Every year, during one of our summer trips to the high mountains, I do a challenging point-to-point ride to meet the pack at a new destination that the Runner accesses in our 4wd high-clearance LabMobile. I used to be a bike racer, and I took for granted my body's ability to do whatever I asked.
Now, umpteen surgeries later with a spine that has two long surgical fusions, I don't totally trust my body anymore - no matter how hard I've trained. My migraines have been the final straw - I strongly fear one hitting when I'm out in the middle of nowhere.
So, navigating through the mountains and pedaling over high passes to meet my pack someplace far away scares me just a little. Last year, my point-to-point ride felt like a death march when I had to take my anti-migraine medicine partway through the ride and felt terrible the whole way. But I made it!
This year, the weather did not look good. Heavy storm clouds had already accumulated early in the morning. However, I felt fabulously energetic. So, I packed rain gear and my Delorme satellite communicator before pedaling off into the wilderness by myself. I know that some people close to me wish that I wouldn't do these kind of solo efforts due to the possible risks - but taking on challenges like this one seems to be knitted into my DNA. I love them.
At the start of a solo ride like this one, I never look backward until I'm a few miles into the ride. This was my first glance over my shoulder. It wasn't a bluebird day but it was beautiful in a stark way.
And this was the path forward - a beautiful red thin trail heading up higher into the mountains. The whole ride was well over 10,000'.
I didn't take as many photos as most years because those storm clouds kept me hustling along. I was hoping to beat the storms to my destination. This was my last glance over my shoulder before I entered the true alpine zone with no trees, gorgeous wildflowers, and endless views.
Above treeline, I passed through a basin that is very wet most years.This year, it was drier than usual, just like the rest of the mountain region. Wildflowers lined the trail but they were thirsty! I just hoped that they didn't get the rain that they wanted until I was back down in the trees.
As I pedaled hard in the thin air endlessly upward toward the highest point of the ride, I noticed how much the crimson paintbrush flowers were coloring the scene.
I managed to pedal even the steepest pitches to the pass, and I was greeted with dramatic looking skies all around me. There was no sound of thunder so I let myself rest on the pass for a bit.
I adore being so high above treeline. I kept wishing that Shyla was with me but it was too long a ride for her to do with me.
Then, I started the long descent off the pass. The wildflowers were brilliant!
I kept stopping on the steep descent to take photos. It was too beautiful to zoom along the trail without really seeing the scenery. I found a lone Columbine in the midst of the riot of flowers.
And an alpine bistort caught my eye with a purple and yellow background of wildflowers.
Finally, I realized that I needed to cover some distance to avoid getting caught in storms. After the long descent, I went through a series of drainages - long downhills to creeks, creek crossings, and then steep climbs back up out of drainages.
Many of the creeks drain abandoned mines. This white-stained creek is probably contaminated with cadmium, a bad mining by-product that messes up calcium metabolism in animals. It is listed as carcinogenic to humans - mimicking estrogen and perhaps causing breast cancer. Isn't it crazy that Colorado is dotted with abandoned mines? The miners just walked away years ago, leaving their mines to poison the environment for years to come. We had an almost worst-case scenario last year when a mine in the area of this bike ride spilled out waste and colored the Animas River bright orange.
Near one of these creeks, a clearer one, I saw a hillside of Columbines. What a treat! The wild Columbines at our elevation finished blooming quite a while ago.
After that, I pedaled hard for a solid hour to reach the final pass of my ride. At each pass, it felt like I traveled from one world of mountains to a whole new one. This was the world that I was departing. What tough terrain I'd just covered!
And I was entering the world of mountains that we'd be living in for the next few days. This view awes me every time.
I rolled up to the LabMobile pleasantly tired but not shattered. It was a confidence-building long ride through tough terrain (those are R's rehab toys next to the LabMobile).