Well, I’ve been living like a wild old mustang
Out in Montana fields
Might’ve earned me a bad reputation
But never stopped these wheels
From going and rolling too far
Running and gunning a little too hard
So unreigned, so untamed
This time last week I was riding the high alpine singletrack in the remote Rocky Mountains of Colorado with the Seat Time crew on their third-annual Seat Time Adventures “trail ride.” We started with six riders from Tennessee, Florida and Texas, and added more as the week went on, from Alabama to Texas and Colorado; we rode so hard for the first three days that, by day four, six was down to two.
From the beginning, as the only female in the group, the guys wanted to know if I was “thin skinned.”
“Really?” I mocked them. “I grew up racing dirt bikes.”
“It gets worse,” said of the group’s biggest ball-busters.
I assumed he was referring to their locker room talk. “I know how it gets.”
Ride 1 – Warm Welcome
The morning of the first ride, after breakfast burritos, I crammed my pack with EPIC Bars, Skratch Lab packets, a spare tube, pack jacket and extra water, and quickly learned that my level of preparation was no match for theirs (they re-jetted my bike, bled my rear brakes, adjusted my clutch, changed my oil, loaned me radiator fluid, a GoPro, adjusted my Camelbak straps and saved my life more than once.)
We took off swapping the lead down the doubletrack for a few-mile warm up. I wondered where I would fall in the pecking order, expecting to be near the front (not so much), knowing I finally felt at home in front of them with my helmet on.
Before long, we turned up the singletrack where conditions toughened and I earned the first crash of the day with a silly slip out around an off-camber corner. I knew, from that very first climb, that this was no joyride. The slick, hard pack dirt was worlds away from the super deep sugar sand that I left back home, and it took me all day to get somewhat adjusted to riding at altitude since I was used to training at or below sea level. Gotta love Florida!
We completed intense, miles-long climbs without stopping for breathers, passing mostly solo hikers and a few couples with dogs. On one of the climbs, we braked for a mountain biker stopped on the side of the trail.
“I wish I had a motor,” he said as we idled by. “You guys are smart.”
On the downhills, the leaders disappeared, waiting at the next intersection for me and the caboose who would not leave me behind. I pushed to catch the tail end of their nonstop pace.
We made a stop by the lake to tinker with my air screw. When I heard them say the first day was the easiest, I switched to survival mode. Combined with the elevation and their above average rock riding ability, it was plenty fast, so far, and technical, especially with the morning’s slick roots and rocks.
As the first loop wore on, a sense of bravery washed over me, maintaining my brake, throttle and clutch control while paying attention to my radiator spewing smoke after every climb.
We headed back to camp after 24 miles, according to my watch, for gas, adjustments, a pb&j sandwich and to bleed my rear brakes – thanks, James! Todd gave me a fist pump and told me he was proud. So far, so good.
After lunch, we took off on another 25-miler after linking up with one of the Sherco riders, the Alabama legend Daryl Moody, who told me to “be careful” before Tank 7 – a mostly wet, downhill rock garden. When we pulled up the end at the road, after I crashed about three times within a mile from the finish while still managing to pull in before all of them got their goggles off, Moody gave me a fist pump.
“She’s a good rider,” I heard another say.
On another section, I badly wanted to look out to the view, but the rock scattered trail under my wheels needed all of my focus not to mess up and fall off the mountain. Taking such extreme risks is not appealing for a lot of people, obviously.
I went to sleep the first day before dark, after completing 600 percent of my daily activity goal, hearing Clay say, “You rode good today.” Of the two loops, a 24- and a 25-miler, my heart rate hit zone 4 for 46 of the 1 hour and 42 minutes on the first loop and I was in zone 5, the highest, for almost 7 minutes. The second loop saw similar results: 41 minutes in zone 4, 11 in zone 5 with max heart rates around 188/189 (93 percent) and averages 155/154 (76 percent.)
Day 2 – Sink or swim
I woke up knowing Day 2 would be harder, and it was, but we completed another 54 miles total, burning over 2,000 calories with an average speed of 13.6 and max speed of 53 mph. Max altitude was 11,805 with 7,200 ascent and 7,340 descent.
The day started with a ride among hundreds of cows trampling through the trails ahead of us on their way out to pasture. New baby cows galloped across the rugged meadows, stumbling over their feet. The first gnarlier-than-yesterday climb of the day seemed like it would never end. When I pulled up to the stop, I heard Zak say, “I’m a little impressed.” I laughed. Shit, I was impressed, too.
