Dec 20, 2010

Tell Me What You Know About Dreaming

Another sun sets over the Tucson Mountain Park. The cloudless Arizona sky almost instantly turns to a deep ruby red. Like most evenings, my mind begins to wander.

Although every moment in my passing life is new and fresh, I am overcome with a strange sense of familiarity. For some, racing over 140 miles is it, the end-all, be-all, the pinnacle of their existence. I wish I could relate. Memories of the day have faded quicker than the deep ache in my battered body. The howling wind has calmed and that intoxicating sun has set. When a person goes through a traumatic experience, those most upsetting moments are the first to be forgotten. I remember the pain. I remember telling myself that after today, it was alright if I never ran again. But those memories have lost clarity. They’ve been pushed deep into the part of my brain that allows me to forget. It’s that most crucial facet of my character that allows me to dream tonight.

My dreams are consistent, yet strong willed. Looking back upon that day in Cozumel, some may express admiration; others, dissatisfaction. Regardless, that day happened like any other. It was and still is merely an extension of that dream. A day that can never be replaced, will never be forgotten, but is completed incapable of satisfying that dream. Going fast in Cozumel was never my dream. Finishing time is irrelevant. My dream burns as deep as it ever has. Like every year, time has shaped and changed my life’s aspirations. But the beauty of a dream is its ability to change overtime while remaining true to its original form. As long as I keep chasing, the ending to my story will always be right.

Dec 13, 2010

Another Summer Adventure in the South of France

The tips of my fingers turned to a ghostly white. The voice in my head was convinced that my death grip was my only saving grace. My shoulders started to fatigue, but I clenched even tighter. I asked myself, “Was this going to be another one of those bad decisions?” My body language portrayed my distrust. I was told to relax, but I couldn’t. Why was I so afraid? A day ago, I had bombed down this exact mountain, dodging each pot hole and crack with my skinny bicycle tires. Maybe it was the inevitable darkness of a mountain town at night? Maybe it was that my life was in someone else’s hands? Regardless, I hung onto the back of the motorbike as we ripped down the mountain…

The sun seemed to rise early that morning. I rolled out of bed with the weird sensation that I had wasted the whole day sleeping. It was only 10:00am… The coastal wind near the Spanish border was fierce today. The road sign read 40km to Collioure. The chosen route was incredibly hilly, but the views of the Mediterranean were absolutely breath taking. Knowing that I only had to ride an extra 20km to Matt’s house in the mountains, I decided that I would turn today’s short ride into a seemingly innocent game called King of the Mountain. The road steeply climbed out of each coastal town. My heart was working overtime as I eagerly pushed my 60 pound machine up the road. The wind was strong enough to push me to a dead stop on some of the steeper pitches. I craved the reprieve of each descent. After climbing and descending through half a dozen Mediterranean towns, I unenthusiastically began the steady climb into the Pyrenees.

Six days had passed since I found myself glaring over all of Perpignan and the seemingly infinite Mediterranean Sea. Matt, my previous host in Perpignan, was kind enough to offer me a place to crash for another night. This time around, it didn’t feel like I was couch surfing. Matt and I got along pretty well, and I felt like I was visiting an old friend.  That afternoon, I finally found a host in Beziers, a very small town between Perpignan and Montpellier. My original plan was to pass through Beziers; however, I was told that Saturday night was La Feria, their biggest street party of the year. Knowing that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience La Feria, I made plans to leave Perpignan the next afternoon and make the 95 mile trip to Beziers.

It was Friday night in Perpignan and Matt didn’t want to spend it hanging around in the Pyrenees. We decided to make the trip into Argeles, a small beach town 20km down the mountain. Our main objective was fraternizing with the local gals. Matt suggested that we hop on his 100cc scooter. Knowing nothing about motorized bikes, I figured it was a fine idea. I didn’t regret this decision until he hit the throttle and we started flying down the mountain.

Having never been on a scooter, I was completely unable to relax and trust Matt. I was so shit scared that I thought I was going to crap my pants. Every time he hit the throttle, I felt as if I was going to tumble off the back of the bike. My nerves sent my heart rate flying as we came off the mountain and onto the 10km flat section between Sorede and Argeles. He punched it as we ripped through the dark, narrow roads. I held onto to back of the bike like I was fighting for my life. The headlight seemed to produce as many lumens as my trail running head lamp. It was almost like the moon was guiding us through the countryside. I continued to pray that this decision was not my last.

After surviving the commute to Argeles, I seriously considered an alternative way back. Matt laughed. “You just need to relax, loosen your grip, and trust the bike. Shit, I’ll let you drive it home if you want.” I thought about it, but quickly dismissed it as a bad idea. Matt continued, “Listen, we’ll get a few drinks, loosen you up a bit, and then we’ll cruise home.” Now I laughed. “Yeah Matt, that sounds like a great idea.” He sensed my sarcasm.

Sarcasm or not, drinking a little gin was indeed a pretty good idea. Deep down, I knew I was acting a little reckless. But for some reason, I allowed myself to get back on the scooter. **Sorry Mom, maybe you shouldn’t be reading this post** With an artificially created sense of trust, I relaxed my grip as Matt hit the throttle…

To my surprise, I didn’t go flying off the back of the bike. As each kilometer passed, I became increasingly more comfortable. This time around, that long and fast straightaway between Argeles and Sorede was absolutely magnificent. My fear of the dark had diminished as I basked in the beauty of the moonlit mountain side. Our return home was unlike anything I had ever experienced. A profound feeling a freedom came over me as we tore back into the mountains.

 Figuring that the 95 mile trip to Beziers couldn’t take more than 6 hours, I slept through the morning. When you are traveling by bike, you really never know when you will come across a nice place to stay. I was thankful for a bed, my own bathroom, and a seriously bad ass infinity pool that overlooked Perpignan from up in the Pyrenees. Matt’s place wasn’t just a nice place to crash, it was more like as oasis in the desert. Convinced that a late morning trail run was in order, Matt and I cruised onto the mountain trail. He had been telling me stories about this waterfall deep in the mountain. Known for its rock cliffs, this secret spot was a natural 12 meter platform for local dare devils. Not completely sure if I wanted to test my luck on the natural diving tower, we headed into the thick forest. The trail disappeared after a mile. Creating our own path, our running slowed into a hike. We dlimbed over boulders, jumped over creeks, and pushed our way through thick brush. Matt barely remembered the route. The whole way he joked about the time he got lost back here and didn’t make it out until night fall. I didn’t find it too funny.

