Category Archives: Cycling

The Slow Return to Normal

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There I was, standing in the Cherry Creek reservoir, feet in the water, wearing a bicycle helmet and a mask. It was quite the interesting way to spend what was likely the first 80 degree day in parts of Denver (there are no observations downtown and the airport reached a high of 79), and the first day of Colorado’s slow return to normal.

That morning, Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. For me, little had changed. The City of Denver still has a stay-at-home order which was extended nearly two weeks beyond the state’s. The businesses I frequent are all still closed, the guidelines still strongly suggest minimal travel. There is also evidence suggesting that the danger related to contracting and spreading the virus, in Colorado and in Denver, has yet to dissipate. Essentially, Monday’s slight change in policy, like a non-binding resolution or loose talk among friends about big things, felt mostly just symbolic.

Still, like many Americans, I am quite antsy to get back to doing a lot of the things that bring me joy; specifically travel and social activity. My mind is a bit all over the place as I try to reconcile the hopefulness of hearing news about states planning to reopen their economies with the very real threat that still exists. It feels like a classic heart vs. head issue, with many different dimensions and complications. My response is to start small.

Sunday, the last day of the full stay-at-home order, it was a short hike, at a place not too far away, called Steven’s Gulch, with only three other people.

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It’s not the kind of hike that leads to the most spectacular views.

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In fact, after a 500 foot ascent, there is a 1500 foot descent into the gulch, where the trail was quite muddy, and, in places, there was standing water to contend with.

The hike itself, wasn’t about reaching some summit. The largest climb was the 1000 foot climb back to the trailhead (which was surprisingly crowded for a not too well known trail on a day with clouds and rain chances).

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The hike was about being outside, being in nature, being in the woods.

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After weeks of spending far too much time at home, in front of screens, just being in a place that looks like this, putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours is an amazingly calming experience. Having lived without some modern luxuries for the past six weeks, it almost felt somewhat reminiscent of a backpacking trip.

Meanwhile back in Denver, the anxiety was still there and the tensions were still mounting.

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There are so many different factions of people feeling and saying different things about the virus and our response to it. There is so much fear, depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress. All data on the true extent and potency of COVID-19 is so unreliable. It has become nearly impossible to know who to believe.

One of the few bright spots of this whole pandemic is workplace flexibility in many sectors where working from home is an option. Without the commute, the need to get dressed up and be physically in an office for a certain time period, it becomes far easier to do things like go on an extended lunchtime bike ride.

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The ride to the Cherry Creek reservoir from anywhere near downtown Denver is about 13 miles, mostly on a trail. Throughout this pandemic, bike trails have been quite busy. Perhaps this is because the bars and restaurants are closed and more people are enjoying schedule flexibility related to their employment. The sun was bright that day, and there were many more people enjoying the day, on their sail boats or with their friends and family at the beach.

There is no way to tell how the history books will look back upon the Spring of 2020. Each and every person has their own unique way of coping with this major life event. Personally, I hold on to the hope that, in the long run, something good will come out of all of this. I’ve long held the belief that the expectation that people spend 40 to 50 daylight hours at their office is limiting, and something we are now capable of moving beyond due to new technology. With many people putting all this technology to use out of necessity, maybe our work culture will change for the better, opening up many daylight hours for experiences like this.

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The Question We Are All Asking

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As this pandemic wears on, and people begin to speculate whether or not we have reached our “peak”, with respect to cases and medical needs, the conversation is increasingly turning towards how we go about reopening our economy and returning to our “normal” lives.

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The Parking Lot to the Colorado Mills Mall, completely empty

As is the case with all decision like this, there are inevitably people pulling on both sides. There are those advocating caution, warning that rushing to restart our economy could lead to more deaths. There are also those concerned about the consequences of waiting too long to get the economy going again.

We have now mostly all adjusted to this new, temporary, more home focused way of life.

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However, I can tell that people are getting antsy. Maybe we are not getting antsy to return to things like commuting to work. Plenty of people who are now questioning more than ever whether going into an office every day is even necessary anymore given the technology we now have (disclaimer: my personal sample leans heavily towards Colorado Millennials so you may be experiencing different conversational themes). For things like social interaction, travel, gathering and certain types of experiences, there is certainly a yearning for that which we are now lamenting we had taken for granted nearly our entire lives.

