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The Ride of My Life

Article by Margaret Rush

Ride the Rockies – December 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

THE RIDERS’ brightly colored clothing caught my eye as thousands of bicycles whizzed into Salida. Even their wheels spun out pinks, blues, and yellows; the summer sun danced off their speeding rims.

“I want to do that!” I thought to myself. “I want to be part of the fun!” I imagined myself dressed in fluorescent-colored spandex; shaped like one of the strong-bodied athletes that was rushing by me. (I’m good at imagining.)

“What had their day been like?” I wondered. “Had it been really, really, really hard? Were their bodies made of steel? Did they have supernatural control of their minds? Were they somehow more ‘in’ than we bystanders?”

“What would you think of me ‘Riding the Rockies’?” I asked my husband in the summer of 1999.

“Why, I’d be proud of you.”

There was an immediate tingling in my stomach. My husband proud of me — those are words this wife loves to hear.

“I’d even drive the camper and be your pit crew,” he offered.

(My heart was beating fast now.) Oh, but could a non-athletic grandma like me do all those miles? I’m fit. I exercise — swim, hike, work around the house, that sort of thing. Last summer some of us got together and rode our bikes a couple of hours a week. And I had even tried to ride a time or two last winter. But was I made of steel? A true athlete? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately that meant the “T” word. Training. The Denver Post published a suggested training schedule. It didn’t look that hard. Start slow, increase the miles week by week over a three-month period… What’s three months?

Forever! I now know that’s the answer.

At first, the training was easy, although a bit eerie, since I was out there alone. Before training, my riding had been recreational and in a group. But I adjusted, and even came to like setting my own pace and schedule.

“There’s nothing to this,” I thought. “It’s a great new relaxation technique.”

Then the time came when I was riding several hours a day, several days a week. My thighs hurt. My shoulders hurt. Every time my husband wanted to do something I had to say, “No, I don’t have enough riding hours in yet this week.” My bike broke down repeatedly. Housework and projects I wanted to do piled up. I had to temporarily drop out of some of my club activities. Fatigue set in — as did an impressive resistance to getting my buns out the door.

Then came the wind. Riding a bicycle in the wind is not fun. Actually, I found that riding a bicycle in “training mode” is not fun.

Therefore, I began to ride in the early mornings — a good solution since mornings around here are beautiful, even spiritual. Unfortunately, however, that decision hastened the surfacing of the inevitable inner dialogue: “Why, when you had a perfectly good life — doing the things you wanted to do, when you wanted to do them — did you disrupt the flow by deciding to ‘Ride the Rockies’? Don’t you think we ought to stop all this silliness and go back to life as usual, you know, sleep in, chat on the phone — that sort of thing?”

But it sounded like the devil was talking to me, so I ignored him.

“Are you ready?” was the question others asked me as the time neared.

“I trained.” I would answer meekly.

Finally the alarm clock was ringing in the dark camper. It was 4:15 a.m. and time to get up to start the first day of the ride.


I had decided to continue my early morning schedule for several reasons: (1) the more miles I got in before the wind came up, the happier I would be. (2) I am fair complexioned, and the less sun exposure — sunscreen or no sunscreen — the healthier for my skin. (3) I knew I was slow, and (4) I had heard stories of the traffic piling up behind the riders and I wanted to be far enough ahead to be out of the congestion.

Dressing in the narrow confines of the camper in the predawn, I wondered where my courage had gone. I felt like an impostor. Short squatty me and my child-sized mountain bike. What a laugh. The elevation profile the officials had given out looked like a profile of the Himalayas. Why was I wasting energy on this endeavor when I couldn’t possibly succeed?

My husband walked me across the parking lot. I mounted my bike with trepidation. But he gave me a shove like a parent would for a child just learning to ride, and that seemed to do it.

I felt my courage eke back. My pedals went up and down like they always had. The birds sang just like they had on my early morning rides. The moon was beautiful and full, and seemed to glide along beside me.

What if I could actually do this? Wouldn’t it be fun to have done it, for no other reason than that?