I could hear the waterfall in the distance… we were close. The tiny rock pool was barely large enough to consider jumping into. I couldn’t believe that people heaved themselves into it from the top of the 36 foot waterfall. Matt showed me a smaller, alternative rock platform, and I started to consider my jump. In order to climb to the side of the waterfall, I’d have to wade through the rock pool first. I started to slide off my shoes. As I was about to slip into the dark waters, Matt urged me to quickly swim to the other side. Red flag… “Why the hell would I need to hurry to the other side?” Matt pointed into the muddy waters. Moving closer, I peered deep into the rock pool. “Is that what I think it is?!?” Looking closely, it was hard to miss the giant mass sliding through the water. A shiver ran through my spine. Snakes… my kryptonite…

Feeling a little let down, we hiked our way back towards civilization. Even though I was feeling pretty adventurous, I wasn’t about to mess with a murky pool filled with snakes. Not to mention the 6 meter jump into such a pool. Thinking back, I pretty sure I made the right decision. With the time already nearing noon, my serious commute to Beziers was looming ahead of me. My young and enthusiastic host, Lucile, wasn’t expecting me until 8:00pm. Before I made the trip, I was told to be ready and willing to party all night. Praying for a tailwind, I started my descent down the mountain. An all night street party was my reward for a long day it the saddle. As the sun bore down, I pedaled my heavy touring machine towards the sea. The miles were flying by…

With a slight change of direction, I was stopped dead in my tracks. The headwind almost pushed me backwards. Cruising at an average speed of 8mph, I started to realize that this would be the longest day of my life…

Nov 14, 2010

As The Elevator Door Opens...

The frigid mountain air hits you hard enough to make your hair stand. The gloomy feeling of dawn has yet to give way to a cool fall morning. Within a few seconds of landing on the first floor, you can hear a roar of laughter coming from the cafeteria. Its a few minutes past 7:00am, but almost everyone has shaken off the domineering effects of a shitty nights sleep. The world they live in is foreign; absent of any of the comforts they once knew. Everything is the same, except still so different. A strange bellow radiates from the next room. You ask yourself “What could be so amusing to these guys this early in the morning?”

Penetrating the dimly lit hallway is the inviting glow of the cafeteria; although, the frigid breeze radiating from a slightly cracked window is enough to make you wish you were back in the warm comforts of your bed. A zombie-like figure, with his head sinking low, brushes past you en route to a caffeinated oasis. It’s just another tolerable addiction in the life of acceptable addicts. 

Each person in that crowded cafeteria is largely dissimilar; however, existing in each person is this innate ability to confide in their athletic counterparts. The room is overflowing with newborn friendships, disproving any notion that men of diverse cultures are inherently different. When everyone’s native language is sport, it is hard to be lost in translations.

There is something organic that pulls together this endurance crowd. In each of these men exists some sort of raw determination that forces them into discomfort every single day for a lifetime. Without any hesitations, they have accepted their destiny. Their mutual acceptance of a life of distress has brought them together on this rather usual morning. Like any morning, this peculiar group of young men basks in the absence of any real stress; for the rest of the day would be much different and they all know that.

Weekly Coffee Ride / Beer Run to Les Rousses, France

An Incredible Group of Athletes in Premanon, France

Logan and I before heading to a World Cup CycloCross Race

Danish Super Star, Jacob Christiansen, and I during our last night

4 hours into ride... Andrew Lees and I ripping down into St. Claude, France. The "tour" climb awaits.

Eight of the best damn mustaches I've ever seen

Getting ready to ride with Ian Terry and Adam Aisen 

Paul was arguably one of the most badass guys in the entire country

Oct 5, 2010

Nothing Like Rocky IV

The story of my trip has barely been told, but I needed this time to take an intermission. Even though I have every intention of telling this story, the urge to write has disappeared. I found myself lost in the middle of the most serious training block of my life. For weeks, my brains sole purpose was to provide motivation for difficult training days. When those days ended, it seemed to turn itself off.

Four days ago, I caught a stomach virus that was making its way through the training facility in Premanon, France. After three long days in bed, I am finally considering returning to light training. This sickness brought my first break from training in over five weeks. Maybe catching this bug was even a blessing in disguise.

Anyways… before I get back to the story, here’s a glimpse into my life in Premanon, France.

Life seemed to stand still while traveling through the South of France. I was excited for a change of pace. I was excited to really start getting fit, and mostly, I was excited to have my own bed. After a very confusing and interesting final night on the road (I’ll get to that another day), I finally made it back to where I started… the Geneva Airport. It was hard to fight the excitement. I was about to be picked up and whisked into the mountains to find my new home in Premanon. As we headed away from civilization, it became pretty apparent that we were going to be living in a state of seclusion. At the time, this excited me. For an athlete, there has always been something mysterious about training in pure isolation. Like when Rocky seeks seclusion in the Russian wilderness to train for his big fight with Ivan Drago. Anyone who has seen that training montage has had fantasies about leaving society to train, only to return faster, stronger and much tougher. These two months would be my personal Rocky IV training montage.

After five weeks in the Jura Mountains, I’ve learned more than I have ever needed to know about training seclusion. Rocky seemed to make it work just fine, but let me fill you in on a few key aspects of training isolation that Rocky IV doesn’t teach you. For one, I haven’t been lucky enough to have Adrian swing by for a conjugal visit. It’s no surprise that Rocky’s training improved after his lady showed up at his cabin. An athlete, dealing solely with absolutes, longs for the soft contour of a woman. “Chasing it” may be a pastime too dangerous for a lonely endurance athlete, but at least it gives the mind a break from the daily toils of vigorous training. The hardest part of training off the grid is the allocation of free time. What the hell did Rocky do when he wasn’t lifting logs, chopping down trees, wading through icy rivers, trudging through mounds of snow, or summiting mountains with his bare hands? Did he sit around the fire and play Yahtzee with Paulie? Did he read books, watch adult movies, or do crossword puzzles? No! Of course he didn’t. That SOB trained from dawn till dusk. From what I gathered, recovery is not an aspect of Rocky’s training plan. Unfortunately, some of us don’t posses the ability to recover while doing pull ups above a raging fire. In real life, there are easy days, off days, sick days; days where you body won’t let you keep pushing. So what do you do then? Off time in the Jura Mountains has been the most difficult. Keeping yourself busy is easier said than done. For some reason, when life is as simple as it can possibly be, you lose every motivation to be productive. We spend 16 hours a day in a small door room set at 9000ft above sea level. After 4 straight weeks of this, your days become a little dull. Days blend together in a miasma of solitude. Nothing changes here. I assume that prison is similar, except more dudes, no wine with dinner, and the alleged occurrence of unsolicited fornication.

With each passing day, I find myself faster, stronger, and tougher. But it has had mental consequences. Like the other guys here, I’ve had my fair share of rough days. The movies don’t show you what you don’t want to see. Rocky IV must have cut the scene where Rocky freaks out and starts throwing flaming logs at Paulie because he is sick and tired of eating the same shitty ham sandwich for lunch everyday. The world doesn’t want to see that kind of action. But that is reality. No matter how tough the person, eventually something will crack them. Around here, the absence of life’s little comforts is enough to make a few guys falter. Training here in the mountains may seem great, but it takes a specific type of person to succeed. If we stay sane, we’ll all come out of this ordeal faster, stronger, and tougher. But it will never be like it was in the movies.

