Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cliffs, Canyons, Buildings, and Mountains

Day 49 - July 22, 10:08pm
66 miles. Gunnison, CO to Montrose, CO

Probably one of the most amazing days of my life. ( i love how i keep saying that like every other day) But really. First of all, we started off the day at a solid 20mph pace for a while. At this point i would've been happy with anything faster than 11 so that was amazing. It felt like actual biking again. Also, i finally got hold of a damn post office for once and was able to mail some gifts home to the parents. Keep an eye out Mom and Dad.

I keep talking about how much i love scenery transitions and how much im looking forward to the desert. Well i was riding today and suddenly realized "hey, we're here!" It kinda slowly crept up on us but the ground is definitely getting sandier and redder and shrubbier. And hotter, much hotter. There are less mountains and more mesas and buttes also. Its pretty cool terrain for now, or at least until our skin begins to melt.

At mile fifteen we came across this fantastic reservoir/marina where Jenny used to hang out last year. We all parked and hiked about a mile inland to the most intense cliffs ever. Pretty much the whole group was there, and pretty much the whole group ended up naked. All we could do was appease those cliffs that were begging us to jump. There were several levels with the highest one being between 50-60. Looking over the edge was basically like having your legs turn to jello. Of course i had to do it. I've only done 30 feet at most before and this was a big way up. Standing there and knowing i was about to jump was just wild. I mean seriously what in the world can make some consciously just launch off that. As you stand your body fills with adrenaline and the fear fills your veins. Its hard to describe but that kind of absolute terror combined with calm stillness is just such a centering, focusing, force that i love. You'll never feel more alive.

You just gotta do it so i did it, and easy had 4 seconds of air time. Unfortunately daily life doesn't afford me the most experience with freefalling so my back and butt may have hit the water more head on than i would have like them to. (the video is of a more graceful rider than me) The cringes from the other riders upon seeing my red behind let me know what had happened. But what a rush! It was just unreal and fortunately the pain quickly left. (though the redness is still very much there)

I did a second lower jump with much better form and it rocked. What less than rocked was the dude who was driving slowly by in his boat with his binoculars out. Really?

Well basically as soon as i came out of the water the second time i started to feel a slight back pain that i immediately identified as that of having a collapsed lung. I knew exactly what it felt like from my first collapse two years ago and all i could think was "Really Lungs? Do you have to do this now?" I was doing just fine except for the slight pain and could still breathe well which was great but I had to go treat it. The van picked me up and we drove into the hospital in town to get it checked out. Along the way there were two climbs and two amazing descents straight into town filled with typical Colorado gorgeousness. Ugh, wanted to be coasting down them so bad.

At the hospital the wonderful nurse Christine checked me in and the awesome Dr. Talbertt checked me out. I found out he had spent time in the South, which helped explained why he had the most jarringly calm manner to him that i've ever seen in someone. It was really cool to see my fast talking juxtaposed against his paced speech. NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS: He showed me the x ray and explained that my lung was perfectly fine and that my jump had just inflamed some of the muscles there. He totally cleared me for riding and I really do feel great now. Some Aleve and taking it easy will definitely take care of it. My goodness, i cannot tell you what a relief this is. Nobody in the world should ever have to experience what a collapsed lung feels like or the lifestyle limitations it entails.

An interesting thing happened on the way out. I exited the hospital and realized that i hadn't given any information besides my name. They had forgotten to get my billing info. This was quite the ethical dilemma. On the one hand I could avoid paying fees which i hadn't necessarily sneakily avoided and which wouldn't make or break the hospital. I mean other countries have free healthcare provided so why not me. On the other, I had just received very quality healthcare and could support the system which had taken care of me. Well i decided to opt for the karma route and went back and told them. It's still kind of annoying to know i could've just walked away scott free without anyone knowing or caring. But i think that i'm glad i did what i did and supported the place that had helped me. I was happy that greed hadn't gotten the best of me in that situation and prevented me from literally paying my dues. However I'm sure that had i not been insured(as far too many people are) my decision definitely would not have been the same. The whole situation really got me thinking a lot about the morality of societal freeloading in general and the philosophical implications of karma in our decisions. I know, a whole lot to ponder for one decision...

Dinner was provided at the church by the local habitat chapter. I got to meet one of the board members Connie who had this awesome orange socks, yellow pants, orange-yellow striped shirt combo going on that i absolutely loved and most definitely called her out on.

Afterwards 15 of us filled the van to head back up the route to Black Canyon. Only 4 riders had decided to brave the 6 mile 2,000 foot climb to the top during the day. We were deciding to take the easier route and see what this canyon deal was about. All i can say is that i literally began to tear up as i approached the sunset lit edge of the cliffs and saw what marvelous beauty there was. Even thinking about it just gets me really emotional. Standing up there with my fellow riders and seeing how far we've come to get to this much raw beauty utterly overwhelmed me. We spent the entire sunset hanging out and checking out different angles. The 5 minutes of silence we took while gazing out just put me in another world mentally. I get tingles whenever i reimagine it. I hope the pictures can do it justice. I mean, i keep saying it, but the beauty was just crushing. Never even imagined that a landscape so intense could exist. I heard that its pretty much on par with the Grand Canyon depth-wise and getting to learn about the formation process of the pegmatite dikes was historical fun!

