Over the winter I tried my hand at building a bike. I researched every single component, talked to friends who raced, talked to dozens of bike shops, shopped scores of online discounts parts places and watched countless YouTube videos on the subject. Long story short, this was my sailboat and I was going to build and sail it into an ocean of adventures in the months and years to come (thanks Jesse, Jon, Matt and Karen).
As the ski season grew more and more abysmal here in Colorado, it gave me more of a chance to spend a lot more time down in my basement learning about all the individual systems of a bike. I diligently studied things such as how hydraulics work (and why), understanding tubeless tyre technology and understanding why I should choose them over their “tubed” counterparts, understanding carbon technology and why I should or shouldn’t look at various components made of it and carefully measuring every component to ensure everything combined fit me perfectly. Finally, the last step was taking all my fancy new tools and knowledge and actually building the damn thing.
I’ve ridden bikes for, well, forever. And like the majority of people, I’d buy it, get on it, ride it, period. Now that I’ve actually built one, it feels different. I’m invested in it on a personal level. I listen to it, I feel its subtleties and nuances…I actually WANT to ride it every chance I get to get to know it better. I love my bike.
It’s now been a couple of months since I tightened the last bolt and adjusted the gearing so that it’ll shift seamlessly — and it shifts like buttah! In these first few weeks I’ve already crashed it descending some technical singletrack, in spectacular fashion I might add, and subsequently had to limp it back to the trailhead with me bleeding and my tail between my legs. I’ve also churned out more miles than I had collectively in the past year on my other bike. I’d also be lying if I said I haven’t smiled more than I have collectively in the past year — ear to ear smiles at that!
So yesterday I left my house for my staple afternoon ride, a nice 20-miler with a few solid climbs, about five miles of super fun, rolly singletrack, a lot of open space trails and fortunately less than two miles of pavement. When I first clipped into my pedals at my house, I looked at the dark clouds hovering above the foothills and paused for a second, wondering if I should risk getting caught out in the open in one of our scary, Rocky Mountain lightening extravaganzas or just go for it and hope for the best. Pfffft, no choice, just go for it!
My ride goes west and north for the initial eight miles and today that was directly into a 15-20 mph headwind, gusting to 30 mph. It was delivering a stout workout for sure, especially given the long protracted hill I had to climb from mile six through eight. From there I plunged down a steep hill on some fun singletrack and turned back east and took advantage of the strong tailwind and simply lit up some singletrack along Coal Creek…giggling all the way.
Near the end of the Coal Creek Path, where I’d have to start back south and west and up two steeper hills, I have to cross under a quite picturesque railroad trellis. Very cool little area along the creek with lots of trees and little rollers to jump! Unlike any other time I’ve ridden this route, this time there was a set of three locomotives sitting right on top of the trellis. So cool! So cool that is until I got directly under the idling monstrosity and it let loose with that incredibly loud horn. It seriously made my heart stop and I momentarily thought I’d shat in my Fox mountain biking trousers.
I reactively yelled some rather “strong words of contempt” in the direction of the train’s overall massif and at the conductor specifically, who obviously couldn’t hear me — but made me feel better.
Anyhow, after restarting my cardio system and passing the more important “all-clear” inspection of my underpants, a brilliant idea suddenly hit me. That train was starting to move south, just like me. I did a quick mental mapping of the rest of my ride and realized there were two railroad crossings along my path. I was going to crush the trail ahead of me and beat that stupid train (and the rapidly approaching storm) to both of those crossings and show it who was really in control of this little battle. It was NOT going to get the best of me! I quickly shifted up to the big ring…and let it fly. Oh yeah, it was 100% game on!
The first crossing was about two miles ahead out in the middle of a big valley. Things were going well initially as I headed due south because I had a relatively good tailwind pushing me along. After about a half mile though, I had to turn back to the west into a stiff, chilly wind and up a long, steady hill. This was an inconsequential set of circumstances because the gauntlet had been laid and I was not going to be denied. In hindsight, I probably looked like half crazed lunatic as I blew past a couple runners and a couple of other cyclists along the trail, but whatever.
When I got to the first crossing I was easily a half mile ahead of the train. However, I could hear the train straining to gather momentum and I knew the hardest work was still yet to come.
The next crossing was another three miles away with another longer, steadier uphill grade between. The wind would definitely not be working in my favor either. My legs were also pumped to the max from pushing that big ring but I immediately thought of my friend Kramer and the applicability of our oft discussed Rule #5. www.velominati.com/the-rules/. After that there was no other option but to sack up and drop the hammer.
Another mile in and I could hear the train’s horn warning the traffic at the highway crossing to get the hell out of the way because it was chasing a half-crazed mountain biker (I’d conveniently crossed under the highway on the bike trail!). I couldn’t actually see the train right then, but I could hear the rumble of its mass and knew for sure it was gaining speed. Damn it!
I crested the long hill, pretty winded and gassed from fighting the wind and gravity, but I put that inconvenience aside and just cranked. I quickly maneuvered my way across the dam at Stearn’s Lake on some fun singletrack and headed back south again with a much welcomed tailwind. My legs were pumped completely full of lactic acid and my mouth was open, gasping for all the oxygen I could get. It was going to be close given I had two cattle gates between me and that last railroad crossing, both requiring me to dismount.
The last gate is approximately 10 metres from the railroad crossing proper and is midway up a small, but steep hill. I never even thought of downshifting as I made my way up to the last gate but instead dropped my head and blasted away at the pedals with everything I had.
Now, finally near the last gate, I could look down the tracks and could see the headlight on the locomotive nearing and could actually feel the ground shaking as it approached. I quickly kicked my feet out of the pedals, threw open the gate and ran my bike across the tracks a safe ¼+ miles ahead of the train.
As the train came by, I gave the conductor a sarcastic salute and smugly exclaimed. “Take that you 400-ton beeeeyatch!”. The conductor waved and smiled knowing he’d just been schooled like Rick Santorum at a Lilith Fair concert. Okay, probably not, but I’m going with it in my own world.
I still had another four or five miles to go and the steepest climb of the day immediately following the railroad crossing, but despite my legs being jacked to point of being almost rigged with lactic acid, it was the sweetest five miles I’ve ridden in a long, looooong time.
Oh yeah, the storm. Just a few sprinkles as I rode into my driveway. Boooyah!
Pedal hard, ski big, climb high, run far and be happy.