September 19, 2018
Tim Don's Road Back
This will be a long one.
Mostly, for me. I want to savor every moment of what was the biggest physical (and emotional) challenge I’ve taken on. I want to relish this great accomplishment. If you’re into small novels, sit back, grab a cup of coffee (or wine depending on the time of day) and come with me back through Helen & Noah’s BIG Adventure.
First, I have to say that our team of people was INCREDIBLE. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more perfect group of humans. They played every “role” perfectly. I’ll name them and give a general description of what they were around to do. However, I cannot possibly describe them or what they gave me any further. Simply put: I wouldn’t have gotten through this without each of them.
Naomi – Noah’s Mom
Stacy – my coach
Peter – mechanic/sherpa/human compass
Josh & Nic – our film crew
Day 1: The Intro
We got Noah into the trailer and learned quickly that zip ties would be our friends during this process. We adapted the trailer by adding the harness from his every day chair to keep him comfortable. Yup, that means we had to zip tie a 9-year-old into the trailer. Winning on day 1!
We began our ride unassumingly: in a parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express in Gunnison. It was quiet and perfect. The plan had been for the crew to drive up ahead every 5 miles or so. I’d either pass and wave or stop as needed. We also planned a stop at the 2-ish hour mark to change and feed Noah. The first 25 miles were AWESOME. The views were almost instantly gorgeous. And there was a tailwind that I didn’t notice or appreciate. I remember thinking “I can push past our planned 47! I’m gonna kick ass, post on social media that I did MORE than I was supposed and soak in the glory.”
Our big stop was by Blue Mesa Reservoir. It was our first “take Noah out of the trailer” stop and we took a little longer than we should have (remember: zip ties). We got much better at this as the days went on, as we knew we would. After peeing between car doors onto concrete (no trees were in sight) and feeding and hydrating both Noah and I, we took off again. 27 more miles to go! We’re gonna crush it!
One pedal stroke into the headwind that faced me and I was like, “Ohhhh, shit.”. We then turned toward Black Canyon where the climbing started. I was OK for the most part. At some point I asked Peter to ride with me since he was my climbing buddy and I could feel the fatigue setting in. We just kept climbing and our “see ya every few miles” plan was not working for my psyche. When I climb with 100+ pounds attached I’m S-L-O-W. A few miles feels like eternity on a day like that.
Then, I hit a wall. A BIG ONE. The tears started to come and as every switchback passed and I didn’t see our support vehicles, they flowed even more. I was getting hot. I was incredibly concerned for Noah because if I was hot, I’m sure he was, too. We were going 3MPH… And then the sobbing started. I tried to lock it up and did a couple of times, but was beyond over it. I finally told Peter to ride up ahead and “FUCKING FIND THEM!” and instructed that if they were more than 1/4 mile away they needed to come get me. He took off, I started to cry again and then I heard the most pitiful noise from Noah and totally lost it. Luckily, they were actually just a 1/4 mile away. I pulled off the side of the road, handed off my bike, told Naomi I had surely killed her child and walked off while everyone let me be and took care of Noah.
Naomi pulled her not-dead-son out of the trailer and I asked, frustrated, if he was OK. And then I looked at his face. She was holding him with his head on her shoulder and there was that smile. His cry was because he had wiggled himself into an uncomfortable position. He was fine. I relaxed a bit, ate a sandwich and felt defeated in knowing that we had to cut our ride short…
In hindsight, day #1 was the intro day to day #3 which is now considered the most difficult day I’ve ever had on a bike. EVER.
Day 2: Redemption Day
I was determined that we would start EXACTLY where we stopped on day #1. I wasn’t going to loose miles. It was about an hour drive from our hotel to our start, where we were greeted by Nic and Josh, our film crew, who would follow us the remainder of the trip. They were not only talented and laid back and incredibly cool, but became friends through this process. I remember saying, “These dudes better not suck.” They didn’t.
I was nervous to take off. So nervous, in fact, that I asked Stacy to ride with me. Her presence helped keep my head straight. Day #2 had the biggest change in climate. We started up in the mountains next to water in a deep, beautiful canyon where the leaves were just beginning to change and ended up in arid, rolling hills through farm country. To say it was breath-taking would be a massive understatement.
There are 2 favorite parts of that day:
The first was riding with Stacy. She’s coached me to become this incredible athlete (the one I NEVER thought I’d ever become), but because she lives in Georgia, we’ve never ridden together. Not a bad place for 2 gals to ride together for the first time. We chatted. We took in the views. We had our time on the bike.
The second was as we were descending Black Canyon and hit 41MPH (sorry, Naomi!). I looked back into the trailer to check on Noah and when I did, saw that toothy grin from ear-to-ear. It was in that moment where everything: every tear, every stresser, every fear, every doubt, became not just worth it, but appreciated. He was there. He was with me. And we had this moment together.
We made up the 10 miles we lost on day #1 and rolled into our motel in Paonia. I ended the day feeling accomplished. Redeemed. Thankful.