The drive down in pitch dark was wild on its own as the town lights shimmered from afar. We listened to some of my favorite songs that i have associated with this trip("buildings and mountains" by the Republic Tigers, check them out!)and the calmness that i was feeling for that whole ride and still am now was so intense. But there was also a mountain lion! like a legit beast that we passed on the side of the road. I didn't actually see it, but the sudden freaking out and swearing of everyone else definitely confirmed that it was a Mountain Lion. Would've been so cool but oh well.

As if i couldn't be better, Miranda and Clarissa just presented me with a box of gourmet chocolates since i had visited the hospital. I love them. The girls i mean. But i've basically been in the corner of a gym for the past 10 minutes closing my eyes and tilting my head back as i chew chocolaty goodness with caramel dripping wildly from my mouth.

I'll admit it, standing at that canyon, i couldn't help but think of how uncontrollably I'm going to cry when i leave this unbelievable journey and these amazing people. I guess I've just never really felt so connected. To nature, to this trip, to my teammates, and to myself. I think that more than any other day so far, I really feel ready to totally make the most of every single day and really appreciate where and with whom I am. This was definitely the fresh breath i needed to give me a perspective on where i am and where i want to be. I'm looking forward to where this new insight will take me.

Descending Monarch Pass: The Movie

Day 48 - July 21, 11:02pm
66 miles. Salida, CO to Gunnison, CO

So i guess that when you have two "one of those days" you start to wonder whether "those days" are really so isolated after all. Again, the first 10 miles today were just not working with me. I really think its the lack of daily sleep thats not letting my muscles fully recover each day from such an extreme workout on top of the building sleep debt. Am easily the last person to bed almost every night. LIterally all i think about during the day sometimes is whether i can just get into the host and get 10 hours of sleep and freshen up. As you can tell from the timestamp thats not really the case tonight.

Interesting Day though. Started out with my same back tire getting another flat. In the process of changing also realized that my tires were gashed up left and right. I guess i should consider changing them but then again, if they got me this far...

Anyway, today we climbed Monarch Pass which is no small feat. By climbing Monarch Pass i mean ascending 3,700 feet to around 11,700 Trail Ridge wasn't much more than that and this went for six miles between mile 17 and 23. The climb went steady enough but i definitely did take stops this time. Mountain climbing is really interesting. You know you're just in for an hour of straight grueling muscle soreness and lack of breath. It really cultivates an amazing sense of focus, pacing, and self awareness in a unique way. And I guess i could make some kind of cliche analogy here of how climbing hills is like getting through struggles in life.

The gift store at the top was packed with Monarch Pass stuff advertising the elevation. Lets be real though, after summiting Trail Ridge at 12,000 how could i really lower my standards by buying a monarch pass sticker.

I rocked the downhill with Rob and it was one of the trip's best yet. 10 miles of pure, fairly easy descent. There's nothing like whizzing by at 30 mph and seeing a sign that says "6% grade, next 7 miles" It was so awesome in fact that halfway down, Rob and I couldn't help but film it to share it with everyone. What you see is taken from my camera strapped to my handlebars with two bandanas(LOVE BANDANAS!) as we descend about 5 miles at 30 mph. What a great rush. (be sure to watch to the end) Parents, please at least try to not poop in your pants as you watch.

Unfortunately the rest of the day didn't quite match yesterday's descent. While the next 40 miles were a gentle downhill, that was negated by the ferocious headwind blasting us the whole way. It was pretty miserable and just plain frustrating. To sum it up, at one point I was pedaling in first gear on a downhill struggling to go 10 mph. Yea, it was that bad.

Oh but wait, the morning music. I had an hour of handpicked songs qued up and my excitement to play it got me right out of my sleeping bag(which is definitely not the norm). In short, everyone loved it and gave tons of compliments. I really appreciated this. It was so awesome that i could listen to my own happy music but even moreso that other people enjoyed it. It set a really great tone for our whole morning music rotation which the riders are now taking over from the leaders and showed that it'll be really fun. Its sweet because everyone is pumped not only to play their music, but also to hear what surprises others have in store for the morning. Already some people were busy today planning next week's music assignment. Oh man, the only thing more awesome than music is music sharing. I'm so glad the trip is taking on this dimension.

Also, Carlie and I have decided to become hardcore pushup buddies. We've been doing it for just about a week now so i feel comfortable speaking of it as a routine. No matter what as soon as we get into the host we jump straight into them. My personal goal is to do 100 pushups in as few sets as possible by the end of the trip. Ideally 1, but most likely 2. Its great since if one of us is feeling a little lazy the other has no problem yelling at them. It totally makes me feel 100x better to be exercising my full body. Its really annoying to be doing such a crazy daily biking workout only to watch your upper body strength whither. Plus, swimming trunks end up covering the legs anyway...