Summer on two wheels

Cycling events around the Centennial State

Training on Flagstaff Road in Boulder.

“Cyclist” — like “fourteener,” “bluebird day” and “gaper” — is one of those words whose meaning I didn’t quite understand before moving to Colorado. Riding my bike — “biking” — has been part of my life since the training wheels came off around age 5. Biking around my one-way street as a kid, biking to class across my tiny college campus, biking all through my village in the Peace Corps (often carrying my bike through river crossings) and biking to work through Boulder’s far tamer streets — I’ve always been an avid bike-rider. But not a cyclist.

This time last year, though — somewhere along the way to clocking thousands of miles, climbing tens of thousands of vertical feet and suffering many versions of a full-body pain and exhaustion I didn’t know existed — I was, to my surprise, becoming a cyclist. I was planning longer and longer two-wheeled weekend journeys, awaking early to ride Lookout Mountain every other morning, eagerly signing up for more and more organized rides, planning my days around my pedals. By degrees, my bike seat became a “saddle,” my padded shorts a “chamois” (said, “shammy,” also known as “life-saver”), the bottom of my handlebars “the drops.” I even wrapped my brain around the confusing term “clipless pedals” and the act of “clipping” into them. And there’s no hiding it anymore (as it leaves nothing to the imagination): I fell a little in love with Lycra.

Training on Vail Pass in 2015
Training on Vail Pass in 2015

I spent last summer on two wheels. And I couldn’t be more relieved that pedaling season is here again, because the off-season depression-stress is real. As it does for so many outdoor pursuits, Colorado makes cycling easy: This state spoils us for choice of breathtaking vistas and self-directed rides of all levels, plus there are organized races and rides across the state, every weekend and for every ability, throughout the late spring and summer.

There’s the Denver Century, the first 100-plus-mile ride I ever put my ass through (literally). The route changes yearly, but in 2015 it took riders from the flat shopping center malls of Stapleton, as far west as up-and-over Lookout Mountain in Golden (I was ready for it!), eventually back to the flat east in steaming-hot afternoon sun. I questioned my decisions for days — weeks — and then I marked my calendar for this year (June 18).

Next in line was the 2015 Tour de Steamboat. Just the drive out to Steamboat was crazy gorgeous, and the shadow cast by our bikes on the roof, speeding along the hillside, was mesmerizing for this lucky passenger. (Did I mention I have a live-in riding partner? He’s the best. He also does the driving.) The actual ride is equal parts torture and bliss. Climbing the double-summit of Rabbit Ears Pass: easy-peasy, thanks to those early mornings at Lookout. Fast-forward to mile 70-ish, and it’s a hellish pedal along disarmingly flat, straight road, with a crosswind strong enough to knock you sideways and make you think twice about reaching for a water bottle. Yeah I cried, so what? Every last mile was worth it, even those extra 5 miles that were not advertised in the literature. They hurt the best. Tour de Steamboat 2016 is July 23.

Driving to Tour de Steamboat.
Driving to Tour de Steamboat.

Copper Triangle was our next big ride, and my big love. The morning was cool. The weather was flawless. The climbs were familiar — we’d been training all around Summit County — and I knew how to approach them, sweetly and with respect. They too were kind to me, made me feel I knew a thing or two about stamina and altitude. Also I’m not going to lie, my steel-gray-with-hot-pink-detail outfit was fly (and Lycra-tastic). This year’s Copper Triangle is August 6.

I’m mixing it up a bit this summer, hopefully adding notches to my “at-least-I-didn’t-die” belt. Because simply not dying on some rides can feel like a giant win.

The first weekend of June is the Elephant Rock Century — but I might just choose a shorter route if I’m still angry at my saddle and its awful place in the world. The ride starts and ends in Castle Rock, dipping down through Monument before circling back up. There’s an elephant-shaped rock in Monument, but you wouldn’t lose points for not seeing it, nor for seeing it everywhere, for that matter: “elephants” are high on the list of “things rocks look like.”

I’m adding a few shorter, steeper beasts to this summer’s schedule to break up long hauls and heal sore bums. Guanella Pass comes next: June 11, 11 miles, about an 11 percent average grade (read: real steep). Last year, I blissfully waited in the hotel hot tub while the boyfriend pedaled up and up. This year, I’m genuinely psyched to ride first, soak later. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.

The view of Mount Bierstadt from the top of Guanella Pass south of Georgetown.
The view of Mount Bierstadt from the top of Guanella Pass south of Georgetown. Christi Turner

The aforementioned 2016 Denver Century arrives next followed by a three-week race-rest before the next short, steep adventure: Boulder’s Sunshine Canyon on July 9, a classic local climb if there ever was one. Just 9.8 miles long, three of those miles on dirt, and more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain bottom to top — it’s like doing two Lookouts, sprinkled with sketchy gravel. That’s another one I waited out in bed last year. Who have I become?

Next are a few open weekends on my calendar in order to take a good hard look at my life choices (Steamboat is a maybe), before the last monster of the season: Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, August 13. Cars are barred from this notorious scenic drive while hundreds of cyclists “negotiate 156 turns and climb over 4,700 feet in 12.42 miles,” which is a heckuva lot of climbing for that distance. Also sometimes it’s snowing at the top. I’m suddenly recalling how cozy that hotel bed was last year, how pitch-black the sky when the boyfriend drove off to the start…

But seriously, I can barely wait for that first big ride. Spring is here, and we’re pedaling whenever weather allows, spinning our way back into shape, easing back into synchrony with our bicycles, slapping on the Lycra. Another summer on two wheels awaits. And for all of the personal adventures and challenges it will entail, the best part, alas, is really that second set of wheels by my side.