Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | October 22, 2015

What I did on my Summer Vacation, Part 1: In Which I Finally Win the Lottery but That’s Not a Good Thing.

Pain delivered in the summer is conceived in January. In the flush of the New Year, summer seems far away and full of potential. So when Ilyse, my former cycling partner-in-crime from Chicago, emailed me just three weeks into 2015 asking if I wanted to do Ride the Rockies, the optimism of the season took over. A weeklong bike ride through the mountains of Colorado in June? Of course, I could do that! Never mind that my bike hung in the garage, its flattened tires covered in dust while I sat on the couch eating leftover Christmas cookies. By summer I’d be thin and fit and probably even wildly successful and rich and (what the heck) famous. June was off in the distance. By then, anything could happen.

Ilyse had done RTR before – a few times, actually – and when I lived in Chicago, I’d heard lots of RTR stories from her while we pedaled the flat lands of Illinois. She had asked me a couple of times if I wanted to do it, but I’d always thought it was out of my league – too much hill climbing. But this time was different. I was a Coloradan now! Granted, it had taken me months to get used to the altitude, and without my old biking buddies to pal around with, my time in the saddle had been limited. But I’d train! I’d get in shape! I would become a bike monster, a mountain crusher! Besides, I’d read on the RTR website that something like 4000 people apply for 2500 spots. I wouldn’t get in; I never win anything. So I put my name in the lottery and didn’t think much more about it.

When my acceptance came in March, I had two thoughts in quick succession: 1) I got in to Ride the Rockies! I’m so excited! Then 2) I got in to Ride the Rockies. I’m probably going to die.

When I had cheerfully told Ilyse that I was game, the route for 2015 hadn’t been announced. I didn’t know what I was getting into, other than it would be a week of riding somewhere in Colorado. By the time our lottery acceptance came through, the route had been posted and I had learned the painful truth. 465 miles of riding. 31,000 feet in elevation gain.

Are you kidding me?

There was a 96-mile day, followed by a 79-mile day, and soon after, a 102-mile day just for good measure. There was one day that included a 29-mile climb, straight up a mountain.

Someone shoot me.

Fortunately, it was early March and the ride wasn’t until June. My irrational optimism kicked in again. There was plenty of time to train! I’d be fine! Thanks to Denver’s mild and sunny winter, I’d already been riding outside for weeks at that point. Not far, mind you, only 20 miles at a time (20 flat miles, I should note), but it was something. My Chicago friends, on the other hand, had been braving a typical Chiberia winter and outdoor riding was months away for them. What’s more, I was living at about 6000 feet. Compared to riders coming from sea level, I was sitting pretty. I convinced myself I could do it. No problem!

Then the rain started. Lots of it, by Denver standards; the wettest spring in years, complete with flooding. Not only did that put a damper (ha!) on my desire to ride outdoors, but the flooding also forced me off of my favorite creek-side bike paths. I managed to layer up and get out on the road a few times, but then one cold and chilly day I took a spill on some wet pavement. I was fine, but hesitant about riding in the rain. How in the world was I going to train for a 465-mile weeklong adventure?

Enter the bike trainer – one of those little contraptions you put your bike on to let the back tire spin while the bike itself stays in place. Thanks to the bike trainer, I was able to pedal for hours in my basement without going anywhere. But as opposed to a spin class, which can be high energy and motivating, I found biking on the trainer to be tedious. Until, that is, I started binge watching Orange is the New Black.

I bought the trainer on a Monday afternoon. By that Saturday I was finishing up Season One. I was the only person in Colorado who was happy about the wet weather. Every morning, when I’d see the rain clouds on my weather app, my heart would race a bit. How many episodes could I get in? Two? Three? Maybe four? I’d gladly hop on my bike and stay there for hours. Granted, it wasn’t quite the same as biking outdoors, but it had to count for something.

The problem was, I liked it too much. On days that I should have been out doing killer hill climbs, I was in my basement, pedaling slowly and barely breaking a sweat, waiting to find out what was next for Piper and Larry and Alex and Crazy Eyes.

The days and weeks ticked by until I realized one day that I was out of episodes. What’s more, it was now June and my grand plans for getting in the best bike shape of my life had never quite materialized. I’d done a couple of hill rides, but nothing even close to a 29-mile climb. There was no way around it, I wasn’t ready and it was too late. I updated my Road ID contact info so that my body would be easy to identify, and I started packing my bags. Like Piper at Litchfield, I’d have to make the best of it and hope to survive.

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