Sep 16, 2010

My Dream Evening

Leaving Barcelona was bitter sweet. Although it was one of the most interesting places I’ve visited, I was excited to get up the coast. Riding into Barcelona was one of the toughest bike rides I had ever been on. I was praying that leaving would be the opposite.

The strong coastal wind that was pounding me from the front (that’s what she said) was now hurling me up the coast at an average speed of 23 mile per hour. As the miles clicked away, I wondered how far I could make it today. My original plan was to finish the 80 mile trip to Girona. However, much before four hours had passed, I was already outside of the city limits. It was a rather hot Thursday afternoon and I started to fantasize about drinking beer on the beach of some amazing seaside town. Riding all day through the dull Spanish countryside deserved some type of reward. Beer and the beach was my destiny. Remembering all of the small beach towns I passed near the French border, I hammered along the flat highway with a dream.

Chasing me from the southwest were some nasty looking storm clouds. I hadn’t seen rain in a week so I quickly dismissed the idea of getting caught in a storm. My dream evening was far too perfect and I wouldn’t be happy settling down anywhere else. The sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, the feeling of sand on my battered feet, the taste of cold beer flowing into my slightly dehydrated body… It all sounded too perfect to pass on. Storm or not, I was going to make it.

My Garmin had just clicked past 90 miles when the clouds settled in above me. The winds started to howl and the temperatures immediately dropped 10 degrees. I knew I was getting close to the coast, but continuing on was a serious gamble. In the outskirts of Figures, I headed into a small town in search of some directions. The sun was still barely peaking through the black sky. I found a small, seemingly cozy hotel that would have been perfect for one night. It had one hitch… it was 19 miles from the coast. I forged on into the dark afternoon.

Feeling an imaginary parachute attached to my back, I dragged myself through the brutal headwind. I was only 7 miles away from Llanca, a small Spanish beach town, when the storms hit. At this point, I didn’t even know if I would be able to find shelter in Llanca. But, it was the first town near the sea, and my dream evening was much too important to me after 101 miles of riding under the scorching Spanish sun.

Llanca was indeed a beautiful and small coastal village. My dreams would have been a reality… if the rain would have ever stopped. After carrying 40lbs of gear 108 miles in less than 6 hours, I was greeted by a rain drenched beach. Luckily, I found a nice, inexpensive hotel across from the beach. After a shower, I headed across the street to a small bar for that cold beer “on the beach.” I guess only some dreams can become a reality.

The next evening I was back in Perpignan for a fairly exhilarating two days involving some attempted cliff diving, some mountain running, and one terrifying evening from the back of a scooter. These few days were unlike my last stay in Perpignan in that I now had a plan. Beziers was 90 miles away and I was going to make it there for their biggest street party of the year, La Feria!

Cheers from Llanca!

Sep 11, 2010

One “Nasty Monday” in Barcelona, Spain

The sun beat down on my black Spin kit. The sweat crystallized on my jersey before I even had the chance to realize that I was sweating. The chosen route to Girona, the halfway point to Barcelona, was on incredibly hilly coastal roads. The road would climb out of each quiet Mediterranean beach village until it eventually started to descend into the next village. This repeated for hours. The climbs were steep and long, but each time the road reached the summit, I was greeted with one incredible view. I tried to fight the urge to get off my bike every 5 minutes to take another picture. Over one of the last climbs, I finally crossed into Spain. The smell of the Spanish countryside immediately hit me. Cow shit. Ugh. The temperatures rose even more, and I started to have trouble keeping myself hydrated. I had been riding pretty hard all morning. I didn’t like the idea of “touring,” so I had been riding like a normal training day (with 35lbs of gear). As I started to get closer to Girona, I realized that an 80 mile ride with bags was more like a 100+ mile ride. My bonk hit swiftly at 65 miles, just outside of Figueres, Spain. My head sank low for the last hour into Girona. After over 5 hours of riding in the sun, I needed some cool weather and some sleep. Instead, I received an uncomfortable bed in a shitty hostel with no windows and a night full of sweating. At one point, I woke up, ripped the sheets off the bed, walked to the shower, soaked them in cold water, made my bed, and went back to sleep. Even though I was wet, it worked and I got some much needed rest.

The next day ended up being the second most challenging day I’ve spent on a bicycle. **The other came a week later when I rode through the windiest region in France on my way to Beziers** I woke up early thinking that I needed to do another run, so I set out into the streets of Girona. I followed a nice river trail to the outskirts of the city. As morning came, the fog lifted off the river, and I was treated to a beautiful run in a fairly dirty Spanish city. Exhausted from a lack of sleep and my morning run, I took a quick nap before they finally kicked me out of the hostel. It was around 12 and it was already starting to get hot again.

The ride to Barcelona was one of the worst afternoons I had this entire month. The countryside was dull and infinite, the sun was hot as hell, and the wind pelted me head on for the duration of the ride. I couldn’t get any break from the wind, and I started to realize that I would probably have this headwind for the entire 80 miles. Luckily, I found a little entertainment to keep my mind preoccupied. As I slowly made my way through the Spanish countryside, I started to notice young women hanging out on the side of the road. When I passed the first woman, I assumed she was selling something on the side of the road (she pretty much was). In southern Arizona, there are plenty of people that sell food and crafts on the side of the highway. I assumed this was like that. I slowed down thinking that maybe I could buy some food. The girl stood up from under her umbrella, turned around, hiked up her skirt and flashed me her backside.

“Ahhhhh!” It was a shrill of shear shock and a little excitement.

 I couldn’t even believe it. I had never seen prostitutes outside of the city like this. Most of them were very young and somewhat attractive eastern European women. If anything was going to save this ride, it was going to be free nudity. The closer I got to Barcelona, the more naked women I saw (a precursor to what my stay in Barcelona was like). Around 20 miles out, I hit the seaside and the real headwind struck. Those last 20 miles took me around 2 hours. I tried to have patience, but there were no more prostitutes.

Rolling into Barcelona was a bit overwhelming. The city was large and I had no idea where my host, Luis, lived. Again, my GPS worked for shit and it took me an hour to find his apartment. As he opened the door to his centrally located apartment (he lived in the gothic area right between the beach and the city), I was hit with a blast of AC. I welcomed the icy apartment with open arms. Never mind the fact that my bed was a love seat, his apartment was freezing. I loved it.

