It happened again.
Dawdling up a local climb – Emigration Canyon. A mild, pleasant cruise up a slight hill with a wide shoulder, conveniently located adjacent to Salt Lake City. The cocktail results in the cycling equivalent of a Screwdriver, a Whiskey Sour, a Jack & Coke – that ride everyone knows, and everyone can ride. To wit, it’s the closest Utah gets to a recreational cycling highway.
Inevitably, no matter the pace, there’s always someone going slower in Emigration. It’s perfectly fine. I’ve accepted that I generally ride faster than 99% of the population, even when I’m riding slow. Rocketing past gaggles of folks trundling the drawn-out 1,200ish feet of vertical to the summit is normal. It doesn’t bother me, and I hope it doesn’t bother them.
Except for, occasionally, The Guy, with his knees bobbling outside his slow pedalstroke like a Cossack dancer. There’s a decade-old helmet on the back of his head, and a two-sizes too-big Sierra Nevada/World Cycling jersey draped over his leathery, slightly-paunchy 45-65 year-old skeleton. His tongue is on the stem as he ekes every last ounce of power from his misaligned knees, and his unflinching rivet face is reminiscent of a powerful bowel movement. Every time I fly past The Guy, his reaction is a variation on the same theme:
“Just wait ‘till you’re my age!”
My ears bristle, and my back tinges when I hear the verbal retort of his own physical humiliation. The Guy, I have bad news: It’s not your age. When 42 year-olds (no matter how checkered their past) are winning Grand Tours, when my former coach, 20 years my senior, can ride ProTour racers off his wheel, and when Ned Overend (whose birth certificate was inked in 1955) can effortlessly drop me (and the rest of the break) in a race on an HC climb, it’s certainly not your age.
I remit to perspective: This is The Guy who’s been riding ten times a year for several eons, and is mystified by his poor performance relative to others. He’ll go home after shrieking at passersby, investigate his latest copy of Bicycling for training tips on how to improve his cadence, and likely not look at his bike for another two weeks.
But, The Guy, there’s hope. See, it’s not the age – it’s the commitment. I, and many more like me, are faster because we want to be. We put the hours in. We slave away on trainers while working full-time in the dead of winter. We leave our homes at 4 AM in a Coloradoan January with lights on our bikes and chemical handwarmers in our chamois so we can get our kids to school at 9. We suffer. We sacrifice. Belittling our suffering and sacrifice with petty excuses, excuses we didn’t want or care to hear? Magnitudes worse than just being slow up the local hill.
So, The Guy, next time one of us flies past you on the road, don’t make excuses. Smile. Return the polite “hi” I’ll toss out. Enjoy the day. Enjoy pedaling. Ride your own ride, and if it irks enough that I’m that much faster…learn to suffer. Discover the passion. Slurp it down in Super Big Gulp-sized servings. Join us, there’s still time – but don’t ever make excuses.
Photos courtesy of Manual For Speed and myself.
Colombia. A piece of me is still a hemisphere away.
I miss your people. I miss your food. I miss your mountains. I miss your air. Dearest Grancolombia, you have captured mi corazon, more than I’d like to admit. The zenith of my love for pedaling, for crushing myself – it was on your breathtaking escarpments, it was wolfing down arepas and pandebono, it was laughing at my monito compatriot in his attempts to seduce the local populace. The grass is always greener, and it will always be, but you were where this lifetime grazer found some really goddamned green grass.
Letras. The tail end of our Colombian escape. Fittingly, the largest, longest climb in the world of road cycling. Period. The Alps pale. The Rockies – they succumb to the sheer magnitude of this extension of the Andes. Nowhere else on earth can you ascend from a humble elevation of 1,900ft to a towering 14,000ft in a mileage in the double-digits. Few other pais are so ingrained into their literal height than the Andean South Americans. Their massive population centers, bustling with activity, cultural richness, culinary depth – they’re built at climes, at levels incomprehensible to the rest of the world. Who builds their capital city higher than anywhere else? The nations and people of Sud America do.
We started the climb, like so many others, with a descent. The trip from Manizales to the tropical burg of Mariquita would take two hours. By the hour of debarkation from the oversized Peugot, the cyclists in question nauseous at best, pushing choleric at worst – at a stinking panaderia, guzzling sticky carbohydrates into twisted guts. Frantic Coke downing, in an attempt to calm the frothing cauldron of enraged GI tracts would prove to be as effective as pissing on the surface of the sun.
With remnants of forced-down corn cake and pandebono fresh on the lips, we shimmied sweaty limbs into skin-tight cycling kit and began the long march upwards. The atmosphere was thick and staid, legs responding to cursory impetus like a pair of stubborn toddlers refusing the beck and call of a parent. The blare of the Citroen’s horn behind announced the the return of the photographers, and suddenly, motivation. Bend after bend flew by, lungs adapted to life in the high mountains wallowing in the thick buttercream-like oxygen at 2,000ft. Dancing Salsa on the pedals became easy, effortless. Locals in the pueblitas stared, pointed. Monitos on bicycles – an oddity. Monitos on bicycles riding Letras – insanity.
The grass, it’s always greener.
Meet Michael Schär, owning rivet face like only a Swiss national champion can.
Driving and cycling tend to occupy separate spheres of the time/space continuum in my mind, but in Caldas, they’re starting to meld. I was invited to a party at a finca (a country house) on Christmas Eve by some ever-hospitable Colombianos, who proceeded to treat the two lonely gringos like their own familia. I came away from the experience with two thoughts unaffected by the aguardiente and copious volumes of deep-fried deliciousness.
One, Utah Mormons (my upbringing, though no longer) and Colombian Catholics are not terribly different, save I might wager those that swing towards the Vatican vs. Salt Lake City know how to have a touch more fun. Remarkably strong family ties transcend culture, ethnicity, theology, and income. People are people, and tradition is tradition. It’s a comforting fact.