Catching Up, Part 1 – Colorado Springs and Denver

Hey, everybody! I haven’t intended to be so absent, but there’s a lot going on round these parts. Let’s go through the last few weeks and catch up, shall we?

Colorado Springs by Bike: As you might remember, the last time I wrote, I mentioned having to stop myself from passing a park ranger’s car in Garden of the Gods at almost double the speed limit while doing interval training. The consensus of everyone who heard about that ride—including Lisa—is that I should have pushed my luck and celebrated my bad-boy accomplishment, whichever way it turned out. (Next time.)

I did one more ride in Colorado Springs—a four-hour, 53-mile ride that took me over a lot of ground in the foothills and canyons along the city’s western edge. Rounding one corner I found myself slipping past a sign announcing the major street was for “Local Traffic Only” and suspected I was entering the area that had burned extensively in the previous weeks. I had seen a bunch of signs—both handmade and professionally produced—earlier in the ride thanking the civilian and military firefighters, first responders, police, and volunteers for their efforts in saving buildings and neighborhoods, so I figured I must be close to the burn area. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw. I’ve seen the scorching effects of wildland fires before, but I’ve never experienced what happens when they come into town. Whole blocks were burned to the ground, some so badly that chimneys were the only evidence anyone had inhabited the place. It was remarkable and tragic.

Earlier in the week, I had been stymied in my attempt to ride up Casper Mountain because of the wind and the elevation and the steepness of the climb. I wouldn’t exactly say that I was looking for some kind of redemption on this ride, but I definitely threw in North Cheyenne Cañon on the aforementioned long ride as a way of seeing exactly what I was made of. The climb started 35 miles into the ride, when the elevation was already 5,850 feet (which was actually the low point of the ride). Three miles, 33 minutes, and 1,200 feet of climbing later, the road turned to dirt. Turning around, I was happy to spend the next five or six minutes freewheeling down the winding canyon road. I didn’t pick up an excessive amount of speed—though I easily could have doubled the speed limit—because I needed a little time to catch my breath, give my blood glucose a few minutes to rise, and get ready for the fifteen hilly, gusty miles back to the hotel. At one point, a double-amputee passed me, which gave me a little extra motivation on the way up the hill, but basically I was pretty spent by the time I got back to the hotel.

Family Reunion: It wasn’t all bike riding in Colorado Springs. Lisa, her brother, and I went to the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, which was old-timey but well-curated . . . and ridiculously hot (but that’s hardly their fault). We also went to the tourist trap that is Seven Falls, which is next to the much nicer (and free) North Cheyenne Cañon Park where we returned later the same day I rode it on my bike, continuing onward after the road turned to dirt for an exciting mountain drive.

Speaking of mountains, the whole extended family (all 33 of us) took the cog railway up and back down Pikes Peak. Everyone was wearing their family reunion shirts, which conveniently let everyone else know who belonged to whom and who the crazy people on the train were. The same could not be said later the same day when we took the family portrait at Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods. But you could still tell, because we were the camera-weilding people all crowded around a big a rock. A couple days later, as we left Colorado Springs for Denver, nine or ten of us showed up to tour the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a tourist trap with a tragically fascinating gift shop.

Antibiotics: Before leaving Colorado Springs, I also took my last dose of penicillin for the massive strep-B infection that I had a couple weeks earlier. I hadn’t been that acutely sick in a very long time. A 103-degree fever for three days, chills, dull pain throughout my body, weakness, fatigue, dehydration . . . I had it all. Fortunately, the chest X-ray indicated that the crackling in my lungs was not pneumonia. I suspect that I had a minor infection around the time of the NYC Tri, which I probably could have soldiered through if it hadn’t been for the dehydration during and after the tri. I can’t prove any of this, but I think the dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance, prevented me from adequately regulating my body temperature when the illness started. Instead of what probably should have been a low-grade fever and a bit of malaise, I spiked the 103 and was out for days. Within a day of starting the antibiotics, I was feeling so much better. Unfortunately, I had to keep taking them for another two weeks, which I understand even though I didn’t like it all.

Coincidentally, I’m on a different antibiotic right now . . . my third of the last six months. The ciprofloxacin—which has an amazing FDA “black box” warning—is for something completely unrelated to anything else. In a nutshell, I had some very localized pain that typically is either completely unbearable and the cause for immediate surgery or merely awful and indicative of a bacterial infection causing a painful inflammation. My doctor’s nurse practitioner said that I seem to have a high pain threshold but would definitely know the difference. Anyway.

Denver: After Colorado Springs, Lisa and I spent a few days with just her brother and my mother- and father-in-law in Denver. We saw some of the more- and lesser-visited sights, both the zoo and the aquarium, plus the Wings Over the Rockies air and space museum. (My g-d, we spent a lot of money during the Cold War to blow up the Soviets and to keep them from blowing us up.) We also went to a Rockies baseball game against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. I don’t want to offend any Cards fans—as one of my college friend’s aunties said, “Just because they worship the devil doesn’t mean they’re not nice people”—but I finally understand what it’s like when the Red Sox go to another town and their fans take over the stadium, turning chants around until the people who run the PA system just give up and go home early.

The night before we left, we headed back to the LoDo area from our hotel out by the airport to go to one of Lisa and my favorite restaurants: The Keg . . . or “Le Keg” as it’s called in Montréal, where we travel for the occasional food booty call. At one point, I involuntarily moaned while eating my delicious steak. It was quiet, but Lisa heard it and made fun of me a tiny bit. What did I care? I had all the love I needed right there in the form of food.

Big Thoughts about The West: On the flight home, I thought a bit about our trip. It was our first multi-week vacation since going to Australia in 2010, and our first summertime trip to the Rockies since 2008. I really love the scenery of the mountains and red rocks and grasslands. There’s something amazing about watching a storm blacken the sky to the west as the clouds unleash vivid lightning and shed sheets of monsoon rain. The pace of life is slower, it’s less crowded, and I feel relaxed when I’m there.

It was the first time that I trained at altitude for extended periods since 1994. In high school I had a ridiculously high hematocrit. Now I’m 20 years older and more-or-less anemic. (My red blood cell count and hematocrit have been marginally low or just within the normal part of the reference range for the last three years.) And when you combine the hills, mountains, wind, and elevation, it’s rather more difficult than at home. I hope the benefits will stick around through my tri on Sunday. Even if the blood benefits are fleeting, I think the difficulty of the altitude and wind has been a good preparation for being tired during the end of the bike and the run.

Training on unfamiliar terrain and roads has been strange. I had to buy a couple of maps to figure out my long ride and long run routes. I got lost running in Denver, but the trail system is so nice and extensive that I was able to put together a 14 mile run without having to cross any roads or stop at all. But living out of a suitcase and doing everything “new” feels a bit like living in a different country, and by the end I was ready to be home, ready for something familiar.

And it really does feel like a different country in other ways, too. It’s a conservative, gun-toting, bible-carrying country where people’s homes are saved by public-funded services despite an insistence that government doesn’t do anything right and that taxes are too high, where a man is charged with 156 felony counts after shooting up a cinema and people want more guns in everyone’s hands, where the land has as much of a voice as the few people who live on it. Don’t get me wrong; I know there’s only one America—and we’re both equally American—it just different in the West than in New England, and I’m very attached to where we live now. I just wish it weren’t so far away from all of the things that I love about the West: our families and the scenery and the ability to get away from it all.

Oh, and I love my bike.

Next time: Pictures from the trip and a ride with my dia-bestie in New York State.

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