Friday, I decided to spend the day riding my bike, stopping by various people’s houses doing some bike-by “distance hellos”. The response was overwhelmingly positive!

 

 

I set out at 9 A.M. expecting to return home sometime around 2 or 2:30 P.M. My total cycling distance was just over 40 miles, only around the Denver Metro Area as to not take part in unnecessary travel at this time. I ended up not getting home until after 6:00 P.M. There were five planned visits, each one lasting a decent amount of time, as everyone I set out to hang out with from a distance seemed more than happy to have visitors at this time. I also ended up having two other unplanned visits. One was with a total stranger, who I talked with for 10-15 minutes. She introduced herself from her backyard as I was pulling into a parking lot in Golden. The other, with a friend of mine who had seen my Instagram post about these distance hellos and wanted to be a part of it.

On one level, the question we are all asking is quite straightforward:

What is more important being or doing?

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If “being” is more important, saving as many lives as possible is the natural priority. If “doing” is more important, the conversation opens up to questions like whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice a few (thousand) lives to avoid other forms of economic and social destruction.

However, as we continue to experience that which seemed unfathomable as recently as six weeks ago…

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Google Maps showing no traffic in New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles

The question of being vs. doing becomes more nuanced.

Is our “doing” essential to our “being”?

For a long time, our jobs/careers have been an integral part of our identities. When we place our jobs at the center of our identities, it is sometimes referred to as “Workism”.

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Placing work, or a career at the center of our identities implies that doing is essential to our being. This current crisis call workism into question, but it was already being questioned. However, even those looking to move beyond workism place significant importance on some other form of “doing”. I personally don’t enjoy days with no activity, and mass inactivity has negative consequences for our economic and psychological well-being. The term “idle hands are the tool of the devil” came from actual experience.

There is a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after COVID-19. The only thing that seems certain now is that there will be some sort of change that will be clear this year. How things turn out on a longer time scale will depend on how we address the questions of whether it is more important to be or to do, and how our doing impacts our being.

Winter Cycling in Colorado

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Colorado weather can be quite variant, especially in wintertime. This variance opens up opportunities and makes winters here far less unpleasant than winters in the Northeast and Midwest. Compared with Chicago, Denver’s winter temperatures…

  • Are 41% more variable
  • Change, on average, 9.3°F from one day to the next (In Chicago it’s 6.6°F)
  • Reach 50°F (10°C) or greater 34.6% of all days, compared with only 7.1% in Chicago
  • Despite this, Denver gets more snow (53.8 inches per year) than Chicago (37.1)

In particular, the greater frequency at which temperatures warm up provides some opportunities. I need not write off an entire season for outdoor cycling. There were six days in January 2020 in which the temperature reached 55°F (12°C).

Then, on Groundhog Day, as if to taunt everyone that buys into the folklore, temperatures across Colorado were exceptionally warm. Denver and the surrounding area reached well into the 70s while some areas in the East and Southeastern parts of the state reached 80!

That morning, Punxsutawney Phil, the most widely known groundhog, would predict an early spring. Later on, Flatiron Freddy, a groundhog local to Colorado, predicted six more weeks of winter. That evening, the weather in Colorado would turn sharply colder and snowier for the foreseeable future.

Groundhog Day 2020 ended up being a perfect demonstration of the opportunities and challenges associated with cycling in Colorado in wintertime. I learned a long time ago to keep to lower elevations in the wintertime due to both wind and residual ice on the roadways. Luckily, the region has a fantastic set of trails. This is actually an outdated map. The network has become even more robust since 2013!

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It is all centered around Confluence Park, right in the heart of downtown. Confluence Park itself is a fantastic example of a place where people can get a little bit of time in nature right in the heart of a major city. There is also an REI flagship store!

On Groundhog Day, I decided to ride the South Platte River trail from Confluence Park to Chattfield Reservoir.

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The trail runs a total of 16 miles. The reservoir itself can be reached with only an additional 3 miles of pedaling. This place is tremendous, with the lake in the foreground and the mountains behind. In summer, there are often a lot of boaters.

