The Final Peak

kleybaAndrea James, Peak Pedaler

Day One: Dodging Angels: Alamosa to Pagosa Springs: 93 Miles

It wasn't the altitude that got this girl on the first day, it was the endless climb. The tendon on the outside of my knee had started screaming and was demanding attention and release from its constantly contracted state of being.

But I kept climbing and stopping and climbing. I knew the top was up there somewhere. There came a point that my knee stopped me completely and I stood looking out over the tops of the trees to my right. I sighed and the world sighed back, the slight breeze, so cooling on my hot skin, brought me back to the present moment and I looked skyward and I knew I couldn't stop.

I threw my light jacket on and started up again. So painfully slow I went. Up and up and up, the climb seemed to never end, but the breeze came now in gentle gusts, pushing me farther and farther, and when I thought I couldn't lift my foot one more time, the angels came down from the nearest clouds to play in my mind and there I was, dodging them and their glorious wings as they played amongst the trees and diverted the breezes. Their voices mixed with the soft rattle of the leaves on the tree tops and before I knew it I was there, at the top of the world where the angels lived.

The wind was now fierce and direct and cold and it took my breath away. Legs shaking, I climbed off my bike and just felt the colors at what seemed like the top of the world. After a rest, I was off again, down the other side of that glorious mountain. I thanked the angels as I held my breath and rode on two thin wheels, screaming down the road for what seemed like forever.

Arriving in Pagosa was a welcome homecoming. We had all made it. The apprehension of Day One was left behind at the top of that mountain with the angels who had come down from their nearby perches to play amongst their mountain visitors.

Day 2: Praying for a Miracle: Pagosa Springs to Durango: 68 Miles

I woke up in Pagosa Springs to frost on the seat of my bike and a knee that just would not, could not, bend or function. Cold had seeped in to that tender tendon and it was not only unwilling and uncooperative, it was nearly unbearable at times. But it all worked out beautifully and as it turned out, some of the most interesting people, were bringing up the tail end of the riding group.

There were those, like me, who were suffering some body ache or another, there were those who were held back by age or disability, and there were those who just didn't have it to give physically that day, but the thing we all shared was the joy of the ride as a perfect expression of life. We were able to ride, so we did. Each of us riding for various reasons, yet all of us continuing despite it all and before we knew it, we were there, in Durango, with a day to rest and recoup.

Day 3: White Water: Durango

I could barely walk when I found that river near the campsite and I put my swollen knees below the icy cold waters of yesterday's snow. Over and over. Each time feeling just a little better and I knew then that I was going to make it.

I had taken the day off to heal. The Loop of 39 miles was optional and my son and I walked downtown for a breakfast fit for royalty. We found the steam train, we walked Main Street and fell in love with the little city that we had found ourselves camped in.

Durango was just what this girl needed and I found time to eat and explore and heal. An afternoon white water rafting trip down the Animus River soon had me back to my old self and that night the beer was cold and the conversation flowed amongst the riders and new friendships were made as stories were shared. We all went to bed happy but nervous as we knew that Day 4 was a three peak day. The hardest day.

Day 4: Pebbles: Durango to Ridgeway: 82 Miles

The sun rose over the cold ground. I could hear the zippers of the tents around me. Muffled voices, the squeak of the air pump. I pulled my sleeping bag up over my head and took a quick body check, Yep, I was all there. I pulled on my zipper and the chilly air stole my warmth. I emerged from my tent, people were up and moving early. The tough day had come and everybody wanted to get a jump on it.

Coffee, oatmeal and my bike. I was off and riding. Five miles, ten, the first pass and no knee pain. None. Not even a hint of the debilitating pain of the first two days. I sent up many silent "thanks". I was back, full of energy and the simple joy of being alive and privileged enough to ride in such beautiful country.
I was cautiously joyful, the first pass came and went. I wrapped my mind around number 2. All I had to do, was put my head down and peddle. Push and pull and push and pull, around and around. Peak number two came and all I could do was stand and stare in awe at the sheer beauty of the world that surrounded me.

Stillness and solitude were my riding partners on climb number three. We were all so spread out. I could see someone way ahead, but no one near me and so I climbed. My tired legs were aching and I looked only at the road in front of me. That's when I saw them, the tiny pebbles littering the roadside, leading the way up that steep grade, like a trail left just for me. If I could just make it to that one, that one tiny pebble, then the next one just a bit farther ahead. Each pebble I passed marked my progress and I continued my climb, finding the next pebble and the next and then I was there and my climb was over.

As I stood looking back at the road I had come up, I felt a deep sense of happiness and peace at what I had accomplished. I had made it. It was all down hill from there, the resistance would be gone and my tires would sing as they rolled in to the next town of Ridgeway.

Day 5: Conversation: Ridgeway to Montrose: 33 Miles

There was no sense of hurry as Day 5 began. People moved slowly, comparing stories of yesterday and taking their time. They clustered in groups, steaming hot cups of coffee held tightly in cold hands, the sound of laughter. We were all in to our morning routines by Day 5. We knew we would beat the trucks that held our tents and gear, so there was no hurry to go.

The mood was more relaxed as tired legs kept most going at a more moderate pace. The flatter land allowed more conversation amongst the people on the two wheeled machines that whizzed down the roads. Those conversations and new friendships flourished as we all found some down time to spend with our new friends and confidants.

Beautiful weather, good moods, friendly host towns and the most magnificent scenery in the world reminded us all just how good our lives were and I think everyone went to bed just a little sorry that the ride would soon be over.

Day 6: Eat Your Green Beans First: Montrose to Gunnison: 65 Miles

The ride was just 65 miles, but the toughest part was the beginning. Two really good climbs before it all flattened out.

"Eat your green beans first", my mother would say, then dessert. Day 6 was the day to eat those green beans first because once we climbed those tough mountain passes and it seemed that the legs just wouldn't do it again, the earth flattened out and the topography changed. Once again, groups of riders came together to chat and coast to the end, making plans to meet up later.

The town of Gunnison rolled out the welcome mat as their lovely downtown filled with hungry and thirsty riders. But Gunnison had a cold side and when we woke up Saturday morning for the final day, the Icebox of Colorado had every rider chilled to the bone.

Day 7: Saving Grace: Gunnison to Salida: 66 Miles

The week had started with one of the toughest climbs and it was going to end with one that was even more challenging. All one had to do was make it to the top. Just get there and then there would be no more pedaling. You could coast all the way down to Salida.

But the climb was long and the climb was steep and there were times when every once of energy only seemed to gain you a few inches. White knuckled hands gripping the handlebars as we climbed inch by inch on legs that were near full fatigue. So we stopped and we drank our water and we cheered each other as we went by.

Then when it seemed there was nothing left to give and the cold air was sweeping down, chilling sweaty bodies, we were there. The final peak; the tallest of the week; the saving grace of the upcoming down hill ride that would last for miles and miles and start our journeys back to the lives that we had each left behind.

Andrea James
Aka. Midwestern Bike Babe