Shreddin’ the Gnar

Maybe this isn’t relevant for the blog. Maybe it is. I don’t know. (Hint: it’s tangentially related to cycling. Barely.)

But I’m going to get back into snowboarding.

A long time ago, when I was growing up in Colorado (not really, but yeah actually kind of a long time ago) I snowboarded. It was the cool thing to do. At school, kids wore thick stacks of lift tickets on their jackets like badges of honor and said things like I went up to the mountains this weekend in a voice that made you want to punch them. For me, skiing was never even an option I considered. Skiing was for lame old people. Snowboarding was for badass youth with long hair, or, in my case, short hair that I was “growing out,” an endeavor I talked about with the somber sense of duty of a mother talking about raising a child with autism.

I took a few lessons, learned the basics, got a used board from somewhere. My dad picked up skiing again, a sport he had loved in the B.C. (before children) era, and we started going together. A handful of times each year, we’d make the drive to one of the cheaper resorts closer to home like Loveland and Keystone. Loveland was my favorite: small, quiet, tucked against the Continental Divide right next to I-70. In my memory, I crushed blue groomers like a boss and got big air in the terrain park. But memories aren’t reliable, not about stuff like that. But I do know I had a blast.

Then, shortly after receiving a new board for Christmas, I quit. Kids have the best timing, right? I was getting more serious about baseball and didn’t want to risk injury, so snowboarding was off limits. I don’t regret the decision at all. Had I gotten hurt snowboarding and impacted my chances to play in college or professionally, I would have never forgiven myself. I had a great baseball career and never really thought much about snowboarding after that.

But the other day, while watching a video about a hybrid bike-ski trip in the Sierras, I had a series of thoughts. They went something like this:

Damn, that looks really fun. I’d kind of like to do that.
I should learn.
Wait, I already know how. I used to do it.
Actually, it was really fun.
Why did I quit? Oh yeah. Baseball.
Wait.
I don’t play baseball anymore.

I’m going to start snowboarding again.

One problem is that I don’t live in Colorado anymore. I know Pennsylvania isn’t a snow sports hotbed. But guess what? Roundtop “Mountain Resort” (my quotes) is only 20 minutes from Harrisburg, and it looks halfway decent, at least for a “mountain resort” in Pennsylvania. And some of my cycling friends ski/snowboard as well. So, I’m coming out of retirement.

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Me, next week. Not.

Unfortunately my parents had sold all my gear, so I’m starting from scratch. I bought some boots and a helmet and a pair of snowpants on Ebay, and ordered a K2 Standard board with Flow bindings from Evo.com, the whole time telling myself these are one-time startup costs (as if) and trying to learn about snowboard tech so I don’t buy something that I’ll realize is stupid in two months. I kind of did that with cycling early on–my first kit purchase was a basic pair of shorts and unmarked black and white club fit jersey. “I don’t care how I look,” I said at the time. That didn’t last long. Same with my bike, which in hindsight I consider hideous and unbecoming of a serious rider (rest in peace, Felt Z85). Hopefully I didn’t make the same mistakes this time around.

Part of me worries that I won’t find it as fun, or that the small mountains here will get boring, or that I did all this just to have an excuse to get a dopamine hit from some more online shopping. It’s possible.

A bigger part of me is really excited because I think it will be a blast, because there’s a thrill in discovering (or rediscovering) something that you like to do, because now a winter snowstorm means more than just a few days on the trainer. This snowboarding thing continues a my path away from bike racing and training to a more adventurous and fun role for adventure sports in my life. Yes, cycling is still my favorite thing to do, and I’ll always spend way more time riding than doing any other endurance sports. But I also want to run and hike and, now, snowboard. There’s room for all of them.

That’s the beauty of stripping away the competitive/training focus–it opens up room for so many other things that can make you happy. For some people, that happiness is dwarfed by the happiness of winning a race or moving up a category. I don’t begrudge them for thinking that–I used to think that myself. But I don’t think that anymore.

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Cold Spell

This is a cycling (and, sometimes, running) blog. So what do I write about in the dead of winter during an east coast cold spell that has foreclosed the option of riding outside and turned my Strava feed into a graveyard of unexciting Zwift sessions and even less exciting non-Zwift trainer rides?

No idea.

I’m not using any new products, so a review is off the table.

I’m not on Zwift (too cheap, no laptop, dumb trainer), so that world is beyond my realm.