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One of the challenges that day was the wind. Wild changes in temperature from day to day are often associated with strong winds and Groundhog Day was no exception. The wind came out of the South at 15-20 miles per hour, making the mostly Southbound ride to the reservoir far more challenging than usual. I recall going at about 15 miles per hour the entire way.

Having not done this specific ride for a few years, I forgot how beautiful the Southern half of the Platte River trail is. The trail snakes through downtown Littleton. After that, there are plenty of places where the the river in the foreground and the mountains in the background make one feel as if they are in the setting of a famous nature painting. Much of this land is being preserved as part of South Platte Park.

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The return trip went quite fast, with the wind at my back and the miles just flying by. While I refrain from hill climbs in the wintertime, this ride ended up having some similarities, with a headwind to get to the reservoir and a much easier and faster return trip. I was back at Confluence Park before I knew it!

In addition to the wind, another major challenge of winter cycling is the limited amount of time available. Winter days are short, and without exception start off cold. Even on Groundhog Day, the day cities across the front range would hit record highs in the 70s to near 80, morning temperatures were still in the 25-35°F (-3 to +1°C) range. If one is to wait until 9 or 10 for temperatures to warm up a little, and be limited by a 5 P.M. sunset, there is a pretty limited amount of time or riding. It was for this reason I picked the particular ride I did.

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It is also for this reason that despite Colorado’s frequent warmer days in the winter, I finally decided to supplement my training with some indoor spinning.

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Flagstaff Hill: A Quick Intense Ride

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Before embarking on this journey, I was told that Flagstaff Hill was one of the most intense bike rides in Colorado’s Front Range. The full ride has a vertical climb of just over 2,000 feet and an average grade of 11%! This makes it slightly more intense than Lookout Mountain near Golden.

Most cyclists follow Flagstaff Road from Chautaqua Park. This is the ride that has earned a reputation as “quad-burning” and “lung-busting”.

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However, there is an alternate route up, one that is slightly less steep, but also a bit less paved. It begins with a ride up Boulder Canyon.

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This part of the ride is not too intense and serves as a reminder of how easy it is to get into the mountains from Boulder. Even from the Eastern part of the City, it is only 20 minutes by bicycle to arrive at a place where the city feels completely left behind.

We did this ride on an early October day after work. So, it wouldn’t be long before the sunlight started to fade behind the mountains.

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Turning off Boulder Canyon Road on Chapman Dr., the road quickly turns into an unpaved trail. The trail is not too rocky or sandy to pass on a road bike. Still, not being on pavement certainly adds an additional challenge. This part of the ride is likely as steep as any, with wide curves rather than tight switchbacks.

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We huffed and we puffed. We burnt out our quads- just as had been promised. At times I felt as if this route may have even been slightly more challenging than the road route.

Less than an hour into the ride, we had reached a place where we had not only left the city limits, but felt as if we were completely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.

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Most people have to travel further by car to get a a place that feels even remotely like this!

The top of this ride is at a place called Realization Point.

With limited daylight, and the Nature Center not being open, we opted out of this last part of the ride. Apparently, we missed out on the final 100 feet of climbing, but still faired quite well (I’m still certain we ascended at least 2,000 feet).

We retuned to town via the paved road, where we were able to relax, let gravity do the work, and overlook the town.

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It was one of those moments of pure joy we are always seeking after in life. It reminded me of scenes from movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Flashdance, or looking on as groups of children play in the park, good friends laugh over a great meal or that one daring snowboarder jumps off the ten foot cliff. At that moment, nothing else matters. It is a moment of pure joy. Often times in these moments, we weren’t even necessarily intentional about setting aside our worries. The experience, the sense of accomplishment, wonder and excitement has this way of overwhelming us, leaving us with no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in what is happening here and now.

Cycling is an individual experience that we often share with others. At the Adventure Cycling Association, I was told that a bike ride with n people has a total of n+1 experiences; each person’s individual experience and then the group experience. On rides like these, even among similar people, each person experiences it somewhat differently. The amount of huffing and puffing on the uphill part, which individual groves in the surface we encounter with our tires and the strength of the adrenaline rush on the descent all vary enough to make individual experiences unique.

