My Kinda Tri, Part 1: Gravel Grind? What The Fuck?!

Oh my god you guys! What a crazy beautifully insane perfect day!

My sister and I woke up at 5:00 AM so we could leave the house at 5:15 AM. We got down to the Manitou Incline just after 7:00 AM. I immediately hopped out of the car and got to it.

The first time I did this climb I stopped often to catch my breath and take in the sunrise. This time I kept my head down and my pace steady. It’s a short hike, just under a mile, but with 2,000’ feet of elevation gain it’s been rightfully dubbed Colorado’s Holy Grail of cardio. I made it to the top in forty-five minutes and quickly took in the view from 8,590’.

The run down the last four miles of the Barr Trail is so much fun! It’s like a natural obstacle course with boulders jutting out on all sides, uneven footing, and many zig zagging switchbacks. Running on flat pavement is like mental and physical torture to me, but downhill on a trail is such a blast! I took off like a rocket and only stopped once to say hello to a deer.

At the bottom I took a few minutes to change my clothes and say goodbye to my sister. Then I was off on my bike heading for Boulder, 107 miles away.

The ride started off through a residential area. Then it hit up a rather gross industrial area, followed by suburban shopping malls and more industry before getting out into nature. My poor route planning skills became abundantly evident when I turned on to the Santa Fe Trail. Basically I blindly trusted RideWithGPS to create my route and it put me on a mountain bike trail. Not my best move (or theirs quite frankly).

For a while I kept thinking, “Oh how hard could this be?” And the trail was more than happy to answer back, “Really, really hard. This can, in fact, feel almost impossible at times.”

I slowly churned my way through big chunky gravel interspersed with patches of fine sand. My skinny road bike tires bounced in different directions off every rock and came to a screeching halt in the dirt. My back tire constantly fishtailed out from under me. I was spinning in my smallest gear trying to go fast enough to maintain what little grip I had on the surface yet not go too fast and lose control.

Often I had to jump off my bike and walk or even carry it over chasms and impassable horizontal wood posts, which I can only assume were there to keep the gravel contained. It was a little bit like mountain biking and a little bit like Cyclocross. At one point there was a guy running in front of me and I couldn’t catch him. I’m not even kidding! This went on for over three hours.

Tiny miracle of the morning: No flats, No falls.
Big lesson: Must research road surfaces!

I did my best to stay loose in my body but by the end of it my teeth ached from the chattering and my wrists and elbows were on fire. It was easily the most intense core workout I’ve ever had. And for those wondering why I didn’t just jump off the trail and onto a road . . . there simply were none in sight.

When I finally found my way back to pavement I cheered but my excitement was short lived. Six hundred feet later the route tried to put me on Interstate 25. I really wish I were kidding. At that point I sat on a barrier, ate a NuGo bar and found a new route with Googlemaps via Highway 105.

In order to get to Highway 105 all I needed to do was take Route 74 west towards the mountains and hang a right. That’s ALL I needed to do!! Well who here thinks Route 74 has even one lick of pavement on it? Anyone? WRONG! Route 74 to Highway 105 is 4.5 miles of loose pack gravel and sand. Hours behind on my expected time, I was hitting a wall and storm clouds were gathering in the north.

When I made it to Highway 105 I stopped to eat my potato chips and gawked at the beauty of this fully paved normal looking road that went on like that—all paved and shit—for a long time. Finally the route became what I had expected all along—farmland backed by the Rocky Mountains. For twenty miles I cruised with glee. I was so grateful to actually be riding my bicycle that I didn’t mind the drizzle and barely noticed the ominous clouds getting ominous-er and ominous-er . . .

Things changed quickly after an SUV with the road to himself sped up and came within about a foot of me. Luckily he was only trying to scare me but his message was loud and clear. Road rage from drivers who believe we have no business being on their roads is something cyclists have to deal with all too often. Unfortunately that stretch of 105 has no shoulder. There’s the white line and then there’s grass.

The rain became a downpour. I had all my lights and glow strips on but it was getting darker and darker by the minute. Traffic picked up and soon it was every other car that was not willing to give me an inch or hang back for ten seconds before passing. So that’s when I pulled off onto the grass, got off my bike and huddled under a tree.

Having been hit once before, I know from experience that it’s not worth taking the chance. And I could read the energy on the road—I was not in an area that took kindly to cyclists.

I took out my phone to check the time. It was already 2:30 PM in the afternoon and I still had fifty miles to go. I was riding directly into the storm, which by the way had been forecasted as a 30% chance of light rain. It was then that I noticed I had accidentally left the video recording on my phone and the battery was down to 3%.

Well, fuck.

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