I’m not doing intervals or any real training–my spins are the junkiest of junk miles, the basest of base miles. I have no plan, no progress to track, nothing to suffer from. Mostly I just spin my legs around while multitasking. Favorite multitasking activities: talking on the phone, listening to podcasts while playing FIFA 14, talking on the phone while playing FIFA 14, watching videos, reading articles on my tablet. Those also happen to be the only activities available to me other than just staring at my stem and waiting to die.

So, long story short, content is not abundant at the moment. I’ll post when I can, when there’s something interesting to say. I realize, however, that maybe that’s just a lazy cop-out, that maybe a real writer would find content no matter what, would even relish the challenge of creating something from nothing (like god didn’t). I have a sneaking suspicion that may be true.

Damn. I’m writing myself into a corner here.

#meta

The Ride of a Lifetime

Cycling sometimes seems governed by a law of diminishing returns, at least in terms of the memorability of each ride. When you ride a few times a week and rack up thousands of miles a year, it’s only natural that the separate journeys bleed together in a kind of pleasant but mediocre haze. Each ride is, by definition, unique, but only a select few are special enough to stand out from the rest, to retain their contours over time in your memory.

I have no doubt that today’s ride was one of them.

Honestly, I don’t think words can do a ride like this, or really any incredible experience, justice. Nothing can replace being there, seeing the world through your own eyes as it rushes by and feeling the miles in your legs and bearing witness to the places your own mind will go when confronted by a challenge that doesn’t really seem possible until it’s finished.

But this is a blog, so I have to try.

We left Julian’s apartment before 6 AM, as the city was waking into its contained furor, and within a couple miles had picked up a friend and were climbing Monseratte, watching the buildings shrink as the road snaked upwards into the forest. We turned off onto the road to Choachi, which is relatively traffic-free by Bogota standards but not American ones. The grade was gradual, giving the legs time to warm up, and I tried not to think about all the climbing to come.

Near the first summit Julian proposed another “bonus” climb up Guadalupe, a two-mile section up to a higher point on the mountain where a cathedral and statue of Guadalupe loom over the metropolis below. Only a few miles in, with more than 50 to go, I was hesitant to put myself in the hurt house too soon and pay for it later. But if we were going to do the climb, we had to do it in the morning because after 1 PM the soldiers leave and it becomes, as Julian said, a “no man’s land.” So as we approached the turn-off, I thought about how life is short and I’ve never regretted accepting a challenge, and I said yes.

I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t as tough as I imagined and the view was incredible.

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The view from Cerro de Guadalupe

After traversing the switchbacks, we had more climbing to do. Ten miles of climbing. Fortunately, the grade was steady and the landscape’s transformation from rainforest jungle to high-mountain scrub brush kept me distracted from thinking about my legs. Eventually we reached the summit, marked by a sign and small restaurant on the side of the road, something like 10,000 feet above sea level. “It’s all downhill from here,” I told myself, intentionally leaving out the caveat: “…until we reach Choachi, turn around, and grind up a category-HC climb to this point in reverse.”

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The landscape at 10,000 feet

But man, that descent. In Pennsylvania our descents are short and steep, maybe two or three miles at the most. This one was 15 miles. For thirty minutes we carved down fresh pavement, alongside massive rock faces, through mist and fog, down into the valley. Most of the curves in the road were perfect (not too sharp, not too gentle) and didn’t even require brakes as we sailed trough them. The panoramic vistas, not unlike photos I’ve seen of the mountains surrounding Macchu Pichu, made it hard to focus on the road. When we rolled to a stop at a cafe in the small town of Choachi, my neck and shoulders were sore from staying in the drops for so long and feathering the brakes to scrub off speed.

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Town square and church in Choachi

After a nice rest, back up the same road we had just descended. How do I describe the next 1 hour and 48 minutes? Basically, I just kept pedaling in my lowest gear, telling myself that the descent was worth it and that eventually I’d get to the top. I marvelled at the sights in reverse, trying to remember landmarks and calculate how far to the summit. The landscape reversed itself again, this time much more slowly. I passed stray dogs and big spotted cows that looked bemused, like they couldn’t understand why stupid, sweaty humans keep riding their machines up the mountain. A few construction workers smiled and said Vamos, vamos!, and they also looked bemused. I choked out a Buenos dias and kept going, never really wondering why I was there riding up into rings of fog on another continent. I knew why I was there: because riding up mountains is, strangely, something that makes me very happy.

