Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Long Awaited Adventure; Grand Loop 2012

It's dark in the trees despite our perfect Grand Loop planning that just happened to coincide with this full moon.  I'm stopped, waiting for Lynda, she was just behind me and now I don't see her.  I'm wondering if she fell asleep and hoping not.  Moments earlier she was cracking, mentioning she was sleeping while riding.  I know how bad that sucks, I've been there.  I hoped that she would spark up after her Via shot, I tried not to draw attention to the idea.  I knew we could push on to the finish, we'd be stoked to do so.  Lynda!  No answer.  I call out a second time, a little louder, LYNDA!  Still no answer.  Eyes are staring back at me and things are moving, running.  I wonder what they are.  It's kind of eerie waiting in the dark with unidentifiable noises and glowing eyes.  What seems like forever and probably only 30 seconds, Lynda appears.  "I'm good, just had to change my battery out".  She feels better and I'm stoked she rallied through her crack, we're in sync again, we're finishing tonight.

Only hours before I was the one in the cave of pain, wondering how I could finish tonight.  I had just climbed the "Shandies", the first of two huge grunts up from Dewey Bridge on the Kokopelli Trail.  I had no water leaving Dewey, counting on two sources before getting to Hideout Canyon. Being an exceptionally dry year, we were out of luck.  I passed on the first puddle of "desperation" water but when we got to Cottonwood and found it dry, I decided that desperation water was better than no water.  Lynda apparently has no sense of smell, I have a nose like a dog, to a fault.  My water smelled like sulfur and was green and slimy, Lynda's water was fine, strange!.  I drank every last drop and was so thankful to have Tailwind to mix it with.  As Lynda rode steadily and wistfully away from me up the "Shandies" I began my slow and painful crack session.  I won't bore you with all the details of my self-depreciating thoughts but I will mention that I didn't think it was fair that Lynda weighed 40-plus pounds lighter than me, that damn hummingbird.  After my moment of woe and licking every last particle of berry flavored Tailwind Endurance Fuel, like it was crack, I had two thoughts.  I first felt a deep sense of regret for not bringing more Tailwind and secondly I realized that no matter what, I was doing something quite extraordinary and it was high time I gave myself some credit.  Goodbye meltdown, hello adrenaline high to the finish!

Three days prior to this Lynda and I set out to start our first Grand Loop experience.  It took me leaving Grand Junction and moving to Durango to finally go back and do this race.  A few weeks before we started the Grand Loop I heard that little voice inside my head I often hear when I know I'm about to embark on an adventure.  Some call these voices auditory hallucinations, I call them voices of reason.  Lynda has been coaching me since February and knowing that I have a late summer goal in mind, she cautioned that I could do the Grand Loop but was not to wreck myself.  We decided doing it together was a fine idea.  It can be a real challenge to do a self-support bike-packing race with another person but Lynda and I are no strangers to these types of events and what better people to do it together than two ladies that possess such a love for biking and bike packing.

I never felt like Lynda or I had to take care of each other.  We were self-support, mind, body and bike.  It was such a relief and pleasure to ride with someone who just gets it.  When I cracked, hours before Lynda on our last day, she didn't try too hard to talk me through it.  It was perfect, I could just crack in peace and not feel bad about it.  She was just there, sitting, being, non-judging.  It's hard to come by another female rider that you can be so in sync with.  We had moments of just riding in silence, focusing on our pedal strokes, alone in our thoughts but together with the terrain.

For those of you who don't know what the Grand Loop is, it is a 360 mile loop that traditionally starts in Grand Junction, working its way to the start of the Kokopelli Trail to the base of the La Sals, linking the Paradox Trail with the Tabeguache Trail, a section that meanders the Uncompahgre Plateau and finally completes in Grand Junction.  It covers some of the most vast, untouched land of Colorado.  My heart has been set on this route for quite some time.  I mainly wanted to explore an area I had never seen, one of the greatest appeals of any adventure to me personally.  Lynda and I started in Uravan, a few miles up the road from Naturita and as long as you complete the loop it doesn't really matter where you start.  Our decision was guided by a forest fire that had started in the Paradox Valley, our route would pass right through the burn area.  We hoped that by the time we came back around the fire would be under control and the surrounding roads would be open.  We were right and were able to complete the full route without any detours.  Riding through the burn area felt like we were riding through a war zone, it was ominous.  I could smell and feel the heat of the fire remnants before I could see the smoky piles of ash. It was quiet, no sign of human presence, only us, in the middle of the night, riding through a site that only days ago was roaring in flames, weird!

I'm not a big detail oriented person nor am I really good at recalling the details of events like our Grand Loop adventure.  This is where Lynda comes in and you can read more about it here.  I had a great time out there and riding it with Lynda was awesome.  I am thankful for Tailwind Nutrition  for letting us try out their awesome sports drink.  I have struggled so much over the years with stomach issues and endurance racing. One race I couldn't finish and another I almost dropped out of at mile 100 with only 25 to go.  Needless to say it has taken a lot of racing and learning the hard way to get it right, and this is still a work in progress.  Tailwind did not cause me any GI issues during the Grand Loop which is a huge success but it also gave me power.  I could really feel the Tailwind working for me and grew confident, as the ride continued, that I could stay strong and steady while fueling with it, and limiting my intake of solid food.  I basically ate dried fruit and drank Tailwind while I rode and as long as I stayed on top of it, I was golden. When I licked the Tailwind from my platypus container, regretfully thinking I should have brought more, I felt every last particle go streaming into my legs, this gave me some ideas for the future!

It's just before 4 a.m., 3 days 11 hours and 33 minutes after we started in Uravan.  We're back at the same spot, on the side of the road, only now it's dark and the full, big, beautiful moon is lighting up the sand like an ocean.  The last 10 miles have been spectacular and torturous, a dichotomy of emotions common in events like this especially when you can smell but not see the finish.  The completion of any dream is a curious thing, happy to finish because you're so darn tired but sad to say goodbye.  As we meandered through those last miles along the beautiful Dolores River, awaiting its confluence with the San Miguel, I marveled at our accomplishment but my breath was taken away by the stunning landscape we were currently flying through (yes, we had wings tonight); the full moon, the river, the canyon with its' huge rock cliffs shooting precipitously up as if they were passageways to a faraway place.  I always say it and I hope I never stop, we are so, so, so fortunate to be here.  

We end with a toast of bacon, the two pieces Lynda has been hoarding for the last 150 miles or so.  She can now legally offer it to me because we finished the Grand Loop. We have no more food or water but could care less because we're done.  We are in awe and exhausted and pass out on the side of the road, 15 miles from our cars in Naturita.  

Lastly, Naturita is in this country and it is in Colorado but for some it might as well be a town in the Middle East (a little inside joke).  Thanks for reading and sorry it took me so long, I'm a nurse that works night shifts and a bike rider by day!

4 comments:

P. Koski said...

Great write-up Cat. Your description of the Dolores River canyon in the middle of the night was spot on and yes Naturita and Nucla can feel a bit "third world" at times. that's why we live here I suppose...

Carey said...

Thanks for the good read. Makes travelling through Alabama (on our way back home from family vacation) a little less tortuous.

Carey said...

Thanks for the good read. Makes travelling through Alabama (on our way back home from family vacation) a little less tortuous.

Dave said...

Cat,
so glad you got to experience the GLR. It really brings back memories. I remember when you rode out the first few miles in 2008 with the group. Congratulations on a superb accomplishment.
Dave