After some much needed food and a few beers, I felt like Luis was an old friend. Luis is a very particular, laid back yet outgoing, homosexual from Argentina. It took me awhile to realize that he was gay, but his fairly flamboyant and weirdly gigantic French roommate should have been a slight give away. In any sense, I could have cared less about Luis’s sexual preference. I was just happy to have such a caring and hospitable host in Barcelona. Plus, we got along well and I had this feeling that my time in Barcelona would be unforgettable.

The next day was Monday. Nasty Monday to be exact… but I’ll get to that later. Exhausted from the last few days of travel, I slept until 1pm. Luis had just got back from work and we made plans to go to the pool later. Because of travel, I hadn’t been swimming much. Let’s just say, swim training in Barcelona was well worth the 10 Euros I paid for pool access. It was kind of like paying cover at a strip club and then getting to do a swim workout. Walking out onto the pool deck was like walking into a women’s locker room. Almost every woman was topless. I felt like I was overdressed in my tiny blue Speedo. I found an open lane and tried to start my workout. But to my surprise, the women don’t just tan topless, they train topless too! Two fairly attractive (and topless) Spanish women asked to share my lane. I quickly nodded my head in agreement. Both women wore bottoms, a swim cap and goggles, and both women were legitimately doing swim workouts. I tried to do my workout, but I ended up doing an impromptu kick set. I couldn’t help myself. Instead of trying to blend into the odd swimming environment, I used my go-to excuse for this trip… “It’s okay. I’m American.”

As we left the pool and headed towards the beach for some post workout relaxing, I saw a very odd site. Looking back now, it wasn’t so odd for Barcelona, but at the time it was quite shocking. A man walked down the city streets completely naked. With some sandals on his feet and a bag draped over his shoulder, he walked through the streets like it was no big deal. I couldn’t stop starring. This was NOT normal for me.

Later at the beach, **Luis actually took me to the gay beach without telling me** I saw way more nudity, male and female, and a few other things that I would rather not share here. Although, if you would like to know, just ask me. I have pictures too!

That night we met up with a few friends of Luis for what we will call “Nasty Monday.” It was already 10pm, which means I could finally get some dinner. In Spain, restaurants don’t even open until 9pm. This was a weird part of Spanish culture that I didn’t like too much. Anyways, after dinner and a few drinks, we headed out to this club in the heart of the city. It was a Monday night and I didn’t think that it was going to be too eventful. We arrived around midnight, grabbed a few gin and tonics and hung out in the empty club. Fast forward 20 minutes… the club is freaking packed! In literally 20 minutes, 500 people packed this club. I couldn’t even believe it. The music was bumping, my judgment was fairly slighted and I was ready for what Barcelona had to offer…

The clock clicked past 1:00pm before my body was somewhat functional again. With that retched hangover cloud floating over my head, I tried to engage in some touristy activities. I quickly decided the tourism is boring and it was too damn dehydrated to be roaming through the park, no matter how beautiful the landscape (Park Guell was quite stunning and I would absolutely recommend this tourist attraction, especially in the winter). I took retreat in an icy apartment.

Tired of feeling the effects of Barcelona, I convinced myself that I needed to run myself into some type normalcy. Being that Barcelona is quite polluted, I took the train to the outskirts of the city. Once out of the train station, I ran straight up… a pattern that frequented my runs in Spain and the south of France. The road twisted and turned as I climbed out of the city. Not accustom to the steep grade, my quads burned with that lovely feeling of lactic acid. My breathing was heavy and my hangover was quickly a feeling of the past. The grade evened out for a bit, but my effort continued to climb. Latching onto a struggling mountain biker, my climbing pace turned into a tempo as I followed him onto a dirt trail.

With a slight turn of the head, I whispered to myself, “You have got to me kidding me…”

I was greeted with the most beautiful view Barcelona had to offer. The narrow dirt trail, cut out of the side of the mountain, went for miles and miles. Over my right shoulder was all of Barcelona with the infinite sea in the farthest distance. I hammered along the oblique surface displaying a small smirk that barely revealed my euphoric state of mind… My mind was a clear slate… total blankness. I didn’t dare think about the long trip ahead. 

Sep 6, 2010

Running into the sky in Perpignan, France

After a long train ride from Geneva, I finally arrived in Perpignan, France. I was tired and a little perturbed after standing in a crowded train car attempting to hold my bike up. I thought to myself, “How amazing will it be to finally start traveling by bike.” After two days of travel, I was tired of trains and long flights. **By the end of my trip, I was ecstatic to catch a train back to Geneva**

My train arrived in the center of Perpignan. I had a host set up outside of the city, but like many mistakes I made on this trip, I failed to realize how far outside of the city he lived. Looking back now, I wish he would have said “Pedal to the mountains, then pedal up the mountain.” Instead, I had a list of confusing directions. Being that it was my first time attempting to ride anywhere on my converted race bike / touring machine, it did not go well. I ended up lost, following my GPS, which was set for traveling by car. While I flew down the side of the freeway (incredibly unsafe decision) at 30mph, I was starting to get seriously scared. If bike touring was like this, I wasn’t going to survive one week of this trip. Lucky for me, I found an exit and proceeded on an alternative route. Unlucky for me, the navigation function on my phone drained my battery and I was now lost and without a phone. Because I was relying on my phone for EVERYTHING, I started to feel like I was screwed. It was now getting dark. Fuck. **After this mishap, I started to rely solely on paper maps and written directions**

Nothing in the last month went as planned. Everyday, I found myself in a situation where I had to think on my feet. If there is one lesson that I learned in the last month of traveling, it is to live everyday minute by minute… to never stress out over little disasters… and to truly believe that everything will work out, no matter how bad the situation seems.

Lost and confused, I did what anyone would do. I found a bar. Now, I know that I was only a few kilometers away from my host’s home in a small village that lay in the foothills of the Pyrenees. But, at the time, I had no freaking clue where I was! I sat at the small local bar, ordered a beer, and asked if I could plug my phone in. After a few beers, my phone was alive and I was able to continue into the mountains. As I climbed higher, the homes became more and more beautiful. When I arrived, I was greeted by Matt, a short, corky British guy in his 30s. Staying with Matt ended up being an amazing decision. His home was nestled deep in the Pyrenees. It was equipped with a small basement apartment and swimming pool. It took some time to truly get to know Matt, but what I uncovered was a selfless, strong willed, well educated guy with a lot to share. Matt was also a brilliant chef and didn’t mind cooking for me both nights that I stayed with him.

The next morning, I jumped on my bike and headed towards the sea. With my speedo, goggles, sandals, and towel strapped to my bike rack, I flew down the mountain towards the sea. Matt had given me directions to a more private beach called La Plage de Paulille, about 20 miles outside of town. I made him promise me that there were no big sharks in the sea **there weren’t any sharks, just lots of fish** The water was chilly, but the sun was hot. I definitely liked swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean water. Avoiding snorkelers ended up being the most difficult task. The water was calm and I started to enjoy swimming with the fish. The ride back into the mountains was much more difficult, but I was excited to be riding in a new place. The roads were steep, narrow and winding. Each small village I passed through was a welcomed change to the steep mountain roads. Back outside Sorede at Matt’s house, he had just finished up work and wanted to go for a mountain run. I assumed there were some decent trails in the area, so I gladly went along. I should have realized what the run would be like when Matt said “we’ll basically run up the mountain for 6km and then run back down.” Up we went indeed.

