Just like autumn leaves, we're in for change

 Is there anything better than spending most of a day on a bike, traveling from your doorstep to places you haven't yet seen? Rolling across the countryside, feeling the contours under the wheels as your legs strain to meet the wildly undulating landscape? Of course there are better things, but they rarely occur to me as I wheel my bike up the driveway with an entire late autumn day in front of me, and only a vague idea of where this ride will take me, and a hot November sun warming my skin beneath short sleeves and shorts.

 As I've slipped back into the rhythm of longer bike rides, I've realized how much I value this simple motion. To be fully engaged in moments, focused on roots and rocks and flickers of memories, and somehow, even if temporarily, able to leave everything else behind. But sometimes, maybe most times, I set out with this ideal in mind, and instead everything is hard from the beginning. I crash on the rocks and add new bruises to the patchwork on my legs. The November sun is unbelievably hot, and I sip on a meager supply of water while I berate myself for carrying a puffy jacket and not more liquid. The steep dirt road is rippled with washboard and I spin out repeatedly. My legs feel weak, my throat dry, my head foggy. Sometimes, maybe most times, are like that.

 After two hours I had covered a mere twelve miles, and I was out of water. Luckily, the spot where I crossed Highway 72 had a small convenience store. I made the strange decision to buy two liters of purple Gatorade. Sometimes, maybe most times, when I visit a convenience store during a bike ride, I'm addled and thirsty and make choices that I later regret. I stumbled out the door and spun pedals up a narrow road that was long and steep and appeared to be going nowhere. It was 80 degrees, and the west wind blasted my sweat-soaked arms like a blow dryer. This is what the Boulder folks call a "downslope wind" — fierce, warm, and a harbinger of rapid change.

Somewhere above 9,000 feet, I crossed into Golden Gate State Park. This place reminds me of Henry Coe State Park in California, in that it's out of the way, mysterious, and features a large network of trails that offer nothing but discouragement and pain. Okay, so I only rode the Mountain Lion Trail. But it was very hard, and after I crashed for the second time that day, I lost all my confidence. I was moving at the pace of an injured turtle and quietly wishing that a mountain lion would put me out of my misery. This is the funny, and also freeing thing about cycling — you can get so caught up in individual moments that every difficulty feels like the end of the world. Never mind that all the ways that the world might actually be ending beyond this single-track perspective.

 The trail spit me out in an unknown place that was still the middle of nowhere. I rolled along an empty road and tried to visualize the first time I went snowboarding — a fateful day now almost exactly twenty years ago. It was disheartening to realize that I could only piece the memories together in fragments — the nervous jitters of riding the lift, the dread when I realized it was going a lot farther up the mountain than I expected, the bewilderment when my friend ditched me at the top of a long, "moderately difficult" run that she promised was "easy." Falling and falling and falling, and then meeting two college-age men who were actually very nice to me. They held my hands, showed me how to ride my back edge, and ensured I made it down safely. They were so pivotal, those moments. Why couldn't I recall more of the details? This is one of my difficulties with middle age — the realization that I am outliving some of my favorite memories.

 Climbing and climbing on climbing on the nowhere road. Eventually I descended down a "no outlet" road and arrived at another park, White Ranch. I descended another rocky trail toward clear views of Denver, the city where I was born. I sometimes cite this fact to snooty locals who tease me about being another cliche Californian who moved to Colorado. But sometimes, maybe most times, I wish I could remember what it was like — living in Denver when I was an infant. Memories that distant were never anything but lost — but it's an idyllic daydream all the same.

 The following day, change arrived. Temperatures plummeted 50 degrees, and the November sun was obscured by fog and snow. Beat and I went for a run to Bear Peak. A fierce wind intensified the chill. Swirling snow covered our tracks within minutes.

 Another issue I have with middle age is this: Even as I continue to lose valued pieces of my past, my confidence about the future also erodes. Life is long in its own way, and changes so rapidly that sometimes, maybe most times, all we can do is hold on. Eighty degrees one day and snowing the next. Sometimes I think it would be best if we could always live in the moment, with no thoughts of before or after. But if we have no memories of our past, we're doomed to walk blindly into a bewildering future.

Still, as long as you can stand on a mountain in blowing snow and smile, life is pretty good. Beat and I slipped and slid downhill, racing the rapidly approaching dusk as I listened to music in which I never fail to find comfort. Today it was TV on the Radio, "Province:"

Hold your heart courageously 
As we walk into this dark place
Stand steadfast erect and see
That love is the province of the brave.

