Friday, June 21, 2019

The peace and violence of summer

I decided to head out to Utah a couple of days before my grandmother's memorial services. Beat was going to be out of town anyway, traveling to Wyoming to run the Bighorn 100 over the weekend. He offered to skip Bighorn and accompany me, but I feel strongly that funerals are for the people who want to attend, and shouldn't be obligatory. It was more important to me that he run his race — which turned out to be a wet and muddy epic that would have been rather taxing for a crew person. So it all worked out for the best.  

As I am wont to do, I schemed a few bike adventures to squeeze between family time. I've long wanted to check out the mountain bike trails near Eagle, Colorado, so I planned my route and arrival time based on a two-hour stop there. 

I hate I-70 through Colorado. I genuinely do. It's taken me a while to accept this, but I think I am done with optional driving along that interstate. I'll do it if I have to, but only if any alternate route is potentially hours slower. Only then. Recently there was a discussion on a local mountain biking forum about naming new trails with an I-70 theme, and of course all of the suggestions were "Sittin' in My Car," "Road Rage," "Snow Closure," etc. Anyway, I usually consider summer travel a safer bet, and neglected to check the CDOT Web site before I set out. Of course, there was a tunnel closure. Of course there was. For routine maintenance. In the middle of the day. On a Wednesday. So I sat in my car at an utter standstill for 90 full minutes, then crept along behind trucks at 5 mph over Loveland Pass for another 90 minutes. Loveland Pass was lovely with snow-capped peaks beneath a bright blue sky, but by then I had to pee so badly that my vision was blurring, and above timber line there was nowhere to pull over that wasn't exposed to all. By the time I pulled into the REI in Silverthorne and stumbled through the aisles in search of the bathroom, I was filled with such rage that I vowed to quit I-70 forever, even if it means canceling summer bikepacking plans in order to stick closer to home. I've since revised that view, but I still have an "avoid at most costs" policy.

I was already running three to four hours late, so I was going to skip the ride. But more crawling traffic spiked my blood pressure again, and I decided this cool-off was necessary. It was 85 degrees in Eagle, which felt oppressively warm. I slathered my arms and legs with sunscreen from a little, likely expired tube of SPF30 and set out. The trails were lovely — mostly buffed-out singletrack, winding through scrub oak-covered hillsides, sagebrush and fields of wildflowers. Eagle is fantastic. Too bad it's on I-70, so I may never return. I was feeling much better by the time I returned to the car for six more hours of driving to Salt Lake City. Then I looked at my arms, and realized they were badly sunburned. I usually wear sleeves, because my skin is becoming so bad that sunscreen alone doesn't work well for me anymore. Dammit. Both dresses I brought for the funeral were sleeveless and short-sleeved. Rather than be the nearly-40-year-old woman with a bad farmer burn, I would have to scramble for last-minute wardrobe additions. 

For Thursday, I had another planned ride that I decided to steeply curtail. A former blogger I follow, Elden the "Fat Cyclist," has this incredible-looking route that makes a big loop through the Wasatch Mountains, a 75-mile monster with more than 10,000 feet of climbing. Unless I woke up at 3 a.m. after my long and late drive, I didn't really have the time before Thursday evening plans, and Monday's ride to Mount Evans made it apparent that I didn't have the fitness, either. So I changed the plan to an out-and-back on the more remote segment of the loop up American Fork Canyon.

I left later in the morning, when it was already hot. Just getting up and over Corner Canyon was a slog. Where, oh where did my fitness go? I nearly turned around when I saw the temperature was 89 degrees while it was actively raining in Alpine. Then the thunderstorm cleared, and I remembered the beauty of American Fork Canyon, and this relatively rare opportunity to ride here. So I pressed on, standing in more traffic jams amid summer construction closures (that could be another traffic-themed trail name ... "Melting Shoes on Hot Pavement.")

