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Princess: Enduro-dad keeps those legs moving

Alison Berkley Margo

It appears as though my dad is back in the saddle again.

For those of you who weren’t paying attention, a little over a year ago my dad was in a head-on collision on his road bike on Highway 131 just outside Wolcott. He was riding down a steep, curvy hill when he was hit head-on by a Toyota Tundra. He doesn’t remember anything about the accident, so the details of why or how it happened are still unclear. But that’s not the point.

The point is he suffered nine broken bones (an elbow, a heel and seven ribs) and life-threatening internal injuries (bleeding lungs, punctured organs, etc.). He spent two weeks in the hospital and over a week in ICU, waiting for the lungs to drain and to make sure he didn’t get pneumonia, considering he’s 73 and all.

He was en route from his house, in Steamboat Springs to my house in Basalt. He had intended to ride 137 miles unassisted. But worse, he had it in his demented little brain that he was going to “beat” the family who was driving. He left the house at 6 a.m., and the sane ones planned to leave at noon.

“I’m not comfortable with this,” I told my mom. “I don’t like him having that much distance and time between himself and a support vehicle.”

“What can I tell you?” she said. “He does what he wants.”

My mom talks about my dad like he’s a toddler with special needs. The reason they’ve been married for 46 years is because she lets him do whatever he wants and she treats him like a spoiled baby. The man can hardly do more for himself than toast a bagel and make a quadruple latte.

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Every morning, Dad eats two bites of his bagel and drinks enough caffeine to kill a small child. Then he goes on a bike ride — typically between 40 and 75 miles — and all he eats are these dreadful packets of electrolyte/caffeine supplements called Gu and drinks Cytomax — a powdered substance of what appears to be mostly sugar and salt, and not the natural kind but the teeth-rotting, gut-eroding, processed variety.

He doesn’t eat, and he doesn’t drink enough water, and yet somehow his 73-year-old legs keep pedaling up and down mountains at a shockingly fast pace.

You would think that after an accident like that, he might be impeded in some way. Like, his ribs might hurt on account of being broken into pieces like dried-out sticks someone stepped on. Or you might wonder about the elbow that had to be surgically repaired after it was shattered in a compound break, especially considering the angle of the arms on a bike, but no.

“I’m fine,” he’ll announce with a shrug.

He says he has no pain, though I’m thinking that might be due to the fact that all his nerve endings probably got fried like electrical wires after a house fire. He can’t feel anything, never mind pain. Plus, his major joints, like shoulders and hips, are so trashed from years of running, biking and crashing into trees on his snowboard that they’re barely attached. I’m pretty sure it’s his skin that’s holding everything together.

Still, he’s managed to make a full recovery — he’s maybe stronger, even.

As soon as they let him out of the ICU, he started walking up and down the stairs in the hospital. As soon as he was released from the hospital, he started riding his stationary bike at home. He’d ride for two hours every day even though he was so exhausted from the effort he’d make himself pass out. It was another one of those “What can I tell you?” moments when I hollered at my mom for letting him overdo it like that. But then the funniest thing happened — he healed at record speed.

The doctors couldn’t believe it. “I’m fine,” Dad kept saying.

So last week I was up in Steamboat helping out my mom, who just had shoulder-replacement surgery (that’s a story I’ll save for another day), and Dad and I decided to take a little ride.

“This is probably a bad idea,” I said as we careened down the 11 percent grade of the steep-ass hill they live on top of, the sky black as night with thunderclouds.

Our plan was to ride Rabbit Ears Pass, which, believe it or not, is one of the steepest mountain passes in Colorado. We were just planning to ride to the west summit, but with a grade of 6 to 9 percent for seven miles, it’s a bitch.

The sun was shining on us the whole time as black clouds seemed to swirl around us, and I was thinking about how fortunate that was, as if it were some kind of blessing or omen.

And that’s when it started hailing.

We were about a mile from the summit (or at least I was; Dad was already there, eating one of his Gu things, peeing in the woods and putting on the six layers he’d managed to pack into his tiny saddle bag) when it started dumping. By the time I got to the top, I was soaked to the bone, and by the time I got to the bottom, I was practically hypothermic — on top of being fried from the climb.

“I’m fine,” Dad said, and he shrugged.

When I was younger, I used to rebel against my dad’s overachieving ways, but now I’m inspired as hell by them. Every time I go out on a ride, I think about what he can do and want to do better.

It’s a new thing for me, this drive, but I think I’m going to go with it. Life is short — and as Dad has already proven, it’s all downhill from here.

The Princess is pretty sure she’s used that last line before. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.


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