My husband Ben and I got married this summer! We didn’t have a wedding registry, but if we did a three-day entry into the Breck Epic would not have been on it. The creative but sadistic gift was the brainchild of our friend Mark, a notorious fan of type two fun. From the outside, it might seem spot on for us. We started flirting on bike rides, nearly all of our vacations are bike adventures, and riding even featured in our vows. However, we are not racers. We’re goofy hobby riders who spend hours on short trails trying and retrying little techy bits and stopping frequently for photos, snacks, and wildlife intrigue. Despite being wholly unprepared, we really like Mark and mountains, and usually have fun on simple wheeled machines, so off to Breckenridge we went. This is a glimpse of what happened.
DAY 1. Over exuberant and under-gunned
An hour before our alarm when off I fluttered awake and rolled over to see Ben’s heavy, open eyes. “I didn’t sleep at all,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to ride today.” Minutes before hopping into the car to drive to the race he emerges, showered, kitted out and looking like he’s ready to rip legs off. We crowded in at the start line, our wave got the green light and we took off. I was feeling my oats at first, trucking along, giggling on the descents, passing people, and relishing the vibrancy of the day. I felt so alive! I loved bikes! I loved mountains! After a couple hours of this it was like a switch flipped, and instead of feeling invigorated with every deep breath and loud heartbeat, I felt beleaguered and deflated. I steadily began to flag until I was pretty sure my only hope of finishing would be if I dragged myself on the ground, belly down leaving a trail of tears and gummy bears. As I was contemplating this move I rounded a bend and saw Ben in front of me, with his kind eyes and handsome face. We spent the second half of the day together slowly spinning, pushing and commiserating as one by one everyone we saw that morning resumed their rightful position in front of us with understandable gratification. Somehow we eventually managed to find the finish line. I booked it to the snack shack while Ben slinked off into the shrub-steppe like a dog who wants to be alone to die. After a moment I joined him, sprawled on the ground, and we shoved our faces full of pickle mayonnaise sandwiches silently feeling the calories sink into our heavy limbs.
DAY 2. Fool me once…
An hour before our alarm went off I fluttered awake and rolled over to see Ben’s heavy, open eyes. “I didn’t sleep at all,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to ride today.” Minutes before hopping into the car to drive to the race he emerges, showered, kitted out and looking like he’s ready to rip legs off. We’d been told that the course this day was the most heinous of all six hours of mandatory hike-a-bike (pfft used to that when you have no climbing game), followed by a spicey descent (weirdly, love that). We were feeling optimistic about the terrain and much wiser after lessons learned from the previous day about pacing and settling into the struggle. It didn’t hurt that the climb was gorgeous, classic high alpine moving between meadows and scree fields, spotted with wildflowers and bolete mushrooms everywhere. It was hard not to stop and collect the perfect rust red caps. Ben kept suggesting different mushroom dinner ideas to passing hikers, drool vicariously wetting his lips. We finally got to the blustery summit and I said goodbye to Ben knowing that I wouldn’t see him again as long as we were losing elevation. And then I descended, and it was dreamy. Sigh. There is something both exhilarating and serene about making decisions faster than you can think in words, relying on intuition over reason. It’s as close to meditation as I’ve ever gotten. I waited until I was done with the technical singletrack to abandon my bike and go skin sledding face first down a gently sloped gravel hill. Other than losing my snacks when they exploded out of my pockets upon impact I was (pretty much) fine and the dust-up didn’t dampen my spirits. I found Ben waiting at the end equally enthusiastic and loopy. We gathered around the finish line and cheered friends and strangers in, whether they wanted it or not.
DAY 3. You don’t have to get it to get it
An hour before our alarm when off I fluttered awake and rolled over to see Ben’s heavy, open eyes. “I didn’t sleep at all,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to ride today.” Minutes before hopping into the car to drive to the start line he emerges, showered, kitted out and looking like he’s ready to rip legs off. We started in the same wave but I only saw him for the first 30 seconds. He was riding strong and I was negotiating my personal version of hella-long, low angle road climb. Most riders seem to dig it or at least excel at it. But I’m kind of slow and when the riding doesn’t demand all of my attention the chatter in my mind grows louder. You know, with the typical questions like, “Is my tire flat? It feels like it’s flat…” or “What is my purpose in life? Am I a good person?” And, “When did my saddle turn into a belt sander?” I was interrupted when a woman confidently peddled past me, took one look at my suffering husk and said in an encouraging voice, “Whelp, you’re definitely the fanciest of all of us.” Filthy bike, eyelids half-mast, threadbare t-shirt and short hair sticking out helmet holes in a way that resembles a toilet bowl brush hardly constitutes “fancy.” I didn’t get it. I still don’t. Maybe she was mocking me? But like a koan (or what I guess that might be like) something about the confusion sideswiped me out of my inner jeering. I cracked up, got a burst of energy and hauled my fancy booty just a little bit faster up the hellish hill. I rolled through the finish line and found Ben already changed into civilian clothes, sipping a beer. As we milled about chatting and congratulating, I could feel the dull desperation that had settled in my stomach the past three days being replaced by warm satisfaction with the realization that the race was over and we had ridden it.
So that was our suffer-moon. It was more painful and humbling than tropical and sexy like a typical honeymoon, but I will say that it was surprisingly fulfilling. I still can’t believe that our soft little human bodies rose to the occasion and (more or less) did what we asked of them. While I don’t have a tidy moral of the story to wrap up in a burrito there are a few takeaways that I’ll be thinking on for a while, like:
- Ben’s style seems to be to under-promise and over deliver
- He steadily grew stronger in the face of adversity
- I plateaued
- I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to have children after all that our parts went through
- Hard wasn’t bad, it was just hard
- He’s funny when he’s salty
- I was ridiculously uplifted every time I saw him on the trail
- And wanted to kiss his face at the finish line (he wouldn’t let me-because pickle breath)
- Maybe we’ll ride the whole six days next year
Just kidding, I’m booking tickets to Baja.