Finally I cleared Tibble Fork Reservoir and was released to the peaceful setting I sought — a narrow jeep road that continues to climb toward the crest of the Wasatch. It's a pretty but nasty road — nastier than I remembered, steep and strewn with ball-bearing pebbles and babyhead rocks. Caution about my leg caused me to descend nearly as slowly as I moved while climbing, and climbing was a slow struggle. My breathing felt off. I hadn't even climbed above 8,000 feet yet, and I live at 7,000. Where, oh where did my fitness go? My time cut-off came, and I turned around, feeling relieved. It was a frustratingly tough ride, but beautiful.

On Friday, the family gatherings commenced. The weekend was such a whirlwind of emotions. My grandmother was well-loved, and nearly everyone who could turned out for her memorial. All 19 of my siblings and cousins. Dozens of great-grandkids. Great-aunts and uncles. Second-cousins who I hadn't seen since I was a child. Friends of my dad. Family from my mother's side. Damaged relationships made a step toward mending. A few new wounds were opened, as well. Family stuff. It was meaningful and gratifying but utterly exhausting. I made a short escape Friday morning to ride Corner Canyon, but the trail system was too crowded. It wasn't really what I was looking for in my respite. By Saturday night, I was spent.

Sunday was Father's Day, and everyone in my immediate family was together, so I stayed one more day to celebrate with them. On Sunday morning I headed west for a three-hour ride up Butterfield Canyon, climbing up to a 9,000-foot peak in the Oquirrh Mountains.

The climb was enjoyable. My legs and lungs probably weren't much better off than they'd been earlier in the week, but it was so relaxing to be alone with nothing to do but pedal a bike. The road was fairly quiet, the weather cooler than it had been, and the views impressive.

Still some snowfields to contend with near 9,000 feet.

Overlook into Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, the largest open-pit mine in the world. Cutting nearly a kilometer into the Earth, the unsightly gouge is as deep as this peak (West Mountain) is high. Too bad they don't allow mountain bikes on those terraces; one could probably develop a pretty fun downhill trail.

Lovely day, but storm clouds were beginning to form.

At the peak I had resolved to get down quickly, but then I became distracted by trails near the saddle between Middle and Butterfield canyons. I was climbing a steep bit of singletrack when I heard the first thunderboom, looked back, and saw a relatively benign looking sheet of rain falling directly to the east. I decided to turn around right there, but I was unperturbed because it was only eight miles and mostly downhill back to my car. Should be down in a flash.

Less than 20 minutes later, the sky opened up and rained down a fury unlike any I have experienced yet. Yes, I have battled blizzards in Alaska, windchills to 60 below, utter whiteouts and 70-mph winds. This was another level. Sudden deluge, blinding flashes of light from all directions, instantaneous cracks of thunder that rattled my teeth. At first I was just running scared from the lightning. Rainwater fountained off the road with such force that I was breathing liquid, and felt like I was drowning. I didn't even realize it was hailing until the thunder quieted enough to hear reverberations on my bike helmet. My limbs had already gone numb, but I could feel stinging pelts against my back and butt, and knew I was being pummeled. The lightning flashes moved away, and I was able to gulp down enough panic to pull off the side of the road and huddle beneath trees to wait out the hail.

Wow, was I cold. I had a rain shell in my backpack, but when I reached up to unclasp the straps, I genuinely could not muster the strength. There was a thinner wind shell in the bike's frame bag, but after much straining to pull the zipper back, I realized it was entirely soaked. I was as wet as I would be after jumping in a lake, and shivering profusely. I have hiked through the night in temperatures down to 40 below, jumped into glacier-fed lakes, ridden my bike for hours in the relentless snain of Juneau, and I've rarely experienced this depth of cold. My legs were close to not functioning, my shoulders and arms quaking so violently I could hardly steer the bike. Nothing I could do but throw my frozen carcass over the saddle, pre-press my numb fingers down on the brake levers, and descend the final two miles as hail continued to pelt my skin.

Hours later, as I finally began to thaw after the ice bath, I assessed the damage. My left leg — which wasn't protected by sleeves, a backpack, a helmet, or a knee brace — took the worst of it, but there were dozens of stinging welts all over my body. The photo on the left is from Sunday night, when I found it difficult to fall asleep because my leg felt like it had been stung by dozens of bees. The photo on the right is the bruising that still remains today, Friday, five days later. Nature administered a solid beating. One I won't soon forget.

