Life on 2 Wheels: Santa Cruz enduro rider Leigh Bowe tackles Mt. Sherman at 14,035 feet
Special to the Daily
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Bikes are like books: They open up entirely new worlds. So where has your bike taken you? French Creek? A tour of Europe? The heights of Nepal? If you or someone you know spends countless hours in the saddle every summer — and have the memories to prove it — send a note to sports editor Phil Lindeman at firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in an upcoming edition of Life on 2 Wheels.
Editor’s note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it’s a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we’ll ask our most adventurous residents, “Where has your bike taken you?”
Everyone has a different reason they ride. For some, it’s cheap transportation. For others, it’s a way to get some exercise and direct contact with nature.
For Leigh Bowe of Frisco, a well-recognized figure in the Summit County racing community, biking has also turned out to be fantastic therapy — especially helpful after a year that saw just a few too many difficult incidents in her otherwise happy, bike-centric lifestyle.
“In the middle of the summer, I went through a really rough bit and I was having a hard time getting back into the swing of things,” Bowe says.
As an emerging pro enduro rider — Bowe is sponsored by Santa Cruz’s Juliana Bicycles and coaches for The Cycle Effect, along with her day job as a nurse practitioner at the Summit Community Care Clinic — the death of her grandmother, a fatal accident at a race and a major family health incident served to seriously distract the Wisconsin native from her wheels.
Bowe, 34, says she finally hit a point in mid-August where she needed something to kick her out of her slump and that meant some time with her recently neglected, full-suspension Juliana Roubion II. She didn’t quite plan on also doing a 14er as a way of breaking out of that bad period, but sometimes that’s the way it goes when you absolutely live and breathe biking, as she does.
“I was looking to get away from everything that had come along and really get out of town, so I headed up to Leadville, where I used to live, and sort of automatically drove up the Mt. Sherman road,” she says. “I got there and I said to myself, ‘I guess I’m going to go up.’ So I just started pedaling.”
An intense singletrack climb to the top of a 14,035-foot mountain probably doesn’t strike most observers as a casual outing, but Bowe says the very long ride turned out to be just the mental and physical readjustment she needed and a necessary step to get her back in the saddle.
“All the hikers I passed were blown away as I passed them and were cheering me on,” she says. “And, even though the thing I was trying to do was get away from everyone, I ended up being supported by a whole group of people on the way.”
Unlike many 14ers, Bowe notes that Mt. Sherman offers a bit of a plateau at its summit, so she spent a bit of time riding on the top and taking in the views, befriending a few hikers before contemplating the very big journey back down.
“For someone who rides down really crazy stuff all the time, this was still kind of intense,” Bowe says, especially as she dealt with loose scree and dirt, plus serious pitches. “I was holding on for all that I was worth, especially in one huge straight shot. There were also a lot of unrideable sections where I had to carry the bike.”
Bowe and her bike survived the long descent, and she says the experience reminded her of the reason she started riding seriously a decade ago, when she tackled trails on a mid-’90s GT Tequesta she got while living in El Paso, Texas.
“It probably made me a better rider to ride around on a piece of junk like I first had,” Bowe says. “But the Mt. Sherman ride really helped me realize and solidify the notion that the bike is a part of my identity. I feel it mentally and physically, and riding is like medicine… I really appreciate the way it balances things, and it’s really the way that I stay healthy and happy.”
Bowe says she’s been off to a bit of a slow start this season by her traditional standards, but she’s now feeling re-energized and looking forward to a very busy summer on the racing circuit. That will take her to Angel Fire, New Mexico, in a few weeks, followed by races in Sun Valley, Idaho, a six-day ride as part of a series in British Columbia and the Enduro World Series races.
“I live, eat, breathe and dream biking, but it doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately,” she says. “Racing is a hobby that barely pays for itself. But my sponsorship helps with some discounts, product and race fees, so it’s like a job.”
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