Princess: Ride of the century
So in Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge, it took the peloton just over four hours to ride from Aspen to Crested Butte — in a rainstorm, on a dirt road, over two passes, with both hands tied behind their backs and 50 pounds of boulders in their jerseys.
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but only because it took me just under 10 hours to ride the same distance last weekend. I know it’s ridiculous to compare myself to the pros, but come on.
The USA Pro Challenge just happened to come on the heels of our second-ever century ride. Last weekend, Ryan and I did “Circle the Summit” with my dad. We were “Team Richard Without Richard” because even though we do these rides for him and in honor of him and his psychotic, death-defying drive to pedal his way through his 70s, Dad never actually rides with us. He always says he will, but he quickly changes his mind when he realizes that means having to wait for the two seconds it takes us to blink or whatever when he decides he’s ready to go.
“OK, kids, I’m outta here,” he’d say at every aid station just as we’d arrived. “Adi-f–king-os.”
Rather than hang with us, or pat us on the backs, or give us a word or two of advice or encouragement, he’d just hobble back to his bike, his jersey pockets so stuffed with various gear that it hung below his butt like a dress, his skinny little legs sticking out like a peg-legged pirate. And off he’d go, gaining more distance and time on us as the day wore on, as if he was competing against us, the very team that was named after him.
Somewhere around mile 70, my whole body began to ache. I began to whimper, and I could feel my mental attitude deteriorate like incinerated wood that turned to ash, from fuel into a useless pile of dust.
I’ve never been a natural athlete. I’ve known this since I was a young gymnast. By the time I was 11 years old, it became increasingly obvious that I was never going to win. I had to train my ass off to be as fit and strong as the other girls were naturally. They were all flat bellies and six-packs, and I had this pooch that I could never get rid of no matter how many sit-ups I did or diets I went on. My coaches made sure this wasn’t lost on me, reminding me the judges had deducted points from my scores for not looking toned in my leotard.
That hasn’t changed much as an adult. I’ll go out for a ride with my friend Ambere, and she’ll school me every time, even if she hasn’t ridden in two weeks, and I’ve been training almost daily. “That’s so weird,” she’d say when I’d finally arrived at the top of the climb where I’d find her fresh-faced and stretching on the side of the road. “Maybe not doing any exercise for the last two weeks helps. I wasn’t even breathing hard. I must be really rested.”
“I’ll show you rested,” I’d grumble under my breath, my fingers clenching into a tight fist, heart still pounding in my chest like it wanted to escape.
I heard one of the pro cyclists talk about the effects of the altitude in an interview. He said, “It makes your whole body ache, like having the flu. It’s like breathing through a straw.”
I started jumping up and down and going, “Oh, my god! That’s exactly what it feels like!” Even if he’s going more than twice my speed, at least we still had something in common.
Everyone, it seems, goes more than twice my speed. That started to dawn on me during our ride when I noticed I’d somehow fallen behind the pack and was surrounded by the recreational tourist crowd, who swerved all over the bike path on their ill-fitting rental bikes in freshly purchased Breckenridge T-shirts with their socks pulled up, like obstacles in a video game.
When we finally made it to the top of Vail Pass at mile 89, we were greeted with little fanfare. We encountered only one other couple who were participating in the ride, on haggard old steel bikes that probably weighed more than I do.
“I just started biking two months ago,” the woman said, her voice all scratchy and hoarse. “And I quit smoking last week.”
“We should probably go,” I said, tugging on Ryan’s sleeve. I wanted to get the hell out of there before she told us she was eight months pregnant and had lived her life up to this point in a wheelchair.
Things got worse at the finish. The finish line itself — those big inflatable things that arc over the road — had already been deflated and lay in an awkward heap on the pavement, like a dead body at the scene of a crime, just without the white chalk outline. I had to maneuver around it, frustrating the volunteer who was on her knees on the ground trying to roll it up. Rather than stand there with cowbells cheering me on like she was supposed to, she sneered at me.
“Is the party already over?” I asked, panic rising in my throat. Where was the beer tent?
“Pretty much,” she said, doing little to hide the fact that rather than being congratulatory, she was completely irritated.
It wasn’t until the drive home that we realized how far 100 miles really is — two hours in a car and more than the distance between Frisco and Aspen. I might have been too slow to cross the actual finish line, but at least I got there eventually. And that, it seems, is the story of my life so far.
The Princess already signed up for her next century ride in Moab this September. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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