The dirt switch backs had us climbing faster than I thought was possible. The road was steep and it was difficult to keep a running pace. Every time the road twisted back towards Perpignan, we were greeted with the most amazing view of the region. As we stumbled higher into the sky, the view became increasingly more beautiful. When the dirt road ended, a narrow and rooted single track trail began. It snaked its way higher into the mountain. The terrain became technical and Matt’s short stride started to benefit him. I had never seen anyone run technical terrain like Matt did. Jumping over rocks, climbing ledges, and running through roots like a football player running through tires. I tried to stay as close as possible. Towards the top of the mountain, we weren’t even running anymore. The trail was so steep that we used our hands to climb the rock ledges. Looking up, I could see the feeble ruins of a thousand year old watch tower. We climbed towards the sky. Once we reached the summit, I was greeted with one of the greatest sites I had ever seen with my own two eyes. We could see for a hundred miles in both directions. We looked down on the Mediterranean Sea with Perpignan, the Pyrenees and all of France on our left, and the Spanish countryside on our right. I took a few deep breathes, spun around and screamed into the night as the wind nearly knocked me off the stone ledge.

“Are you fucking kidding me!?! Matt! This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” He laughed and nodded his head.

The next morning, I packed my bags and started the 160 mile trip to Barcelona. What was waiting in Spain was a totally different type of adventure, but it wouldn’t even be three days before I had myself repeating the exact same phrase that I screamed on top of the mountain that night outside Perpignan.

Cheers from the Pyrenees

Sep 4, 2010

Bikes, Bocci, and Beer in Geneva, Switzerland

It was 2:00am in Cleveland when my plane landed in Switzerland. Exhausted from the flight, I knew I would have a long day ahead of me. After collecting my suitcases and bike box, I found a quiet corner and started putting my bike together. Arriving in a new country, building a bike in the airport, and riding out the front door is an interesting experience to say the least. Someone from the training center in Premanon was kind enough to meet me at the airport to get my bike box and suitcases. He didn’t speak English, but knew I was grateful for his help. By the time I was ready to roll out, the anxiety started to kick in. If I spoke any French at all, the first few hours would have been MUCH easier.

I needed to find downtown Geneva, find the train station, book a ticket to Spain, find a place to stay and situate my belongings. Sounds easy enough, but when no one in Switzerland seemed to speak English, the task became much harder.

My plan was to use my cell phone to find the train station. But the address was on my dead laptop and my phone was too dead to open the navigation. Great… After an hour of attempting to not get hit by traffic, I finally made it to the station. This was a success, but I found out that I could not bring my bike to Spain without packing it in a box. I guess I am going to the south of France instead. I booked the ticket for the next day, and made my way down the street to the Youth Hostel. It was 1pm in Geneva and I couldn’t check in until 2pm. I was hungry anyways, so I found a pub on the corner and had a sandwich and beer.

After checking into an insanely expensive dorm room with 9 other people, **seriously, it was like 30 euros for this bed** I locked my belongings in a locker and headed out for a run. After a quarter mile, I was on a path that circled Lake Geneva. Although crowded, it was a gorgeous place to run. The exhilaration of running in a new city had me floating through sub 6 minute miles. I knew I should slow down, but it was the best I’ve felt in months. I was healthy, in a new city, and finally running well. I said “screw it” and continued to hammer down the road. I felt my pace waver momentarily, but that changed as I ran by a group of topless women lying on the rocks. I quickly decided that my turn around should be here. I doubled back, slowed wayyyyyyy down, took a long look (it was free nudity), said bonjour in my crappy American accent, and then continued on my way. I thought to myself “Geneva isn’t all that bad.”

After a shower and short nap, I figured it would be a good time to take the bike out and really see the city. I tossed on some jeans, tied my shoes to the bike rack, and headed out. After cruising around the city for awhile, I found the “Old City.” It sat a few hundred feet above downtown, surrounded by large stone walls. My bike wobbled as I tore through the cobble stone streets. This city was definitely a site to see. I sat down at a small café, ordered something in French, and ended up with a dish that resembled a cross between a thin crust pizza and a pancake. **It was a crepe, but at the time, I thought all crepes were sweet** After dinner/breakfast, I cruised through a few of the parks that surrounded the old city. When I finally headed away from the old city, I was attracted to the skate park I saw in the distance. Across from the skate park was a large stone bocci ball court. The court was filled with younger guys and girls drinking 1664 and playing bocci ball. After watching for a moment, I rode up to the fence.

“Par-lay voo ong-lay?” Asking someone if they spoke English was the only phrase that I had mastered so far.
“Yeah, we do,” they responded.
“Thank god. Ummm, can I play?”
“I guess so. You’ll make four so we can play teams”
“Sounds good to me,” I said as I forced my way into their game (this is how I make friends).
“You want a beer?”
“Hells yeah!” I shouted. These guys seem alright to me.

After an hour of playing bocci and a victory that I had earned, they invited me to roll with them for the rest of the night. With no other plans, I gladly accepted. We all hopped on our bikes, slightly buzzed, and began ripping through the city as the sun set. By the time we got to the festival on the lake it was dark. After locking our bikes to a fence that had been erected for the festival, we grabbed some burgers and beers and found a place in the grass. With thousands and thousands of people gathering for this summer event, it was the biggest festival I had ever been to. **Until two weeks later when I attended La Feria in Beziers, France** After a few beers, we went to jump back on the bikes but ran into a small problem. The festival workers had continued to put up fences and our bikes had become fenced in. After a good laugh, I considered climbing it, but quickly remembered that I don’t climb fences anymore. No worries though, the fences were zip tied together and I had my pocket knife on me. After tearing down their fence, we quickly got on the bikes and headed into the park for a late night concert. The music wasn’t my style but the beer and large amounts of women were my style. As our blood alcohol levels grew, our group had begun to grow as well. We now had around 12 people rolling through town on bikes. We headed back to a bar near the festival and picked up right were we left off. By 2am, these guys had become old friends. We laughed and drank late into the night. We joked about our differences in culture and I actually learned quite a bit from them about French culture. I even had the awkward pleasure of kissing a female acquaintances three times on the cheek. **It was only awkward the first time, I got used to this part of French culture very quickly**

We finally called it a night when it began to rain. After a short, wet and semi-drunken cycle back to the youth hostel, I stumbled up to my 10 person dorm room. I woke everyone up as I slammed my locker shut (several times) by accident. As I lay on the stiff mattress, I thought back on the evening. “This is exactly why I wanted to travel by myself.” By forcing myself to be social with strangers, I had an amazing time in a brand new city. If this is the pattern for the next 4 weeks, it is going to be a long month! **It was indeed a VERY long month**

Cheers from Switzerland!