Now it's the summer solstice, and I'm working toward acceptance about the long season ahead. On Thursday I hoped to embark on a long ride — training for a weekend bikepacking race in Steamboat Springs in early August. But allergies kept me feeling lousy, it was difficult to muster motivation in the morning, and by afternoon there was thunder and rain and I am definitely experiencing some post-Father's-Day-deluge PTSD. The sky cleared and I managed two and a half hours closer to evening. But yes, it was a sad effort. Do better, Jill. People who expressly hate winter manage to train through the cold and snow, so I can brave the grass pollen and sunburn and early morning hours that become necessary to beat afternoon storms.

Hail, though. That is another level of nope. 
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Upward over the mountain

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, the first without thunderstorms in several days. I'd ridden my mountain bike to the top of Meyers Gulch, and was sitting on the "JDW" memorial bench feeling disappointed about my effort when my phone buzzed. It was my Dad, who only communicates by text when something upsetting has happened. It was the news we'd all been expecting for a while now. My last living grandparent, Grandma Homer, had taken her last breath. She was 88 years old. She died at home, surrounded by all six of her children, which was everything she wanted at the end. So this was good news. But it was sad news. A knot seized my throat as I directed a tearful gaze toward the Boulder Canyon Overlook, a sweeping vista of the snow-capped Continental Divide, accompanied by the quiet roar of construction traffic deep in the canyon.

This photo shows my grandma and me in 2001, celebrating my 22nd birthday. I gave her one of the "hippy necklaces" I braided from hemp and beads to sell to tailgaters at Dave Matthews shows in order to fund a cross-country road trip with friends, not long after I decided to forgo law school to do what I wanted instead. No doubt my grandmother strongly disapproved of all of these things, but she never said so. She wrapped the necklace around her neck and wore it proudly. Grandma, like everyone, was a complex human. She could be rigid in her thinking and stern, but she was unconditionally loving and compassionate. She was the hardest worker I ever knew. I was born a hopeless free spirit with little regard for convention, but possessing just a fraction of my grandmother's work ethic allowed me to achieve a few successes in life. I will miss her.

On Monday I was preparing to head out to Utah for the funeral, but I had what was more or less a free afternoon, and a surprisingly good weather window. For the past decade-plus, whenever I've experienced a personal loss, I've found catharsis in climbing to the top of a mountain. I climbed my heart mountain — Lone Peak in Utah's Wasatch Mountains — when my Grandpa Homer died. A month later, when my Grandpa Johnson died, I braved a swirling snowstorm and verglas-coated boulders to reach the top of Lima Peak in Montana. I climbed Grays and Torrey's — fourteeners in Colorado — when my Aunt Jill died in 2017. But on June 10, the day after my grandmother died, my right leg was still stubbornly recovering from an MCL/adductor strain, and I wasn't in good physical condition to climb mountains. I could ride a bike, but in Colorado there are few mountains where one can reach an actual summit while cycling nontechnical terrain. But there was one nearby — the soaring 14,100-foot summit of Mount Evans. The road has just opened three days earlier.

I set out from Idaho Springs in the late morning, hoping the persistent afternoon thunderstorms would relent enough to allow time to ride the 28-mile relentless climb, 7,000 feet of gain to the edge of the sky. The condition of the road was unknown so I took Beat's gravel bike, but spent most of those miles of frost-heaves, loose sand and lung-crushing grades wishing I was on my mountain bike. In all honesty, I felt lousy from the start. Maybe it was the high grass pollen count, or a hormone slump. Maybe it was poor sleep, or a weight of sadness. My legs were heavy, my knee stiff, my lungs weak. About five miles from the start, not even a thousand feet into the climb, I put a foot down and reconsidered. It wasn't my day. I couldn't imagine finding the oomph for another vertical mile-plus, climbing above 14,000 feet. But this ride wasn't for me. It was for my grandma. I mean, it was for me, to process the loss of my grandma. But she would have done the work. Even at the end of her life, gripped with the pain of terminal liver cancer, she continued to do everything for herself — upkeep in her large yard, housework, cooking. She couldn't bear the thought of depending on others. And she died knowing she never had to.