I cannot tell you if this is the most intense ride I have ever done. My day in Yellowstone was definitely far more exhausting, and I do recall being on steeper sections of road for shorter periods of time. All I can say is that I am grateful to be in a place where this type of experience is readily accessible and to have the means by which to make it happen. I ended the day not focused on who has more money, who is in better shape, or who has more fulfillment in life. That is always a good thing.

Keystone in Summertime

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It’s a place I had only seen in wintertime, covered in snow, often packed with skiiers.

Summertime shows the place in a whole new light….

Water from the top of the mountain, ether from frequent afternoon thunderstorms or residual snowmelt channels through creeks emptying into the Snake River.

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Mountain bikers are the primary users of the mountain, loading their bikes on the ski lift and riding down trails that wind through the trees.

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While the trails are different, they actually use the same rating system as is used for skiers and snowboarders in the winter.

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And, of course there are the hills, rocks and trees, a lot of which is altered or even covered up by the snow in the wintertime.

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It was a whole new perspective on a place I had been to hundreds of times, showing trails, rocks, and even small bushes I had been unaware of due to winter snowpack.

Perhaps the most breathtaking view of all was the one overlooking Dillon Reservoir at the start of what in the winter is the Schoolmarm trail.

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This overlook, at this moment in time, in an abnormally wet year where the ground appears greener then normal with greater than average residual snowpack at the top of the mountains, felt even more serene than it does in wintertime.

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And, of course, there are the other activities.

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Summertime presents an interesting challenge for ski resorts. Obviously, there are no snow sports. Resorts can either shut down for the season (as some do) or try to bring in visitors for summer activities. The ones that chose to operate in summertime often put on other kinds of events and festivals to try to attract more people.

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The music at the wine and jazz festival was quite impressive. I really enjoyed some of the acts. People pay one flat fee for unlimited wine. Unsurprisingly, much of the crowd was drunk by late afternoon.

One draw to coming up to places like Keystone at this time of year is the weather. Colorado’s most populated cities can get quite hot in the summer.

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The mountains are significantly cooler. Advertisements for summer activities at ski resorts often highlight pleasant average summertime temperatures. However, summertime weather in the mountains can also be chaotic. In complex terrain like this, thunderstorms often form in the afternoon. Where they form changes from day to day based on some fairly small scale aspects of the wind patterns in the mid levels of the atmosphere.

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Therefore, whether or not a specific location in the mountains gets a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, although there is a scientific reason for it, can feel like luck. Adventurers generally just prepare for the possibility through some combination of monitoring the clouds and planning to summit mountains in the morning and return to tree line shortly after noon.

If recent traffic patterns on I-70 is any indication, despite the fact that the ski resorts themselves are far less crowded, Coloradans are headed up to the mountains to cool off and take part in summer activities.

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They are mostly headed to different places, sometimes out in the true wilderness of the Central Rocky Mountains.

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This is one place where it becomes undeniable that conflicts exist between corporate and human concerns. People choosing to go to different places in the summer, where they can have different experiences and often make a deeper connection with nature and themselves is a good thing for humanity overall. However, there are definitely those that stand to earn more money by getting more people to the resorts.

In theory organizations, including corporations exist to serve a purpose. I believe this is generally true in real life as well. Those that operate resorts like Keystone play a major part in encouraging people to get outdoors and seek adventure, most definitely improving human happiness. All ski resorts have a purpose, but one that is far greater in wintertime than any other time of year.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Keystone in the summer. Seeing how the place looks in the summer was also amazing. However, I will likely visit other places with what remains of the summer of 2019. The size of the crowds at Keystone Resort in mid-July, to me, don’t feel like a number that needs to be improved upon. To me, it just feels like the right size for what humanity needs at this part of the seasonal cycle of life.

 

The Colorado Classic

71 cyclists, all averaging a speed right around 30 mph, somehow ended up within 12 seconds of each other 2/3 of the way into an 8-lap 72 mile race. The strange thing is, this was the only time for the entire duration of the final stage of the 2018 Colorado Classic where all the riders were packed so closely together. Earlier in the race, a few riders would pedal ahead of the pack, forming what is referred to as a “breakout group”.