Aug 31, 2010

One Adventure Ends, Another Begins

I have barely began telling the story of this trip, but I feel a deep urge to write about the ending as it happens. I’m rolling out of the Lyon train station, and I can’t help but get this weird feeling of déjà vu. Twenty four days ago, I traveled down the same tracks and saw the exact same sites. But everything was different then. I’m not going to go into some rant about how traveling through Europe has changed my life. Three and a half weeks on the road is barely long enough to make your clothes dirty. But traveling alone, thousands of miles away from anyone resembling a friend, does change a person. You learn a lot about yourself when you are alone.

Taking myself out of my element was something that I should have done a long time ago. In a weird way, I almost feel like I matured a bit in the last few weeks. Everyday on the road brought a new challenge, and everyday I was forced to make a decision. In any sense, my encounters, adventures, and countless days under the warm Mediterranean sun gave me a new perspective on my life. So many people take trips to “find themselves.” I didn’t find myself, I just opened my eyes a little wider. Life can’t always be about the goals achieved or the tasks accomplished. Maybe it is more about the people you influence and the people that you allow to influence you? As an endurance athlete, I’m constantly engaged in this mission to understand my body. Not only to understand how it functions physically, but how and why I make certain decisions. If I could truly figure myself out, I could figure out how to push my body to my absolute limit. Well, spending the last twenty four days on a bike, definitely gave myself a small glimpse into my own head.

Like any trip, I had good days, bad days and really bad days. But everyday taught me something about myself. I made numerous friends along the way, had some amazing conversations, and took a little bit away from every single encounter. Following this post is the story of my trip. Like any good story, certain details may be left for a long bike ride or evening at the bar, but I will do my best to share as much as possible.

As the sun sets in France and I pass through the Alps on my way back to Geneva, my mind races. I have that weird feeling deep down when you know your life is changing. Regardless, I know where my life is heading and my eyes are open wide. My heart is settled and I know what I want to accomplish. My life is Ironman and nothing else. I am healthy, strong, focused, and ready to uncover something I have spent years searching for. It is time to create my own destiny. It is time to write a story that I will never need to tell.

Jul 12, 2010

"I thought you were like an Ironman"

My quadriceps screamed silently. My focus was sharp but my steering seemed to waver. I tried to keep the bike from crossing the white line. The road tilted upward and for the first time in a while, I was not sure if I possessed the power to muscle the machine home. I could barely see Doug in the distance… his red light flashing. I tried to close the gap, but my load was much too heavy. He was having a much easier time with the task at hand. I started to grin as I made the final push home.

“Oh my god… I thought you were like an Ironman? Can’t you go any faster?”

I quickly shot a mean look to the slightly overweight girl sitting on the bike rack behind me. Oh well. If I wasn’t pedaling her mountain bike home, I’d be walking. Who said you can’t get a workout done after midnight.

Thursday night was the perfect night for a beer and a few aggressive games of foosball. Usually, late nights are avoided during the triathlon season, but Doug just raced an Ironman and I just came off a 3 month injury. Note: our original goal was responsibility. We rode the bus downtown from North Boulder for two reasons; no drinking and driving and the last bus leaves at midnight. This left us with plenty of rest before our 95 mile tour of the Rockies. But in true AJ Baucco fashion, we missed the bus home and had to find an alternative route. Most people would have caught a cab… we met two girls willing to let us pedal them home. This would have been a great plan, if I would have been pedaling the 90lb girl home.

Fast forward to the next morning… my quads are sore. Seriously?

We rolled out of North Boulder at noon, which, in my opinion, is the absolute EARLIEST time that two single and motivated triathletes should start training. A cloudy morning had progressed into the most beautifully sunny and warm day that I have seen in weeks. I let my bike coast as I took in my surrounding. We were flying down the hill that tore off my legs the night before. Knowing what type of ride lay ahead of me, I let the hill do the work.

Downtown was buzzing as usual. We crossed Pearl Street and took a right into Boulder Canyon. Doug started his watch and we quickly powered ahead until our heart rates settles around 150 beats per minute. The climb through the Canyon to Ned was 19 miles into the sky. We knew it would take an hour, so we settled down and cranked away… one pedal stroke at a time.

My sweat poured from the climb, but the cold mountain air sent chills down my spine. We had been working for 55 minutes. In the distance, I could see the last turn before Nederland, a town that sits on top of the mountain at 8,300ft above sea level. After one last steep pitch, the road bends to the right and descends a few hundred feet into Ned. To your left sits one of the most beautiful lakes you’ve seen. Surrounding the lake is that small mountain town. Doug pushes the last climb hard and starts to descend into Ned like he was racing Mark Cavendish for a stage win. This could only mean one thing… we were racing to each city limit sign. It was a friendly competition that may kill us by the end of the day. I barely even considered this thought as I ripped into the mountain on Doug’s wheel. I could see the city limit sign 400 meters away. Doug was laying down too much power. My heart rate exploded. 170 bpm… 175 bpm…. I tried to sprint but he had already gapped me. Doug – 1, AJ – 0.

Climbing out of Ned onto the Peak to Peak Highway is a bitch. The road is technically considered rolling terrain, but all of these hills are several minute climbs, if not more. The Peak to Peak Highway is a road that literally sits on top of the mountain. It stretches for over 40 miles and undulates between 8,500ft and 9,300ft above sea level. The air is way to thin and the road is steep. For a reference, the first 4 times I made it up to the Peak to Peak Highway, I got sick from the high altitude… This included several migraines, general dizziness, and one lost lunch. Today, we would be spending the majority of the ride on the Peak to Peak. This road was no joke. It has beaten some of the world’s best athletes. We settled into a good rhythm and pedaled toward Ward.

As we got closer to Ward, I tried to remember where the city limit sign was located. I didn’t want to jump too early and blow up, but I couldn’t risk losing a second sprint to Doug. I thought the sign was at the top of a small climb… but which one. Halfway up the last small climb into Ward, I saw the sign in the distance, we both did. It was an instantaneous jump. We both flew toward Ward. I slipped into my drops and violently threw my bike back and forth. My jump must have been a half second before his because I was able to out lean Doug at the sign. I kissed my hands and threw them up towards the sky, thanking god for this little victory. Doug, obviously not approving of my victory dance, tried to startle me off my bike. Luckily, he didn’t succeed. We coasted and sucked every bit of oxygen available. There wasn’t much at 9,300ft above sea level. AJ – 1, Doug – 1.