Grandma was an August baby like me, born on a sweltering summer day in 1930. She was the oldest of seven children, from a long lineage of Mormon pioneers. Her family lived on a farm in Hyrum, Utah, where she raised her younger siblings while her parents worked long hours in the fields. It was an impoverished existence during the Great Depression, all work and no luxury. When Grandma made peanut butter sandwiches with the generic stuff we didn't like as much, she reminded us that this was as good as "spreading gold on bread" to her. I grew to love this about her — all the little reminders that everything in our life was good, and worthy of appreciation. She married my grandfather in 1948, and my dad is her eldest child of six. I'm his eldest, and I wonder sometimes if this garnered favor from my grandmother that I didn't necessarily earn. She rarely criticized me, even when I made a number of unconventional life decisions. She always treated me as though I was someone really special. I think she regarded all of her 19 grandchildren this way, and had a way of showing particular appreciation for us as individuals.

Grandma was a no-nonsense woman who valued frugality and austerity. Wastefulness and frivolousness were not tolerated, which was always difficult for me — the grandchild who wanted to do what she wanted to do. One of my favorite memories is the tale of one of my grandparents' cows, Clarabelle. Every year, they raised and slaughtered a cow to distribute to the family. I was 7 or 8 years old and probably even knew this at the time; I disliked meat, and dreaded the white packages that showed up in the freezer after Christmas. But I developed a special affinity for Clarabelle, spending time picking and gathering weeds from the garden so I could feed her, pet her snout, and scratch her ears. One evening, while staying with my grandparents while my parents were on vacation, Grandma served a bowl of "calf stew" for dinner. I did not like stew, and was probably stalling at finishing my meal when Grandma decided to up the motivation by asking me if I remembered Clarabelle. Of course, I replied. Grandma's signature toothy grin spread across her face, and she pointed to my bowl. And I understood. At that moment, I finally understood everything. I recoiled away from the table and commenced bawling, which resulted in a heated standoff. I was not allowed to walk away from the table, but I couldn't bear the decree to eat more Clarabelle. I don't remember how this ended. I was fairly traumatized. My grandmother, having grown up on a farm, did not understand why I was so upset. This became one of those experiences that I think of as "a freeing moment of truth through hard reality," which I've come to respect and seek out as an adult.

My grandmother was hearing impaired, a complication of Meniere's disease. She experienced her traumatic hearing loss all at once, during an earth-shattering moment while sitting in a pew at church in her 40s. An extroverted and social woman, this became the hardest challenge of her life, causing her to feel isolated and alone. Instead of becoming bitter, she channeled her despair into community activism, and played a role in a number of laws benefiting the disabled in the 1980s and 1990s. She was also an avid walker, and was instrumental in the development of a pedestrian path through her hometown in Roy, Utah. But for all of her accomplishments, she was never one to brag. I grew up understanding that Grandma simply lived to serve. She rarely if ever did anything for herself.

The moment that had the largest influence on my life came on my eighth birthday, when Grandma gave me my first journal. It was a fancy book, hardbound leather with lined pages that smelled like a library, blank but brimming with importance. On the inside cover she wrote one of her favorite quotes: "Life not recorded or remembered becomes as ripples when they reach the edge of the pond, unseen and forgotten." I knew Grandma to be an avid recorder of life. She kept scrapbooks for all of her grandchildren, even as they grew into 19 enormous binders. She had stacks of photo albums, as well as a number of her own private journals. At the age of 8, I took grandma's words to heart and used a ballpoint pen to make my first record of life. For the most part, I've continued this practice ever since. The fancy Deseret Book journals of childhood became the three-ring binders of my teenage years, which became text files still stored on floppy discs (those may be lost forever), which became, of course, my blog and books. I'm not sure that I care whether I'm "forgotten" — I believe that's inevitable for even the most famous and loved among humanity, eventually. But it's valuable to connect with others in the present, which I strive to achieve through written stories.