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Having not watched too much professional cycling, I am not familiar with the complicated scoring system, or how cycling teams work together. However, in what I have watched, from the perspective of mostly just monitoring who wins each race, it rarely seems beneficiary to form one of these breakout groups, especially early in the race. Seeing a few cyclists pull ahead near the beginning of a race always reminds me of when I used to bet on horse races. At first, I would get excited when the horse I bet on started out leading the pack. Experience would later teach me that that horse that jumps out ahead at the start of the race almost never wins. With rare exception, some other horse, usually one of the ones favored to win, would make a move about 2/3 of the way into the race, while the initial leader would run out of steam, finishing near the back of the pack. I’ll often joke that if I see the horse I bet on in the lead at the start of the race, I can all but throw that ticket away.

That is exactly what I tend to see happen at bike races. The cyclists who “breakout” put themselves at a disadvantage as they face more air resistance than those who stay in the main group, often referred to as the “peloton”. Time and time again, I have watched a breakout group form a lead, sometimes several minutes, just to see that lead slowly evaporate just in time for the end of the race. I would imagine all the riders trying to sprint to the finish line at nearly the same time, but with those that formed the breakaway group far more exhausted as they pushed against more air resistance all day long.

In a depressing metaphor for life, the breakaway group represents those that chose to take a different path, other than the tried and true. Like the 90% of Startups that fail, their path is tougher, and also a lot less certain.

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However, as discussed in detail in Bicycling Magazine, breakaways can be successful, when done…

  • Under the right conditions
  • Intelligently
  • With the right mix of people

The same is true for startups, as well as anyone else trying to “break away”.

Being back in Denver the weekend of the Colorado Classic, I got to witness the final two stages.

Stage 3, I got to watch from Lookout Mountain, which is outside of Golden about 15 miles west of Denver. It is Denver’s version of the mountain that overlooks the city, and is actually quite popular for cycling. The 1800 foot climb is a great after work workout, I have done many times.

Watching professionals ride a road you commonly ride is both exciting and humbling, as they do in 25 minutes what takes me 35-40.

Stage 4 was a very different experience. As is the case every year (for the Colorado Classic), the final stage is a series of laps around town.

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Cyclists rode down 17th Avenue in both directions during each lap, meaning it was possible to see them pass by the same exact spot 16 times! It is here where spectators witness, in person, breakaway groups get slowly caught up to by the pack.

There was even a bike shop, along 17th Avenue, that set up a set of bleacher seats for fans. Pro cycling, obviously has a smaller fan base than major sports like baseball and football. However, smaller groups often feel far more like a community than larger ones, and there is a kind of comradery between cycling fans that does not always exist at other sporting events.

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Watching multiple groups of people try to “breakaway” from the pack, but fail to win the stage reminds me of my own personal struggles. Like many people, I struggle with issues of individuality vs. conformity. It definitely had a negative impact on my high school experience, where there is a lot of pressure to conform. I still feel it now from time to time.

As is the case with pro cycling, there is a time to break away and there is a time to stay with the pack. The same is true in our other life pursuits. We all would prefer to stay true to our individual selves all the time. However, there is a often a cost for refusing to conform, sometimes legal or financial, but often in terms of lost opportunities and relationships. The challenge is to know when that cost can be endured so that we continue to feel like we are living our own lives, while also knowing when we need to be patient and flexible.

Cycling from Colorado Springs to Denver

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It started with a two hour bus ride, from Denver to Colorado Springs, on something called the Bustang. Bustang is a pretty good service for cyclists in Colorado, as each bus has bike racks on the front. It would be a great service with more schedule options. For anyone thinking of making this journey, the only real option is the 7:35 A.M. departure from Denver, which arrived in downtown Colorado Springs just after 9:30.

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Colorado Springs is an interesting town. People who think about Colorado Springs often think about one of two things; its affiliation with Christian conservative causes, as it is where Focus on the Family is headquartered, and Pike’s Peak, the mountain that towers over the city to the west.

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Pike’s Peak is actually only the 20th tallest peak in the State. Yet, it is often amongst the most visited and talked about because, compared to many of Colorado’s other mountains, it is relatively isolated.

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Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs is among the most active and fittest cities in America.

This was apparent as I began to pedal north from downtown Colorado Springs. The Pike’s Peak Greenway, was quite crowded for much of the journey, with joggers, packs of runners, and other cyclists.