Finally, the Peak to Peak Highway was seeing more downhills than uphills. We had been generally climbing for the last two hours, and the hard downhills were a welcomed break. We had 28 more rolling miles to Estes Park. Again, we tried to lower our heart rates and settle into a pace… easier said than done at 9,000ft. Using every downhill to our advantage, we torn through the mountain. For every 3 minutes of descending, we had to climb for 10 minutes. It was starting to wear us down. Pushing me along was Doug’s promise that we had a long descent into Estes Park, a town that sits in the middle of the mountain at 7,400ft above sea level. Finally that descent came… it surely was a fast one.

The traffic into Estes was light but unavoidable. We descended with the cars. The descent starts at 9,000ft and descends about 1,500ft in a few miles. It is an incredibly fast descent with no need for the brakes. I tried to stay close to Doug because I knew we would be sprinting for the city limit sign at the edge of town. The first mile of downhill yields the most amazing view I have ever seen from a bicycle. Ripping down the mountain at 40mph, I am looking off the edge of the world. The town sitting below me is amazingly beautiful. It is nestled into the mountains with a large lake in the center of town. I try to concentrate on the road that is quickly disappearing beneath my wheel. The road twists and turns off the mountain. Doug, having more experience on this road, pushes the limits and takes every turn hard. I tried to take the last turn hard¸ but a heavy headwind stops me in my tracks. I try to sprint but it is much too late. I shake my head in disgust as Doug forms his hand into a pistol and shoots it into the sky. Doug – 2, AJ – 1.

The climb out of Estes Park was designed by the devil himself. I feel like I have been climbing all day, and this 2 mile, 6% grade sends me to a world of discomfort. Doug takes the lead and pedals hard into the climb. I sit a few inches off his wheel and try to keep my cadence high. I stare at my watch as I witness my heart rate sore. This climb was the last nail in my coffin. We were 4 hours into the ride and all I wanted was a quick descent off the mountain right into my bed (aka Doug’s futon). With 200 meters to go, I popped. Doug went forward, I went backward. There was no fight left in me. Done and done.

Riding back into Lyons was fast as ever. Sitting on 30mph and throwing the bike into each winding turn. My neck and back grew sore from my tucked position, but my legs thanked me. Again, I lost Doug’s wheel on the hard downhills. He only has 15lbs on me, but it really helps him fly down hills. I could see the city limit sign in the distance. It was his. Doug – 3, AJ – 1.

Once into Lyons, we had 11 miles of rolling hills back to Boulder. We were over 80 miles into the ride and neither of us had any urgency left. We knocked the pace back and pedaled back into town. Giving us an extra kick, was a strong tailwind. Once it started blowing, we regained a small amount of competitive edge. At this point, I could see Doug’s condo in the distance. Only two smaller hills before we were home. We hit the base of the first hill and immediately started to increase our power. At this point, the wind was pushing us with tremendous force. My GPS read 27mph. It was slowly increasing. With 100 meters to go, I glanced at Doug, he glanced back, and we started flying towards the top. Doug was low in his aero position cranking away at his pedals. I was a few inches to his right, standing on my pedals, throwing my bike around, and pushing with everything I had. The street sign at the top of the hill must be our finishing line. We both gave it one last push, but because of my standing position, I was able to throw my bike at the line first. I had won by 2 inches… later Doug said he didn’t know where the finish line was but we all know that is bullshit.

Doug had won more sprints, but I won the final climb. We both survived the ride on one of the most grueling roads I have ever been on. The Peak to Peak Highway is truly a road for tough MFers. Remember that! We ended up getting in about 95miles in a little over 5 hours. The route went up to 9,300ft and had a total amount of about 7,500ft of climbing. It was definitely an epic adventure in my book, but then again, what isn’t?


Jun 26, 2010

“AJ, meet Mountains. Mountains, AJ.”

The first five days in Boulder have easily been the best five days of 2010. Making these days even sweeter was the blessing of a semi-healthy foot. Ditching my cast and crutches has been almost as freeing as riding a bike through town naked. Not that I would know what how free that feels… The mountains are a beautiful place, and as a kid from Cleveland, Ohio, I just want to climb!

Here is a look at my first week in a cycling paradise…a week full of tough training and a few really late nights.

Day 1: Sunday, June 20, 2010

It is always nice to get reacquainted with an old friend. Although, it is important to note that my definition of an “old friend” is much different than most people. In some circumstances, I can consider an individual an old friend after one long day. For those few people, they know exactly who they are.

An old friend in my life is someone that satisfies two criteria. First, that person needs to have gone on some type of adventure with me, whether it is a grueling long run, a climb up a mountain, or an epic pub crawl. Embarking on this adventure is how I really get to know what a person has deep down. Satisfying the second criteria may be even easier. When that long day has come to end, joining me for a drink solidifies the bond that had been built all day. After a few stories, a few laughs, and quite possibly a few too many beers, I can truly consider this person an old friend.

Like a small number of people, Doug Maclean was an old friend very shortly after I met him in Tucson. With that being said, coming to Boulder to train with him and a few other “old friends” was truly a pleasure.

            On Sunday, we headed out to get a taste of what Boulder had to offer. The ride to Lyons is short; a quick 30 minutes in the saddle. The climb from Lyons takes much longer. It isn’t a steep climb, but it is very, very long. Since Doug was tapering for Ironman, we cut the climb very short. Our 2 hour recovery ride ended in a flash. I had seen some of the most beautiful sites I had ever seen from a bike. I was officially in love with the mountains.

Day 2: Monday, June 21, 2010

I was told swimming in Boulder would be much more difficult, but it was really hard to tell from the first day at the Scott Carpenter pool. Because I have been swimming more than 20,000 yards most weeks this year, my swimming is as strong as its ever been. I got into a set of 200s with ITU pro Marybeth Ellis. I started the set late, but it was nice to swim with someone that was my same speed.

The second day of riding was my first real introduction to the types of climbs that Boulder has to offer. After 90 minutes of riding in the plains, I headed up Lee Hill Road. After a few minutes of gradual climbing, the road shoots towards the sky. The 22% grade hugs the hillside a few miles northwest of town. My heart rate immediately exploded. Lactic acid shot through my body. My mind was at rest while my body worked efficiently. The only task at hand was heading toward the sky. At the top of Lee Hill Road, I hung a left on Deer Trail. I immediately regretted that decision. The road turned steeper and I struggled to stay upright. After a few minutes, I pulled over with my white flag raised. It was a good introduction to what the next few days would offer.

Day 3: Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The third night on the “hardest, but most available futon in Boulder” didn’t allow me much rest and recovery. Because I was up with the sun, I figured it would be a perfect day to swim in the Reservoir. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Boulder Area Masters team sets up a 1000 meter swim course. I woke up with several loops. A few hard efforts and 45 minutes of high aerobic swimming allowed me to cover about 4000 meters.