Happy and funny memories about my grandmother distracted me through a number of miles, but as I rose into the thin air above treeline, I could no longer mentally meander away from my discomfort. Both legs were cramping and in pain, as I'd overworked the hamstrings amid a too-fast increase in cycling mileage. My right leg with its limited strength and stiff joint felt particularly desperate. At this point I realized I couldn't risk throwing a foot down, because then I probably would turn around. I didn't really want this summit, yet I understood that I needed it. The road shot skyward, skimming windswept talus and ten-foot-high snowdrifts. Every frost heave rattled my bones. Every hairpin curve sapped the last strands of strength from my legs. Or so I thought. I felt desperate to stop, just rest for a minute, but I couldn't do it. Pride, work ethic, stubbornness — all of the best and worst qualities I inherited from my grandmother — propelled me forward. 

The final thousand feet were impossible; I was dizzy, gasping, my breathing as bad as it had been when I was sick, my inhaler stashed deep in my pack because I hardly use it anymore. But I couldn't stop. There was a parking lot and a summit sign marking 14,130 feet, but I didn't stop there. I threw my bike against a boulder and stomped toward the true summit, another 200 feet higher and buried in drifts of rotten snow that threatened to swallow my bad leg. I felt so dizzy that I was seeing spots, and knew this was a somewhat bad idea, but superstition gave me enough confidence to tell myself that grandma would protect me. After all, she gave me this amazing day, not a dark cloud in the sky and a brisk but relatively mild breeze all the way up at 14,000 feet. The temperature was just a few notches above freezing, so the windchill cut deep, but I found it all exhilarating and satisfying. I crawled to the final high point and stood tall, buffeted by a suddenly strong wind. I stood tall, and sang the song that brings me comfort. "Upward Over The Mountain" by Iron and Wine. The lyrics are about mothers and sons and don't fit perfectly, but they mean something to me. 

Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison.
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given.  
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to.  
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you.  

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten. 
Sons could be birds, flying upward over the mountain.
Thursday, June 06, 2019

Adventures in injury

Despite having one of those "barely injured" injuries, I've hit the three-week lull — that drawn-out part of recovery when the pain has diminished but the stiffness and instability persists, and it feels like I'll never be whole again. Like my leg will never work quite right again. Like I'll always feel this wistful as I watch June hikers carry snowshoes into mountains, because I will always be confined to the mobility aid of a bicycle. Yes, unjustified angst is creeping to the surface. I suspect an anticipated June "hormone slump" may be setting in as well.

In actuality, everything is going quite well so far. I've been working with a physical therapist on my MCL strain and adductor issues. She tells me she's observed significant progress. "You're a fast healer," she said, which led me to tell an awkward story about that time I had frostbite and within weeks grew new skin where the medical professionals didn't expect to see healing. Working with the physical therapist has the added bonus of providing new insight into my balance issues. Her prescribed exercises aim to realign my center of gravity and improve my core strength. All good things.

I've been mostly well-behaved — dutifully doing my physical therapy exercises, icing the knee every day, and wearing a fancy brace everywhere I go. But after the PT and doctor gave me a free pass to ride my bike as much as I want, I may have pushed some limits. The first came last Wednesday, after a great PT session, which gave me more confidence to try riding a hill. It had only been 12 days since injury, and thus far I had only ridden a bike a couple of times on flat concrete and gravel bike paths. But it was May 29, and the forecast called for 29 degrees and snow in Rollinsville. "I bet the crust riding on Rollins Pass Road will be good! Last chance for a snow ride this season!"