We completed the hardest, most difficult challenges I’d ever seen (wait until tomorrow), passing only a handful of people on foot and a few mountain bikes. I learned why all of the Texans wear their goggles backward when we ran into three racers from their local series, all matching with the strap on top under the visor. How can they be thousands of miles away from home and run into someone they know from back home? The riding is just that good in Colorado. The day concluded with dozens of creek crossings with me being the first to drown my bike, but not the last!
Day 3 – The guys with a girl
On the third day…when I heard we were climbing Horseshoe, rumored to be one of the most technically-demanding trails in Colorado with insanely-slick rocks and steep, slotted AND slippery climbs, I knew I’d have to dig deep in the face of my still-cramped-from-yesterday clutch and brake fingers, pumped forearms, sore bum and overall sad state of my motorcycle.
At the bottom of Horseshoe, after a snack break, one of today’s guest riders from Colorado asked what air pressure I was running and suggested I drop it for much-needed added traction. When I said I feared getting a flat, he offered to change it for me if that happened. (It never did.)
Between my bike overheating after every climb, I worked on keeping up my momentum, balancing over pointy rocks and not slipping out on the way up. After three straight failed attempts on one section, I realized I could not do this one on my own. I needed help, and a warm wash of shame came over me. This was what they originally were all worried about: me not knowing what I didn’t know, coming from a place where breathing was easy through the flat pine rows. It was not often that I was the least technical rider in the group, and I wanted out. Fast.
Asking anyone to help you up a hill is hard enough, ask anyone, but asking someone to actually ride your bike for you is a question I haven’t asked anyone for decades. But, sucking air around 10,000 feet and frustrated I could not even see a walkable line up these climbs, let alone anywhere to point my front wheel, my chest heaved. I’ve never been one to have panic attacks but a few times I couldn’t get my helmet off fast enough to catch my breath. I could not, for the life of me, pull it together, and when something hard happens, my first instinct is to run.
I regrouped and tried to launch my bike and body up and forward but slipped into a crevice, my back tire spinning and smoking.
“I can’t do this, you guys,” I admitted once they found me around the corner stuck again between rocks. I wanted badly to turn around so they would not see me cry. I wondered why I was doing this. I had nothing to prove but never in a million years did I think I would come up short.
“I just can’t. I’m too tired.”
“You can do it,” they said, calling me by name, determined not to let anything steal my joy even if I did not believe them. “We’ll help you.”
As I continued to mess up, they surrounded me with support – from small to grand gestures – over and over again. I tried not to judge myself for needing their help and obviously was relieved that they chose to help me at all, embarrassed as I was, my seat wet with tears. I argued it would be so much easier for everyone if I could turn back, but they forced me to keep going, up and up, building my trust in them (and me) one impossible, progressively slower rock section at a time.
I reached a point, once we stopped near the top for a break, where I had a total crisis of confidence and wanted to disappear, turning my back to the group to find a log to sit on and gather myself. Real cute.
In the midst of my come-to-Jesus self-talk, I recalled the age-old expression: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Maybe I needed to feel this disappointment, I thought. After all, I was doing the best I could; I literally could not try any harder. It was a reality check and one I knew that would be life altering; I never thought I wouldn’t be able to deliver on my commitment to ride every trail they did but I knew I couldn’t waste time in denial. I needed to embrace the setback, pick myself up and rejoin the others. Somehow, slowly but surely, we made our way to the top. I hope they forgive me for not being able to help them help each other, too.
After three straight days of riding, I’m grateful to come away relatively unscathed, save for a torn seat cover and scratched graphics and a string of bruises up and down both legs. (Before leaving for vacation, I prepared for the worst, arranging someone to adopt my dog if I didn’t make it back and, just in case, telling my friends, family and colleagues that it was nice knowing them.)
I’m more appreciative of all of the goofy memories and lessons learned. The most fun, if frustrating, times I’ve ever had in my life have happened on my motorcycle, and this trip takes the cake. It’s only now that I understand what Brene Brown meant when she said, “what makes you vulnerable is what makes you beautiful.” It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about showing up and putting yourself out there, even if you can’t control the outcome.
Thanks to all of the guys at Seat Time for giving me a shot and awarding me the Best Rookie award. I’m already looking forward to next year! Braaaup!
“And all you keep trying to do is slow it down, soak it in
Keep trying to make the good times last as long as you can
But you can’t, man It just goes too fast.”