After an hour nap, I woke up to Janna Lynn knocking at the door. Janna Lynn is ITU pro, Kelsey Winthrow’s roommate in Salt Lake City. I had never met Janna Lynn, but she is a close friend of Kelsey, who is definitely one of those “old friends” from Tucson. When I heard she was in town, I jumped at the opportunity to meet someone new. That afternoon, we headed back to Scott Carpenter pool for a second swim. At the pool was the whose who of professional racing. I was sandwiched between Crowie, the Bennetts, Dibens, Carfrae, O’Donnell and Ellis. You could say I was in good company. Joining me for my second swim was another “old friend” from Tucson, Doug Fahlbusch. Doug is an incredible mountain biker, downhiller, and swimmer. He is one of those guys that doesn’t ever shit talk. He just rips your legs off. We did a strong sprint set full of 50s. I was delighted to see my splits nearing 30 seconds for 50 meters.

That evening, Janna Lynn and I headed out to finish the climb out of Lyons that I had started two days ago. The road gradually climbs up to Peak to Peak Highway at over 9000ft above sea level. The road never sees grades higher than 12% or 14%, but it is a very long climb. We settled into a rhythm and clicked away at the miles. We called it a day after 90 minutes of climbing. The ride back into town was sluggish. It was a tough day of training. The trials of miles have been slipping back into my life and they have been received quite well. It feels good to work hard again.

Day 4: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

After a few beers on Tuesday evening, Doug Fahlbusch, Janna Lynn, and I decided to climb something epic. Our choice was Super James. I spent the morning watching the US soccer team beat Algeria in extra time. My adrenaline was pumping, the day was beautiful, and an epic adventure lay right outside of town.

We started the climb towards Jamestown, a small town that lay in the mountains at around 7000ft above sea level. The beginning of the climb is fairly easy, but Doug was at the front mashing from the start. My heart rate was nearing 170 before we ever got started. I was doomed… After Jamestown, the road tilts in a way that makes you squirm. The locals call this ride to the Peak to Peak Highway “Super James.” From Jamestown on, the road doesn’t dip below 10%. I let Doug ride away; I needed to conserve energy if I was going to make it 2000 more feet into the sky. Janna Lynn slipped into a rhythm a few hundred feet behind me… Every man (or woman) for themselves. After cresting 8000ft, the road really turns upward. Looking up, I can see a series of switchbacks that are all over 20%. We were on top of the world. I cranked away slowly. No urgency left, this was the hardest climb of my life and I was in survival mode. I begged for relief, but the mountain was incapable of granting me this one wish. The road got steeper. With everything I had, I climbed to 9000ft. Once into Ward, an old mountain town that resides at 9300ft above sea level, we stopped for a soda and some recovery. I couldn’t breathe. The air was too thin. I felt nausea creeping into my already destroyed body. My body has never been at 9300ft above sea level. I pleaded with the group to hit the road. I needed to get off the mountain. The descent through Left Hand Canyon was fast and furious. Doug, an experienced Downhiller, ripped past 25mph signs at over 40 mph. Leaning into each bend, he slowly put distance between us. I rested my chin on my bars in order to rip through the wind. We flew back towards town. We finished the ride with one last climb up Old Stage Road. It was steep and it only twisted the dagger that was already lodged in my lungs.

Once back home, I quickly fell asleep. I awoke with that deep feeling of fatigue. After an adventure that quickly makes acquaintances, old friends, Janna Lynn dragged me out for beer to seal the deal. We sat on Pearl Street and watched a street performer juggle fire and knives while riding a unicycle. I couldn’t believe that this kid didn’t kill himself or someone else. Pearl Street is an interesting place… the perfect setting for a night of debauchery. That night quickly came on Thursday.

Day 5: Thursday, June 24, 2010

My body was destroyed from Super James. I was lucky to even make it to the pool on Thursday. Again, the pool was filled with the world’s greatest triathletes. Doug and Janna Lynn joined me for another workout. Also at the pool was long course star, Sam McGlone. I hadn’t seen her for a couple months. It was nice to catch up with her for a second. I did some REALLY tough workouts with Sam in Tucson. It was nice to get reacquainted with her.

That night we all met up with a group of 10 guys from Kansas City. Among them, was a kid named Ben. What happened in the next 12 hours would absolutely allow me to call Ben an “old friend.”

Even though we all committed to climbing Left Hand Canyon to Ward on Friday morning, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a night of drinking. What transpired that evening will have to be talked about elsewhere, but it includes the following… Beer, Tequila, Foosball, a live band ripping “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a strip club, a dance club, a mechanical bull, Tequila, a beautiful local gal, and a very fuzzy walk/crawl/skip/run home.
Day 6: Friday, June 25, 2010
The next morning came quickly. Three hours of sleep and one incredible hangover left me shuttering at the thought of climbing to 9000ft again. We showed up at the coffee shop a little late but ready to ride. We all felt the effects of the previous night, but our will to climb was strong. We knew what we were getting ourselves into.
Ben, Janna Lynn, and I hammered into the start of the climb. The group had left town 5 minutes before us, so we had some making up to do. Ben led the group hard into the 6% grade. After 15 minutes of climbing, we saw the main pack ahead. We flew back into the group and went directly to the front. After a few minutes, I started laying down some power, breaking the group apart. If I was going to feel like a walking corpse, everyone was going to feel like it. Joining me in the lead pack was five, well rested, “tapered” and eager riders. My effort made me feel dizzy. Last night’s tequila crept into my throat. To avoid a mishap, I went to the back and sat in for a few miles.
A couple miles from Ward, the road gets steep again. Twelve percent grades are common and a few pitches reach sixteen. Again, I went to the front and started hammering. I wasn’t about to let a hangover ruin my climb. I pushed hard and the pack behind me started to string out. I put down the hammered and rode away on the first steep pitch. Again, it was every man for himself. I continued to push hard with total disregard for the feeling of pain, sickness, and oxygen debt that was rushing to my brain. The end was near and I knew that I had just owned the mountain. I was the first up the mountain.
At 9000ft, I started to feel too ill to control my body. A combination of the altitude and the previous night’s antics had caught up to me. I found myself in a bush on the side of the road expelling everything that my body couldn’t handle. Thinking back, maybe I should have taken that climb a little easier… but that wouldn’t really be my style.
The rest of that day was just as ambitious as climbing mountains after a late night of drinking. We met up with Sam McGlone for a margarita and some tubing in the Boulder Creek. All of us hurt ourselves in some way. We finished the adventure the way we started… on Pearl Street late into the night. We tried our best to hang all night, but each of us was completely unable of reliving the previous night.

The last week has been RIDICULOUS. I really hope I can continue this string of awesomeness for the next 4 weeks in Boulder, Colorado.