand sanitizer. The Zero Waste tent had a bin for composting. Seriously, composting? Cyclists filled it to the top with banana peels. There was a long line for all-you-can-eat flapjacks and sausage for $5. Things were looking up.
Hmmmm … how to entertain myself on my bike for hours without my laptop or iPod. Easy! Count how many men shave their legs … lots! Count the number of people passing by … lots! Count the number of times I can pedal before shifting gears … not a lot! Recite my affirmations: "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." "You can do more than you think you can." "You're stronger than you know."
Few things in life exceed expectations. By the time we reach the summit of Cottonwood Pass (12,000 feet) I know Ride the Rockies is one of them. A disc jockey is waiting at the top of Cottonwood Pass with celebratory music to match the mood of the riders. Contests to win a free T-shirt are announced at the end of every song. I kiss a state trooper and win! Nine people jump in the snow to make snow angels and win! The first person to do a handstand wins!
On Friday I'll surrender my wristband in Georgetown and drop out of the cult.
I'm already thinking about next year.