Catching Up: It is Monday morning and I am still in Colorado Springs. My brain has turned from touring to race. This shift is inevitable. With only five days to race day, I can feel my heart speed up just sitting here writing about it. I have been offered a ride to Leadville and after driving the only highway (#24) up there the other day, I have taken the offer of a ride. The road is a narrow two lane highway and the only way to get to the interior. It also has a very narrow shoulder and with my trailer it would be a tense 200 km ride. Thus I have opted to train and ride here for the couple extra days. To give you an idea of the hills I have posted one of the elevation charts from my ride yesterday below. The fact is the climbs here are unlike and we see in Ontario. You can see on the profile that the climb starts 10 km in and keeps going until 22 km. I could have continued up High Drive for another 10 km and made it a 22 km long climb. Some of the hills in the Leadville race are literally that long. I don’t know that many 12 or 22 km long climbs where I live. I have to find one km hills and do 22 repeats to get anywhere near the kind of training this offers. So, I sit here and wait for my ride. Praying (literally) he contacts me today.
On another note I have now completed 2000 miles (3200 km) of my journey. That number seemed astronomical when I started, and yet now it is done. Truly any long journey does begin with the first step. Too often that first step is also taken with great anxiety and fear. In my case that was true.
Leadville: This buckle is the reason I am here. That silver belt buckle is the prize for finishing the race in under 12 hours. Yes, that is the truth; anytime under 12 hours is considered a success. For my crossfit friends, that is an endurance WOD to the extreme, like doing Murph 12 times back to back. I do not aim for the nine hour ‘big’ belt buckle just this humble 12 hour baby. This would be my fourth belt buckle but on my ride up to Leadville the other day I realized this one is different. You see every time I have come to this race before (2010, 2011 & 2014) I have had my crew with me; Joy & Jesse. In 2011 Caleb joined us for the journey but the truth is I have never done this race alone. I have always had my crew supporting me, and cheering me on; handing me water bottles and food and in Jesse’s case giving me a push back into the race. In the 2011 video below you can see Jesse running me back onto the course and then him running me across the finish line. As I drove up to Leadville the other day every scene was filled with the images and ghosts of our past up in this area. Our family has always done this journey together and I miss them more than you can imagine this year. Everywhere I turn is a reminder of what we have shared together, and how much has changed.
The last 27 months have seen our lives radically altered, and this year I am reminded of that. I drove by Pikes Peak on the way to Leadville. When we climbed down that in 2014 Joy got altitude sickness and barfed her way down the mountain and to the hotel room. Jesse and I took in dinner and a movie and got out of the room, it reminded us too much of Joy in Beijing. Odd memories, but ones that become part of the family history, and the lexicon of our life. ‘The rain falls on the just and on the unjust, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Joy and I can echo that since her accident and ABI (acquired brain injury when lasting this long), we have seen many blessings and gifts in our lives. It has shifted the dynamics of our relationship and helped me to become a more loving and interactive husband. These past six weeks have been hard on Joy, as I am her partner in ways more intimate and close than we have known before in our relationship. Our morning coffee times in the last six months have become a ritual and a bonding. So the loss permeating a Leadville trip without my crew is a weight that bears in on every corner I turn and every mountain peak we marvelled at together. At the same time every breakfast without me brings the same sense of loss to Joy.
This is to point out one thing. You can never understand the journey and loss someone else is going through unless you walk some of the path with them. Long-term illness is crafty in that people’s ability to care has limitations. Especially with a concussion/ABI. People were incredibly interactive in the first six months when Joy had to be in dark rooms and couldn’t see people for long. After that time people begin to forget and their life goes on. This is not a critique, it is natural and inevitable. But now that Joy can handle more interaction, people have forgotten. This has been the most challenging part for Joy and I as we have realized we have done the same to other people around us. It has been a conviction and a challenge for our road forward. You see grief doesn’t only come when you lose somebody permanently. It echoes through your soul in anything where there is loss. Without prayer, much faith and the support of those around us we would not have gotten this far.
Leadville 2010: This was my first race any where near this size. I did the training camp beforehand and realized I was in trouble. This is a tough race with huge climbs and scary downhills. While Joy was standing crewing with the Carmichael team for me and others one lady with her told Joy. ‘I did those downhills and I got off and walked, you don’t know what your husband is going through right now.’ I think she meant it to relieve Joy, it didn’t work. This was by far my slowest race and Jesse running me across the finish line and the broken picture of my snot-covered face by Joy demonstrates what it did to me. I finished in eleven hours and forty two minutes. Joy was in tears when I crossed the line because she thought I wasn’t going to make it. She had seen the six months of training that goes into a race like this. This one picture expresses hundreds of hours and months of dedication and training. Oh, and by Leadville number two I had learned to do my jersey up for the finish! I remember one of the Carmichael crew members telling me the last time I came through the Pipeline aid station. ‘You are going to finish the toughest mountain bike race in North America, now get out there and ride hard!’ Those words still echo through me when I see these pictures and remember that day.
Leadville 2011: This was my second race and I improved by a full hour on my time. Ten hours and forty two minutes trained by Seamus McGrath and again many many hours of trails and gravel roads. Hours and hours and hours comes to bear in one day. You either have it in the tank, or you don’t. This was an incredible trip as Caleb joined us as well. What a blast.
Youtube Video Including Jesse Running Me Across the Finish Line: This is a cool video, it gives you a ‘little’ idea of the pain of the Leadville 100 MTB.
Leadville 2014: This was a different race altogether. This was the only race I trained and raced with a specific goal in mind, sub-10 hours. Every other time my goal was to finish sub-12 and get the buckle. This was also the only race where I strategically screwed up in my race preparation, and race day fueling. As many of you know about me I have a plan and stick to the plan. The day before the race I was cruising the grocery aisles with Joy and Jesse. My coach Chris had said, you should have a treat ready for when you reach goals in the middle of the race. I saw some Fritos (darned things) and thought that is a good treat. Problem is I had never used them in all my hours of training and anal preparation. I mean I had a nutritionist helping me with the race plan and we had trained specifically what to eat and when. I caught up to my splits, ate some Fritos and spent the next five hours of the race feeling like I was going to toss my cookies (or Fritos in this case) all over my bicycle. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Plan, and stick to the plan. I was OK for the times and finished in a disappointing eleven hours thirty two minutes (I like that number two at the end). Got the buckle, but disappointed myself. My crew (Joy & Jesse) were incredible. You can see they set up with a huge Canada flag umbrella and were there for me every step of the way. What an incredible gift.
Leadville 2017: This one has yet to be written. I feel ready. The legs are strong from towing 60-70 pounds of a trailer and equipment across the country. In my heart I am ready but every pedal stroke of this one will be a reminder of how our families life has changed in the last couple years. I sit and write this with incredible thankfulness at what we have shared, and yet a heaviness of what we have lost. I know more than anything Joy wants to be here with me at this race. She wants to be there yelling at the other riders, and feel the energy of people pushing for something that means something maybe only to them and their people. Joy will be with me at this race in 2017. She will be close in my heart in every pedal stroke. For the first time in decades though my dad will be somewhere at the finish line when I get there. That will be a sweetness beyond expression. Some things are lost, and some things are gained. Blessed be the name of the Lord.