Gold Hill: Birthday Ride 2016

It’s not just a hobby, a sport…I hesitate to even consider it “part of my identity”. It’s a part of my existence, arguably the most integral (inanimate) part. And because of that, experiences and expectations become muddled. They are dichotomous. Riding a bike can be simply described as exercise, a means to get from point a to b, and an action that provides a sense of freedom and mental clarity.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” they say. It’s simple, and you never forget. I beg to differ. Cycling is such a multi-faceted sport, a numbers game, a social experience, an identity crisis even. The notion of suffering is the center of a cyclist’s experience, at least the one so widely analyzed. Humans are conditioned to seek comfort, and while pedaling in the sunshine to a coffee shop with friends is absolutely comfortable, it’s the 1% of cycling, at least in my life. I’m part of the 99%. And I suffer for it.

But the will to push beyond what seems healthy or reasonable offers a refuge in what is otherwise overlooked. For my birthday this year, I wanted to chase the satisfaction of simplicity. The expectation of doing something “epic” tends to create disappointment when you do something time and time again. Just like birthdays, just like turning the cranks. I’ve done it all a few times in my life, holding it to a higher standard never ends up well. A birthday is just another day, a carefully crafted route is just another bike ride. Or is it?

“It’s supposed to be fun,” I said. For me, that means a lot of unknowns, but light at the end of the tunnel. My legs were already completely cooked. There was a high-wind advisory. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Matt, nor I, should be trusted when describing something as word “fun” (to each their own, they say).

I could paint the picture of the mental anguish I was experiencing from the first pedal stroke into the wind, towards Lee Hill and up Deer Trail (longer than either of us remembered, but that’s also the price you pay for pounding pavement on mountain bike tires…like all good things, you have to work for them), but that’s just the name of the game. It hurts, sometimes. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

Bypassing a gate adorned with barbed wire, the escape route winding through the mountains above Boulder, free of civilization, devastated by fire, immediately became the best birthday present I could ask for. Wrapped in a ribbon on winding narrow dirt, we bombed down in the rain. Just a light sprinkle, nothing my freshly embro’ed legs couldn’t handle.

Chilled, but optimistic, we were spit onto Sunshine Canyon. Turn around based on the ominous clouds? Nah. A special place was just a handful of miles, however painful, steep miles, away.

The Gold Hill General Store. Famous for their pie (and now, whiskey selection) it’s a refuge for cyclists all over Boulder County. Unlike your typical general store or gas station, though, a visit to Gold Hill is always special…if you reached it by bike, that’s an automatic accomplishment. There’s no easy way up there, secret escape route or not.

The atmosphere exudes warmth, wood burning stove and all. And the pie. The pie is just damn good, and nothing pairs better with homemade pie than a black coffee. A generic, no frills brewed cup of coffee.

One muffin, one meat pie, and one strawberry rhubarb pie later (along with two coffees) we settled in. I glanced outside, and noticed the winds had really started to pick up, and the clouds were opening up.

“That’s not rain. That’s snow.” Spring in Colorado is funny, it’s not unreasonable to be wearing shorts while it snows. But that’s also under the assumption you don’t have a 15-mile descent on dirt roads ahead of you. Solely based on the definition, there was a blizzard outside.

I ate my birthday pie and just didn’t think about how cold I would be. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. With no break in the weather, we decided to solider on. Within moments, I was soaked head to toe. Absolutely chilled to the bone. The pouring rain filled the rutted out road, splashing our faces with mud (as if visibility wasn’t bad enough already).

Chasing Matt around was, and is, always humbling. Earlier, it felt demoralizing. Now, it felt amazing. I looked at him and said, “there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now,” snowflakes falling on my tongue. The elements forced us to cut the ride short, and my knee caps have never experienced that kind of pain before from the freeze, but it was perfect.

30 miles with 4500 feet of climbing in the bag isn’t bad. Stats hardly matter, though. What matters is reaching that state that you so easily forget when something is your existence. Your expectations are too high, and nothing ever seems good enough. Everything has to be earned. Pie, descents, whatever.

Whether or not we “earned” it, I was reminded of the power in riding, in solitude, in desserts, and wonderful people. And none of that is cycling, necessarily. I’m so damn thankful that’s what riding gives, though. And this year, I plan to keep giving right back.

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