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Sunday Vision Quest

Last Sunday we went for the sort of ride that left me useless for the rest of the week not just physically, but mentally as well. I totally checked out the minute we hit the second shuttle car. Or maybe it was somewhere up on the ridge. Maybe it was the trail head. Actually, on second thought, it’s possible that I’ve just never been checked in. That would explain my archaeology grade right now.
We started in the dark. It was a surreal way to begin a ride- I was running on oatmeal, french press coffee, and some time in the car like usual, but it was super strange to bundle up and pedal into blackness. Things got grey, then pink, then orange, and suddenly we were looking out over a mist-shrouded glacial valley. And the day had just begun.
Gradually our surroundings turned to scree and tundra, and the trail became less and less rideable. Lots of sections turned into that sort of zen-march you sometimes find skiing; shoulder skis, (or bike, in this case) keep one foot in front of the other, and don’t fall. The scree sounded like broken pottery under my carbon-soled feet. I’ve never had to carry my bike slung across my back for any extended period of time, but I became a pro at it last Sunday.
When we weren’t hiking, we were tearing joyously across huge expanses of serpentine ridgeline trail- it was fast, rattley, and super aesthetic. The clouds, which never ended up burning off, lent an air of mystery to the adventure and a cold sting to any exposed skin; we were basically riding through freezing, blinding, soaking mist the entire day.
The hours trickled by and we fell into a sort of rhythm; descending something gnarly and fast with sharp, pointy consequences, then shouldering-up and hiking, zombie-like, back up to the next ridgeline. Over, and over, and over again. The climates changed, the color of the dirt changed, the direction of the wind changed, but the effort remained the same. So did the twenty-foot visibility.
At about hour six I remember hearing my inner sand-bagger grumbling something like “I am so over this.”
I’d eaten nearly all my food, drank nearly all my water and, as Sam so excellently put it, was finding it extremely difficult to ride up anything with more slope than a wheelchair ramp. We’d spent probably four hours above ten thousand feet; my head was light, my hands were numb and my feet had abandoned me completely, leaving two clumsy cement blocks at the ends of my ankles. I could hardly find my pedals whenever I tried to clip in, and I was, indeed, over it. But then my inner ninja spat back; “Stupid girl. ‘Over it’ is not an option.” For the first time this season for me, there was no mechanic, feed zone, or parking lot to crawl back to.

Photo: Sam Atkins

So we pedaled on. Ridge line after cloud-shrouded ridge line rolled beneath our wheels. Sometimes we got the chance to peer over the edge into the whiteness- these could have been drops of 40 feet or 400, but we’d never know. In reality, the topo shows that we encountered both and everything in between, which makes me grateful for the fog. Some of those lines were pretty narrow.
It got to the point where everyone was totally worked and becoming semi-delirious. Stephen kept swearing that each smudgy, distant post marked the final descent, but we’d always arrive there to find the trail winding, upwards, into the clouds again. I began to communicate only in profanities, and eventually we all resorted to some good old fashioned potty-humor to keep our spirits up.
Thus it was amidst a cloud of “poop jokes” that we finally rounded a corner and found ourselves at the top of the most vast, open expanse of tundra I’ve ever experienced. Distant mountain ranges filled each horizon, and the only sign of a trail was one of the sporadic, weathered fence posts we’d been following all day, hanging out halfway between us and the horizon, a little to the right. It looked like someone had forgotten it out there. We soaked up the feeling, consumed some calories, and made some more poop jokes. Then the sun came out.
I think the subsequent descent might have been the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bike. The faint trail hugged a subtle curve on the tundra, and the only indicator of how fast I was actually going was the golden blur of the grass. There were no trees, no rocks, no tape or spectators- just pure movement through space. Totally surreal.

Photo: Sam Atkins

The final leg of the day turned into a sunny, twisting descent through the woods. My frozen feet, aching fingers, and all of the probably-slowly-breaking parts on my bike were totally forgotten- I was wholly enjoying the fruits of my hike-a-bike labor. The trail eventually pooped out into a parking lot, which had a mini van and some confused-looking hikers in it. I’m sure that the sudden appearance of a group of totally haggard, muddy bikers didn’t help matters for them- we’d been riding for almost eight hours at that point. It wasn’t pretty.
We christened our reentry into reality with some gas station treats- two bacon burgers for Stephen, a “matador” beef stick for Allen, a chimichanga for Sam and a “jalapeno cheddar” corn dog for me. (I only found out about the jalapeno cheddar thing after I noticed some worrisome green and yellow chunks in there and checked the wrapper.) Ah, the taste of victory.
So, like I said, I’ve been useless for the last week. My body is completely trashed and my mind is apparently going as well; I’ve done nothing but replay gopro footage and stare out the window in class. It’s been a long time since I’ve done something so outside my comfort zone, and like all good adventures it’s been taking a pleasant while to process.
Rather than let the high wear off, I decided on a whim that I needed to go to Collegiate Nationals this weekend. I was debating just ending my season on that last ride, but for some reason getting out of Bozeman sounded way better to me on Tuesday afternoon. So I took a Spanish test early, got packed, and got on the road. We stupidly began our drive at around 3pm, which landed us at a stranger’s house in Truckee at about 5am this morning. I slept for two hours, woke up and had some oatmeal, and now I’m drinking coffee like a fish. A highly caffeinated fish.
On to the next one! Click here for the go pro footie.

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