Comments

  1. Boulder to Golden back to Boulder? That's a long ride.

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    1. It was about 50 miles because I started at home and stopped in downtown Boulder. But seven hours. So far the most difficult "home to town" route I've tried.

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  2. Middle age! Bwahaha! Please allow me my fantasy that I am still middle aged.If you are, that means I am downright old.

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    1. Young adulthood definitely stops around 30, so what would one call themselves in the 30-40 range? One could argue that middle age lasts many decades these days. If "old" starts at 50 and you live to be 100, you'd spend half of your life being "old."

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    2. Nah 30-50 is adulthood. 20-30 is "young adulthood" even though it really just should be "adulthood."

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  3. Sharing with you the words of Terry Tempest Williams:

    "It is morning. I am mourning.
    And the river is before me.
    I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them.
    I am holding the balm of beauty, this river, this desert, so vulnerable, all of us.
    I am trying to shape my despair into some form of action, but for now, I am standing on the cold edge of grief.
    We are staring at a belligerent rejection of change by our fellow Americans who believe they have voted for change.
    The seismic shock of a new political landscape is settling.
    For now, I do not feel like unity is what is called for.
    Resistance is our courage.
    Love will become us.
    The land holds us still..."

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    1. Thank you for this. I am a big fan of TTW.

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  4. Anonymous5:24 PM

    "Henry Coe State Park in California, in that it's out of the way, mysterious, and features a large network of trails that offer nothing but discouragement and pain."

    What an accurate description of that park. I used to run/hike there when I lived in California, and it beat the crap out of me. It really bothered me that I had such dislike for such a beautiful place. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who felt that way about it.

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    1. Ha! Henry Coe definitely inspires a vast range of emotions. The one run I did there, it was 90 degrees at 11 pm and we encountered dozens of tarantulas. Usually I was on a mountain bike, pedaling uphill at 2mph until I realized I could walk 2.5, and dodging endless poison oak on the brutally steep descents. And yet those hills are beautiful and awe-inspiring in their own way. I admit to missing California. I love Colorado, but I left a piece of my heart in the Golden State.

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  5. Great post. I love Golden Gate precisely because it is hard (speaking as a trail runner). Expansive, high up, an absurdly confusing maze of trails, potential for lightning in the summer, big views on the ridges, extreme variation in conditions. What's not to like? :) There's a distance race here you might enjoy, The Dirty 30 (i.e. 50k). Sort of an early season test piece for regional ultrarunners.

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    1. Yeah that was my first local race! Loved it. Much harder than the stats would suggest! Great great variety of terrain, little bit of everything. Really nice park, not far from us via gross dam road.

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    2. Dirty 30 was my first DNS. I registered for the race but ended up being scheduled for hand surgery one day before. Probably for the best as the race sounds like a hard one, and if I'm not in "Colorado 50K shape" now, I surely wasn't then.

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  6. Ha! I was going to comment on your Henry Coe quote too. Thanks for the laugh! When you and Beat need a brief change of scenery, Coe and Montebello are still here!

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    1. I intend to visit soon. I'll let you know — maybe we can plan a ride in Coe. ;-)

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  7. No way are you middle aged when you are in your 30's. Maybe you are just an adult at that age. I consider myself to be middle aged and I'm 57! For now I think middle aged would be 45-65 and over 65 a senior. But ask me again when I'm 65!!

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    1. It's funny to have this argument. I recently had a similar debate with a friend about which generation I belong to, having been born in 1979. I insisted GenX, she insisted "first-year millennial." I suppose it's mostly a state of mind.

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  8. Crazy idea, but you can carry a puffy jacket AND more water! :P

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    1. I figured I was in for a 5-hour ride and packed 2 liters of water. It's odd that I drank almost all of that in two hours. However I've had an issue lately with dry mouth and it felt so "hot" that I went overboard. Predictably I bought that purple Gatorade and it was so gross that I drank hardly anything for the next five hours.

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  9. Sometimes, maybe most times....almost 5 times and you are approaching a time when you might just become interesting. Embrace it and quit with your workout logs and complaining about your setback. Everyone who reads your blog gets it. You have an eye for the profound beauty and the sheer indifference in nature. You have accomplished things that most of us never will and I tip my hat to you 100 times. I come here at least once a month to look at your perception of beauty and I always get it but we're all dying. Some faster than others If I wanted to know about your day to day ailments I would just hang out in a waiting room and have a chat. Smile at this and know I am on your side and not a troll.

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