Thursday, August 04, 2016

Rollins Pass

 It's been a bad week for breathing. Just about on cue after I had allergy testing done last week, the weather service released day after day of allergy alerts, warning of very high levels of grass pollen. Of course I don't know how closely related my breathing difficulties are to my allergies, but despite new medications, it's been a low-functioning week. Two miles into a bike ride on Saturday, I experienced something close to an asthma attack and cut it short. The same happened two miles into a run on Sunday. This was after turning down invitations for fun mountain adventures because I didn't think I could handle anything more than a four-mile run (turns out I couldn't.) Who am I becoming?

The emergency inhaler helps temper the urgency I feel when I over-exert myself. But it doesn't quite open up my breathing. I still have that tight, breathing-through-a-straw sensation to a certain degree, and I don't seem to process the oxygen needed for even moderate aerobic efforts. If I become dizzy once, it's difficult to recover. When I speak of over-exerting myself, I basically mean exerting myself. Walking is fine. Running has mixed reactions. Biking, for which I'm out of shape and can't regulate my efforts as well, has been the most messy.

Although I feel somewhat assured that my rapidly declining fitness is linked to allergies that I am both working to treat and waiting to go away, I can't be certain. Lately, being outside leads to feeling bad, which is a strong de-motivator to engage in activities I love. It's a little scary, to be honest, and may have resulted in some crying in the shower after a horribly failed Sunday run. But there's also some acceptance about making it work if this is my new status quo. I realize that unless I feel a real risk of passing out (not usually), I can still muddle along in the outdoors.

 There's a long jeep road to Rollins Pass that I've looked forward to riding for months now. It's one of the few places nearby where one can ride a bike on dirt over the Continental Divide. Although I'd previously visited Rollins Pass on foot, I relished the beautiful views and was excited to return. Since there was some improvement to my breathing on Monday and Tuesday, I took an opportunity on Wednesday to take my long-neglected mountain bike on a tour.

 The road to Rollins Pass is winding and gradual, but also quite chunky. Finessing around all those rocks keeps speeds low, which also keeps exertion down. It's a pretty good route for an asthmatic person who's just getting back into biking after four months. The long, long railroad grade eventually climbed to a railroad tunnel that had partially collapsed. There was a nice trail around it to the left, which I didn't discover until I returned. Instead, I hoisted my bike up the slope to the right, where the descent was actually a bit gnarly. It involved skittering down on very steep, loose dirt, wedging my shoe against a rock for leverage and then nudging the overturned bike downward. There was an unnerving drop-off just a few feet away.

 From there, the track continued climbing up large chunks of loose gravel, which had the effect of riding on rollers that continually spun me backward. I walked most of this to avoid hitting the red line, but it was still hard. I'd taken a few breath-catching breaks earlier in the ride, but my breathing actually opened up as I climbed above timber line. Riding this ridge at 11,700 feet, I continued to feel stronger — even risking those deep, lung-filling breaths, which felt amazing. Perhaps all I need is more of this clear, thin, relatively pollen-free mountain air.

 Return on the old railroad trestles. I love old mining roads and mountain railroad grades. Maybe I'll make a future project out of touring a winding network of these roads across Colorado.

 The perfectly nice trail around the tunnel, which I missed the first time. This short piece of singletrack renewed interest in riding Colorado Trail. But no, I don't love rocky technical riding or mountain hike-a-bike (especially the downhill variety.) I would like to hike the Colorado Trail someday, though. Maybe fast-pack style if I ever get my fitness back.

The tunnel as seen from below. The descent down the eastern side Rollins Pass is tedious — a continuous grade perfect for coasting at about eight or nine miles per hour, but rocky enough that you can never really open it up. So basically I sat on a bike not pedaling for ninety minutes, while trying to protect my still-tender hands, arms, and shoulders, but taking a bit of a beating despite my best efforts. Not unlike riding a slow-moving jackhammer. I'm sure better riders blast down that road without fear of hitting a rock at the wrong angle or skidding out on the chunder, but I am not really there right now (nor do I think I ever was.)

Still, I enjoyed this ride and think I should do more of this, rather than fret about whether I'll ever be fit enough to race again. 


  1. I'm glad you're able to find positives despite a situation that must be very frustrating. Sometimes that can be the biggest challenge of all.

  2. Its not too bad if you can ride at that altitude. Last weekend I rode on TRT at max 9700 ft and despite very bad air quality (the Soberanes Fire filled Tahoe basin with smoke), I had no problems breathing. But my legs just refused to apply any force to the pedals up there. Patience, asthma will get better when treated properly.

    1. I haven't really found any correlation related to altitude. Since summer really started cranking, I've had bad days at sea level in Oregon and good days at 13,000 feet. I'd suppose I'm mostly acclimated now, but I keep looking for patterns.

  3. I wonder what has changed for you since our visit. The week we were with you guys you seemed to be running well especially your Fri/Sat double.

    1. While some days are better than others, this has been a steadily deteriorating condition for me since mid-June. I was still feeling reasonably okay in early July compared to now, but never as strong as I felt in California — even in April/May, which was typically my allergy season there. I was blaming the altitude until I went to Portland and didn't really fare better at lower altitudes, even sea level. My worst day there was actually when I tried to do a run along the coast on my last day in Oregon. This would point to fatigue as a culprit, but I haven't really found a pattern there either.

      Even now I can still manage on long efforts. Rollins Pass was a five-hour ride without issue. What gets me is harder exertion, and if I'm not careful it will shut me down early, like it did on Saturday and Sunday. Also, I never really feel good during a workout. I'm managing, but not thriving. It's hard to convince a doctor that this a problem. But I am back on meds now. We'll see!


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