My mind sailed from topic to topic in the silence of a morning that belonged just to me. I welcomed the sun as it slid up and over my shoulder. I felt contentment at being on an entirely new kind of adventure. I thought of all my friends who had encouraged me — and who had promised that they would be thinking of me.

In about an hour and a half the stronger riders began to catch up with me. Excitement came with them. The ride had begun and I was a part of it.

But when they passed, I had to pull out of my dreamy state and focus on not swerving or interfering with them. It wasn’t quite what I wanted to do, but hey, that was a part of the experience, no?

They were fast. Zip, they were gone. Was I pedaling in slow motion? How’d they do that? My legs were going around as fast as they could. My earlier euphoria started to dissolve.

“On your left.” More people passed. Sometimes in pace lines of up to ten people. (A pace line is two or more riders following one another like ducklings following their mama. Riders put their front tire as close to the back tire of the person in front of them as possible in order to take advantage of the draft created by the air movement off the leader. The claim is that the back riders expend 25% less energy than they would if they were bucking the wind as a single rider.)

As the pace lines went past, I felt as if I had slowed to a standstill — and that they were making all the forward progress. There was nothing very “in” about that! Maybe that devil voice had been right. What had made me think that I could ride with the big boys?

The sun got hotter, and my bladder fuller, and lots of people started passing me. They weren’t just athletic types either. There were chunky women with large thighs and beer-bellied men. Their lightweight road-tires made a rub- rub-rub sound as they gripped the pavement. Was this what my “Ride the Rockies” experience was going to be?

I soon learned that the black crosses on the yellow signs meant “aid station.” Aid stations, it turns out, are God’s gift to humanity. I didn’t meet a port-a-potty I didn’t like. Furthermore, I concluded that bananas taste sweeter when they come out of boxes sitting in the sun at aid stations. So do oranges.

Then came the steep part, and the steeper part, and the steeper, steeper part. People passed me in droves. I was breathing so hard that I sounded like a locomotive without the whistle.

Ah, but something new also started happening. Red-faced, panting people began to drop out and rest beside the road.

“Don’t you stop,” I silently commanded myself. “You might never start again. Push that pedal, push that pedal. Lean forward and look at the ground if you have to, but don’t stop!”

Amazingly, I was the one doing the passing this time, although often slower than a person could walk. But I was passing none-the-less. “Don’t look up, Margaret,” I told myself. “Just pedal.”

Rock music. Loud, ear-splitting rock music. It was the kind of music I immediately switch off when I hear it on the radio. And it was coming from the top of the pass. I was almost to the top of Cucharas Pass!!!

Me! Me and my mountain bike! In that moment, I didn’t hate that deep bass sound — I loved it! The music and I were one. I was at the top!

The music beat inside my chest. My grin nudged my ears back. The rest was all downhill — a piece of cake.

Gene, Katherine, Robert, Ruth, Ann, George, Patti, Andy, Marv, T.J., Jeanne, Jim, Sean, Sandra, Dave, Mike, Sharon, Pat, Becky, Charlie, Fay, Glady, I can’t list you all, but each and every one of you who believed in me — I am here! We did it!

It was 4:15 a.m. and the alarm was ringing again.

THIS TIME my bike clothes slipped on easily. The awakening sky loomed above me as I stepped out of the camper. The birds chirped, “Good morning.” I climbed on my bike and started down the road feeling strong and sure of myself. I had done it yesterday, I could do it today.

As the kinks from the day before worked themselves out I thought once again about the “Why” of what I was doing. This time I had the answer: Why? Because I wanted to.

I had a long day ahead of me — over eighty miles — but I was pleased with my early start. The moon seemed to glide along in front of me.

Hey, perhaps we could form a pace line, the moon and I…

Margaret Rush, a retired health care professional, lives in Salida. Although she is thrilled to have finished the 458-mile bike tour (at 10:30 a.m. — due to her early morning schedule), she is currently not enthusiastic about doing it again. “But that might change,” she admits.