At the northern border of Colorado Springs, the Pike’s Peak Greenway connects to the New Santa Fe Trail. Both of these trails are part of a long term plan to create what is being called the Front Range Trail, a network of trails that will eventually cross the entire state from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, through many of Colorado’s most populated cities. Sings for the Front Range Trail have already been put in place here.

For some riders, the New Santa Fe Trail has the potential to be the roughest part of the ride. Much of it is both uphill, and unpaved. It also runs right through the property of the United States Air Force Academy.

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Many sections of it are quite rough, probably more suitable for mountain bikes than road or touring bikes. Along this stretch, there were about half a dozen instances where I had to dismount and walk my bike for a short distance.

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It was still a beautiful place to bike. The trail cuts through fields of Piñon Pines, and Monument Creek creates some picturesque mini-cliffs in front of the mountains.

However, although the journey up the hill is actually quite subtle, with no switchbacks or steep climbs, it did take more time and energy than anticipated to get to Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, at an elevation of about 7,300 feet (2225 m).

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The next part of the ride was my favorite, north along Perry Park Road. This section is mostly downhill, but with some rolling hills. It was a wonderful 25 mile per hour ride on a smooth road, with bright blue skies, wide open spaces, rock formations popping out on both sides around every turn, and a light cooling breeze.

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There are a few route options at this point, and following Perry Park Road as long as I did, a little over 10 miles to Tomah Road, does bypass the town of Larkspur. I found it worthwhile, as I was enjoying the ride, but it does mean a total of about 20 miles between towns.

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Turning East, Tomah Road was actually the most challenging climb on the entire ride. The total climb is pretty small, from about 6200 feet to just over 6800. However, that climb occurred in less than two miles, and can be unexpected, as Castle Rock is at 6200 feet and this climb came from one of the subtle terrain features east of the Rocky Mountains.

After climbing and descending Tomah Road, the route was follows the Frontage Road along I-25 for about four miles into Castle Rock. Despite it being right next to the interstate, the road was quite crowded, and with no shoulder. It was probably the least enjoyable part of the ride.

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This was also where I struggled the most. It was the hottest part of the day, and after the unanticipated challenges, I began to doubt whether or not I could complete the ride. In these situations, it is usually good to stop and take a rest. The additional time it took on the unpaved trail up Monument Hill had set me back at least half an hour, but I definitely needed a rest, a snack, and, most importantly, I had a coke.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the sugar, but the coke re-energized me, and I was back on my way.

Crawfoot Valley Road, the road that connects Castle Rock and Parker was surprisingly crowded. It is a good thing there is a wide enough shoulder for bikes. This area is growing quite rapidly, and seems to get busier every time I ride this segment.

My next burst of energy was actually mental, which is usually the battle we are actually facing when we decide to undertake physical challenges like this. In Parker, the route connects to the Cherry Creek Trail, an amazing trail that is fun, well kept, and mostly flat.

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From here, it is 30 miles to downtown Denver. This sign (the Cherry Creek Trail has one every 1/2 a mile, but this is the first one I saw when I joined the trail) felt like a welcoming of sorts, to the home stretch. The final 30 miles of the trip would feel like a victory lap.

I knew there was only one real climb remaining, the part where the trail goes around the Cherry Creek Reservoir.

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It reminded me of this weird place we often find ourselves in life, where we know some sort of “victory” is coming. We can sense it on the horizon. We are anticipating it. However, it is not there yet. There is still some amount of work that needs to be done, and there is still some things that can go wrong.

Is it too soon to start feeling good about ourselves? Can we start celebrating something that is “about” to happen? Or, do we remain cautious and diligent, understanding that although we feel we deserve this victory, it has not yet happened, and it is still not yet time to celebrate?

That was how the final 30 miles felt for me. The first half went by fast. However, as I got closer and closer, anticipation increased, and this “homestretch” seemed to drag on.

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At that point, there really is no choice but to pound out that final ten miles, with those mixed emotions. I knew I had persevered, ended up having to take on more than expected, and would arrive at home triumphant that I had ridden my bike from Colorado Springs to Denver. However, I would have to keep pedaling those last few miles before I could check that box off my internally kept bucket list.