 The weather was uncomfortable — snaining rather than snowing, with high winds, and 31 degrees. I felt like I was back in Nome. There was also more dirt on Rollins Pass Road than I'd hoped for — I don't know what I was expecting, really, since it was almost June, and at least some of the days this spring have been warm enough to prompt snowmelt. But this meant dodging babyheads, deep puddles, and mud. It was more technical maneuvering than I knew I should be risking. Higher up, the snowfields became deeper and less consolidated. Eventually, my front wheel punched through the rotten surface and I threw my dab leg — my tender right leg — into a drift that swallowed the entire limb. The rigid brace likely saved my knee from a more damaging twist, but the impact was wrenching enough to send a shock of pain through my body. I felt terrifically stupid, and sat for some time in the swirling snain to express my contriteness to the universe. "I'm sorry. Please let me not be more injured." The pain cleared and I turned around to creep back down the road. By the time I hit bottom, my knee was feeling a lot better. I was grateful, but acknowledged that poor choices were made in my lust for a late spring snow adventure. I vowed to do better.

 Of course I was back out on Thursday, engaged in a long and steep — really, I'd forgotten how steep — climb up Sunshine Canyon. This was my first strenuous effort since the Bryce 100, and although my knee felt alright, every other body part was maxed out in a way that felt strangely unfamiliar. How quickly we grow accustomed to sedentary life. I nearly gave into my burning lungs a half dozen times, but my knee didn't hurt, so I couldn't justify turning around early. My destination was Gold Hill, site of the first major discovery of gold in Colorado in 1859, now another one of those quirky mountain towns above Boulder. Here is another place that sort of makes me feel like I'm back in Nome, Alaska.

 Gold Hill is also home to one of my favorite road names in the state, Lickskillet Road. It's right up there with High Lonesome Drive. Lickskillet Road may have a great name but it's a nasty little piece of gravel — reportedly one of the steepest county roads in the United States with a grade of 18 percent, covered in loose gravel and dusty even in the spring. This makes for a precarious descent on a gravel bike with a bad knee. Yes, the poor choices continued, but this ride also was mercifully uneventful.

On Saturday, Beat was gone for the entire day, volunteering for the Dirty 30 trail race in Golden Gate State Park. I had caught a small hit of endorphins on Thursday and wanted more, so I decided it would be a good day for a longer ride. I set out on the gravel bike at 11 a.m. under ominous clouds with frequent flashes of lightning. Mercifully, the storm moved east before I passed underneath, and I enjoyed Flordia-like humidity and hot sun on wet gravel.

I never had a solid plan for this outing. Feeling surprisingly strong and pain-free, I continued to justify a longer and longer ride. After riding Gross Dam and Gap Road all the way to Peak to Peak, I descended all of Magnolia and got myself stuck in a terrifically bike-unfriendly Boulder Canyon. So I scooted over to Chapman trail for a paltry little 2,000-foot climb toward home. Having not exactly planned on a 45-mile ride with 7,000 feet of climbing, I hadn't had much to eat or drink, and this final climb utterly leveled me. The lowest gear on the gravel bike was several notches too high, and my vision began to blur as I cranked up the Wall of Pain on Flagstaff. My wobbly right leg lost all power, and the left leg strained to pick up the slack. By the time I got home I could hardly function — stumbling around the house, confused, staring out the window and wondering what year it was. I was just really, really bonked. A yogurt and a couple of apples helped me gain back some coherence before Beat came home.

On Sunday, I managed to time a 1.5-hour mountain bike ride perfectly to be pummeled with rain and hail almost the entire way, after which the sun came out for the remainder of the afternoon. It was time for a rest day, but Monday was Beat's B-Cycle challenge, and I hoped to take photos. Every June, Google employees hold an unofficial "Flagstaff Challenge" where cyclists and runners playfully compete to be the first to the Amphitheater at Flagstaff Summit. Cyclists ride the road, which is about 3.5 miles with 1,500 feet of climbing, and runners take the trail, which is a little less than two miles with similar climbing. Beat had an excellent idea to take on this challenge with a B-Cycle — the commuter bicycles of Boulder's bike-share program, which have three speeds, terrible drum brakes, and weigh at least 60 pounds. At one point he convinced four of his colleagues to join him, but in the end it was just Beat and a younger fast guy, Josh, propelling these clunkers up the steep road.