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The valley below

At the top, Oscar drank a coke and we waited for Julian, talking about cycling documentaries on Netflix. I was elated to have made it, and comforted by the knowledge that there were only eight miles left, all downhill. There’s a point in every difficult ride when you realize that you’ve done it. You’re okay, you’re home free. Sometimes it doesn’t come until the last pedal stroke. This time it came 10,000 feet above sea level at a small cafe, a thin blue sky stretched overhead and my water bottle nearly empty.  I had dreaded this ride, even half-seriously thought of bailing–it would be by far the most climbing I’d ever done, at the highest altitude I’d ever ridden. Standing there in the sunlight I was so glad I hadn’t.

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Summit break

While descending the last few miles, then navigating the crowded midday streets in the city, I knew that one of the best rides of my life was ending. It was kind of bittersweet, that recognition. That’s okay though. That’s how it should be. I know I won’t forget this one.

Final stats: 57 miles. 8,700 feet elevation gain. 4 hours and 41 minutes

Check out the Relive video here.

More photos:

 

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First Ride: Bogota

Getting here wasn’t easy. My plane landed in Atlanta shortly after the power went out. I was on one of the planes stuck on the runway that you probably saw on CNN. I spent the night in the airport like hundreds of other people, which you probably also saw on CNN (or Fox News, if you’re like my grandma). But eventually I arrived in Bogota, sleep-deprived and ragged. Yesterday I went for an eight-mile jog around the city to get a feel for the place and acclimate to the elevation–the city sits over 7,000 feet above sea level. My lungs seemed to do okay with that (thanks for raising me in Colorado, mom and dad!); the exhaust from the jampacked highways was the tougher part.

Today I met up with Julian, a cyclist and filmmaker who was a kind of local fixer in both the Aaron Gulley Bicycling article “Colombia Rising” and Therebouts III, which catalogued the exploits of the Morton brothers. Both pieces stoked my desire to ride here, so I’m happy to be able to have the same local guide.  Also, he’s letting me rent his bike, and speaks good English. Win-win-win.

This morning I took an Uber to his apartment, wandered around the block looking for the right building, asking where to go in mangled Spanish (apartamento? Julian?). I was turned away by multiple security guards and was starting to panic when I finally found him. He welcomed me in, I apologized, we got the bike set up, and headed out into the morning rush hour traffic. Fortunately, there are wide sidewalks with designated lanes for cyclists, which kept us off  the roads. But the amount of pedestrians, debris, and unsloped curbs that require bunny-hopping made for slow, stressful riding.

Eventually we arrived at the base of Alto de Patois, where we met up with Julian’s friend and began climbing. It’s the most popular climb around here (over 11,000 recorded attempts on Strava), and as we wound our way up the mountain we passed dozens of other cyclists, most of them riding mountain bikes and wearing Movistar or Orica jerseys like their professional heroes Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. In the States, it’s considered lame to wear pro team jerseys, and lots of cyclists look down on people without pricey bikes or gear. Sometimes it seems like cycling is more about the gear, about looking cool (if that’s possible with shaved legs and lyrca). Here, people just ride bikes because they love riding bikes. It was refreshing to see that. And for what it’s worth, I can think of quite a few American riders who wouldn’t tackle that climb, especially on a secondhand bike. But ordinary-looking Colombians were doing it.

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After a short pause at the summit, we descended into a valley painted in all different shades of green. The road was jammed with cars and buses, and sections were under construction, so the going was slow. A few patches of gravel made me grateful for the 30 mm tires on my bike. A few miles later we turned onto what Julian called a “bonus” climb, which I will now call “a fucking steep climb with 20% switchbacks.” But it offered gorgeous panoramic views of the valley and nearby reservoir and homes stacked up against the mountains. I’m not complaining.

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More descending, then climbing (there are literally no stretches of flat road here), into a village where we stopped at a cafe and sat in plastic chairs sipping a warm drink that is basically straight sugarcane juice. Unfortunately no arepas for the vegan. My local guides didn’t seem upset or offended. They just laughed and said that not much in Colombia is vegan. I was just happy to be riding with locals, having a more authentic experience than if I had tried to choose routes on my own and ridden alone.

We retraced our route  back up and over Patois, descended with cars zooming by on our left and soldiers standing with their guns to our right. The city traffic was even more chaotic than when we had left two hours earlier, and I can’t say I enjoyed weaving our way back to Julian’s apartment. I’m just glad I didn’t hit anyone on the sidewalk.

Final stats from the ride: 28 miles. 3,500 feet of elevation gain. 2.5 hours in the saddle.

As crazy as it sounds, this was an “easy” warmup day. Tomorrow the route is 60 miles with 12,000 feet of climbing. I should never have converted the meters to feet, because I’m a bit intimidated. We’ll see how it goes.

Check out the Relive video