Big Fat Tire: An MTB veteran gets a hefty dose of humble on Vail’s Lost Lake Loop
I like to think my cycling ego isn’t too big, but I know I have one. When I used to race fairly seriously — and by serious, I mean I raced a lot and traveled to race, with results in the upper middle of the pack at best — I was under no illusion that I could hang tight with the elite experts and pros. I usually based my level of satisfaction on how my effort felt — that is, if I felt like I gave it my best.
For most of this season, I have struggled with issues that slowed me. A lot. It’s been frustrating, but I’ve tried to keep it all in perspective. I can still ride, albeit at a reduced pace.
Grim climb at Lost Lake
Last weekend, my main riding buddies went to the Vail Valley to do the Lost Lake loop. Just about everyone in this group of friends is pretty fit, with solid bike-handling skills. The fact that some of them have been racing this year upped the pace even more. The folks who usually bring up the rear were never too far back, and, for as long as we’ve been riding together, I’ve been at least more-or-less close to the front.
I knew on this ride I was going to get dropped, but I didn’t think I’d get dropped as quickly or as thoroughly as I did. The ride starts out with a 3-mile, 1,300-vertical-foot climb on singletrack. Add to the equation a forgotten inhaler and a new bike with gearing that is more suited to someone who is strong and fit — neither of which describe me right now — and things went into slow motion.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a great climber, but I’ve always enjoyed climbing. To me, it’s an equal part of the whole mountain-bike experience. Most people see the downhill as the payoff for climbing, and, no doubt, going downhill on a bike is right up there with all the other fun, gravity-powered stuff we do here in Summit. For me, at least, going uphill is satisfying — it takes grit and determination. I might be grinning at the bottom of a trail after a ripping descent, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something at the top of a climb.
This particular climb, though, was grim. A few friends waited in a couple spots, but, after they determined I was still among the living they rode on ahead. The trail isn’t particularly difficult from a technical viewpoint, and, for the most part, it’s not that steep. But, between the lowest gear available and my wimpy legs, I found myself either pushing through some stuff I usually would charge or stopping to let my lungs catch up.
It was ugly, and the thought of quitting came to mind more than once — or twice. I was far enough behind that one of my friends waiting at the top was concerned enough to ride back and check on me.
My heart appreciated his gesture, but my ego took it on the chin. “Damn it,” I thought, “I’m not the guy the group has to wait on, get concerned for and send a probe back to check on!” When I got to the top where everyone was waiting for me, they all cheered. It lifted my spirits, but there was no feeling of satisfaction. I was crushed. I almost bailed right there and then.
Silver storm lining
Anyway, the punchline of the whole story is this: It ain’t no big thang. You do your best, and you never know how things will work out.
As it turned out, there was a serious silver lining to my lack of pace. That day, like a lot of days we’ve had this summer, was threatened by storms. At the top, we heard some serious thunder in the general direction we were headed. As we pedaled up the road on a mellow grade where I could stay close, we got glimpses of very dark sky.
As it turned out, we barely missed the storm and got to Lost Lake just after the deluge. There were huge puddles and hail on the ground, but we barely got sprinkled on. If I had been climbing at my usual pace, we would have gotten absolutely hammered — real wrath of God stuff. What we got instead was a slippery, rock-infested, five-mile descent to the Lost Lake trailhead, where we all gathered, grinning and laughing. It was a blast.
As we followed the Red and White Mountain road, things got progressively drier. By the time we got to the top of the Buffher Creek Trail, the trail was actually slightly dusty. As we wound our way down the sometimes buff, sometimes tech trail, all the doubts and frustrations of the first climb slipped away — I was out for an adventure with friends.
When we all gathered at our cars near the bottom, we were trading stories about heroic saves, the jungle-like vegetation and what a bear had for breakfast before leaving very fresh calling cards on the trail. Nobody cared that I struggled on the big climb, and I was glad I didn’t bail. It was a good day.
This past Saturday, the town of Breckenridge Open Space Department had a great volunteer turnout to keep working away on the Mineral Hill trail. They built about 450 feet of new trail across a steep slope and through rocky areas. I’m not 100-percent sure how much that leaves to get the trail finished, but I think somewhere around 1,500 feet is all. This will be a really interesting trail when it’s finished, so listen for future opportunities.
I’m sure everyone noticed the dusting on the peaks last week. Autumn is here, and, by next week’s column, I expect the turning of the leaves to begin. The fall desert road-trip season will kick in, which is its own type of fun — the last hurrah for mountain biking, so to speak. My only real knock on the mountain biking scene in Summit is the comparatively short season: It’s so sweet, yet so fleeting. Melancholy can set in, even when your year has been a bit of a bust.
Have hope, though. Skiing is as much fun as mountain biking, and next spring season will be here sooner than you know.
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