Day 3: Conquering Kebler
Look, I KNEW Kebler was going to be tough. Day #3 had a climb and gravel. That I knew. What I didn’t know was that day #3 would see 4,700 feet of elevation gain over 40 miles with an AVERAGE speed of 7MPH. SEVEN. Seven is also the number of hours we were on the bike. This is where I must admit to you that I purposefully did NOT preview my route. I only knew mileage and very basic details….I’m still leaning towards the thought that it was a good idea in the end as I’m not great when I have an expectation of what’s to come. Hence, kinda winging it. Probably shoulda looked at day #3, though.
Kebbler almost broke me. I hit my darkest moments more than once.
I woke up on Day #3 sore and nervous and not feeling good about what was to come. We started from our motel in Paonia and had an INSTANT headwind. Wanna know what happens to a 6’1″ girl on a 61cm bike with a 100+ pounds behind her in a not-so-tiny trailer? Well, she turns into a parachuter. And that shit isn’t fun. The first 16 miles suuuuuucked. I was pedaling through molasses and tears came at mile 5. (that should have been an indicator of things to come). It was slow and miserable, but I was staying positive knowing that the worst was yet to come and that THIS is what I’d be training for.
Then the turn to Kebbler came and I felt mentally prepared. There were a couple miles of rollers with gravel that we did fine on. They were actively grading it, so the wet dirt was like riding in sand and a bit frustrating, but we got it done. We got to a section of concrete that would inevitably be our last big break. Noah was fed and hydrated, I had Stacy massage my sore ass (she’s a massage therapist by trade which came in handy when my body HATED me). I ate some chips and we took off. At this point, I was thinking “this isn’t so bad” assuming the next few miles would be like the last.
It wasn’t. The first section of Kebbler is steep and the gravel, in sections, is loose. The first couple of steep miles I did well. It hurt, but I did it. THIS was Kebbler, after all. It helped to have my support vehicles tailing me and literally screaming from the windows. I was doing it! The worst of the climbs finished and I was ready for some downhill. Downhill that didn’t come. While the worst, steep stuff was done, the climbing wasn’t. Kebbler became rollers with little reprieve and that’s when the wheels began to fall off the bus.
We got to a section of loose gravel with a climb and I was going so damn slow that I fell. While Naomi, Peter and Stacy watched up ahead. I fell. Landed on my side, turned on my ass because I realized the bike and Noah were rolling backwards downhill, grabbed the bike, sat and cried until everyone came to get us. I got up and, in a fury, spiked my sunglasses on the ground. BYEEEE Tifosis! We walked up the hill to a flat part and I don’t remember much other than a couple sips of cold beer thanks to Stacy who saw I needed it….and I got back on my damn bike.
Noah was un-phased by all of this. I caught a couple of smiles as we climbed, even!
The rollers continued. No real downhill. And with every pedal stroke I was getting more and more upset. Stacy made the decision to jump on her bike and ride with. A triathlete on a road bike on gravel….she’s a trooper. And a life saver.
We got to another section that was slightly steep with that loose gravel and before falling, I unclipped. Got off my bike and started walking. PIIIISSSSSEEEEEDD. It is one of the most memorable moments of our ride. Everyone was there, including our film crew. I got off, started pushing and yelling. Naomi and Stacy came to help push the trailer with sweet words of encouragement and I remember looking at them and saying, “STOP. I need TWO MINUTES.” They let go and I pushed my bike, on that gravel, with Noah attached. I remember thinking, FEELING the words that came out of my mouth to Stacy, “THIS IS NOT HOW THIS DAY WILL END.” I pushed us to a flat spot and we got back on that bike.
As we hit the last section of climbs that (thankfully) became pavement, I broke again. Sitting on gravel, feeling like I didn’t have anything left in the tank, but refusing to quit, but still not really knowing (or wanting to) how much longer we had. I remember getting off the bike and sitting on the gravel. Noah was still doing great which helped keep me focused. By this point, Naomi had mastered hydrating Noah who is tube fed while he was IN the trailer. Rockstars. Both of them.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting on the ground and Stacy opens up a can of Pringles and accidentally drops them on the ground in front of me. Before she could do anything, I pitifully just grabbed them off the side of the road and shoved them in my mouth. It was tragic and hilarious and those salt and vinegar Pringles gave me just enough life to finish our climbs. I didn’t think I could love salt & vinegar chips more than I already did….
I’d like to say the next mile was pleasant and I had renewed energy. It wasn’t and I didn’t and I cried and whined and all I can hear are Stacy’s words, “Yes you can. Yes you can. You can do this.” It was miserable. I hated life. She rode up ahead of me at which point I wanted to die. And the next thing I know I heard yelling, cheering. I made it to the top where I saw Stacy and Naomi cheering. There were Nic and Josh with their cameras and then I saw it: MY DOWNHILL INTO CRESTED BUTTE!
I took off. We cranked. It was only a couple of miles but it was glorious. I’ve never been happier to see the name of a town on a sign in my life. A couple more blocks and we were at our Inn for the evening.
48 miles. 4,700 feet of climbing. 7 hours. We got Noah out of the trailer and I just held him. I thanked him. I loved him more in that moment than ever. We had just put our bodies through Hell. Together. We had made it.