 I did not think they'd be able to do it without pushing the bikes. I know I couldn't, not at that weight with that gearing, let alone all of the other awkward mechanisms on these bikes. So I rode my mountain bike down to Panorama Point and followed them up the hill. It was more difficult to keep up with their pace than I'd hoped.

 Here they are passing one of the final runners at a road crossing for the trail. She still beat them to the top, so they were proudly DFL in the casual wave. Google employees held a more competitive wave on Thursday, where Beat was the timer, and Josh was one of the trail runners. He smashed the course in 15:55, beating all of the fast cyclists as well. An impressive effort — no doubt riding B-Cycles makes you strong.

 The Flagstaff Challenge started at 8 a.m. and it was a 45-minute ride to my waiting spot — an early enough start that I hadn't had my coffee. I carried some in a thermos to drink while spectating, and ended up descending Chapman after the race so I could enjoy a lovely morning respite in the shade next to Boulder Creek. The Boulder Canyon construction created a lot of congestion, so there was a steady stream of traffic just overhead as I sat next to the raging spring runoff and sipped my coffee. It was still a nice way to spend the morning, though. The ensuing "SuperChap" climb was a lot easier with a bloodstream full of caffeine and mountain bike gearing.

After the slightly aggressive weekend adventures, my knee was sore enough to be concerning. I took the next two days off cycling, although my physical therapy exercises are quite strenuous on their own. By Thursday I was again chomping at the bit, and the weather forecast was encouraging for a road ride: 85 degrees with only a 10 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Hard to believe that just a week ago, it was still actively snowing. Just like that, summer arrived.

The are few workouts I enjoy more than cycling climbs that last longer than two hours. My aim for the afternoon was Brainard Lake, climbing from 5,300 feet to 10,500 feet over 25 gorgeous miles. About halfway up Lefthand Canyon, I was pummeled by what must have been the only dark cloud in the county, with 10 minutes of intense rain and hail. The reward for this soaking was a break from the heat, and I celebrated by not drinking any of the water in my two bottles, for the entire ascent (dumb, dumb, dumb.)

I made it to Brainard Lake, walked the snow fields for a short time, sat on a rock to enjoy the mountain scenery, ate a bar and drank the water in one of the bottles. As soon as I climbed back on the bike and made one pedal stroke, a clenching pain gripped my left hamstring with such intensity that I thought I pulled a muscle. The pain continued to reverberate as I stepped off the bike, limped a few steps, tried to squat and stretch, and took all the weight off the leg. Nothing worked. I climbed back on the bike, coasted down the hill, and tried to make a pedal stroke. The leg balked and shot back with more sharp pain. This was my good leg. Oh no.

With much straining and grimacing, I managed to coast and occasionally pedal back to the gate and lower parking lot, where a half dozen people were milling about. I limped into the outhouse, then limped around some more, fretting about how I was going to get myself down the mountain. It was still more than 20 miles and while almost entirely downhill, there would have to be some pedaling in there. My leg hurt so much, just standing in place. I contemplated asking around for a lift down the canyon. Finally I got back on the bike, figuring I'd coast at five miles an hour if I had to, and call Beat when I reached the bottom of the hill if my leg still wouldn't work.

With much grimacing and straining, I managed to get some rotations going. As time passed, the pain diminished. I theorized that what happened wasn't a new injury, but rather a terrible muscle cramp, likely brought on by poor hydration and the fact that I've been working my left leg so much harder to pick up the slack for my injured right leg. Even after I regained mobility, my hamstrings continue to burn and throb, and I couldn't muster much power. My weakling right leg revealed its uselessness during this time, when I had no strength for anything more than a light spin. Certainly there was no more hill climbing left in these legs. I'd ruined them both.

After the ride, more time passed, and my hamstring continued to improve. I'm convinced it was just a cramp, but I have to say, that was the most intense muscle cramp I have ever experienced. I suppose my body is sending clear messages that I am overdoing it, which is frustrating, because I feel like I've hardly done anything this week. Just a little bit of bike riding.