Now, I don’t believe in manifestation, but I sent a question out to the universe at the end of my last post: ‘How do I get paid to ride a bike in the mountains all day?’
It was one part wish, two parts serious. So last week, when I got paid to ride a bike in Rocky Mountain National Park all day with my friends, I felt like someone or something heard me.
I work for Rapha, a premium cycling clothing company, and each Rapha clubhouse around the world is encouraged to close for a day so the staff can ride bikes wherever the hell they want for however long the hell they want, on the clock.
Our staff chose Old Fall River Rd. in Estes Park. It’s an iconic, switchback-y one-way dirt road that kicks off around 9,000 feet and tops out at around 12,000. It would be my highest ever, outside of flying in an airplane.
The thing is, this is something I wouldn’t have done on my own. I wouldn’t have taken the time to figure out the park passes, I wouldn’t have finagled my work schedules to find a free day. I would’ve been afraid to go alone, but I probably wouldn’t have reached out to other cycling friends either. It’s a ride I knew I’d enjoy but wouldn’t have put in the necessary leg work.
But while we’re working on all that, working at Rapha has made amazing friendships and rides like this possible.
This shift started early. Rather, it was supposed to. By 8:30 a.m. one Jeep and one Rapha van was packed with eight bikes and eight staffers ready for a long day in the saddle. A couple hours and one coffee stop later, we made it to the trail just an hour and a half behind schedule. I’m never late, and I hate being late, but I was surrounded by some of the best people I know and I’d forgotten all about the lateness by then.
The climb is about 11 miles long with more than 4,000 feet of climbing, and we vowed to take things easy so the group could stay together.
Two of the guys stopped to get some drone footage, another sped ahead to get photos of the group as we rounded one of the 16 switchbacks, a few pulled over to tear open granola bar wrappers. Even with breaks we were working, but I never thought I couldn’t do it. Especially with a group who never thought I couldn’t do it, too.
Our chill pace helped me appreciate this ride—something I’m sure I wouldn’t or couldn’t have done if we had gunned it. Thankful and grateful and happy were a few words that ran through my mind as the gravel crunched underneath my tires and the sun bathed the pine trees in morning light.
I didn’t feel it in my legs or lungs until we got above 11,000 feet. That’s when things started to get ugly. I wasn’t drinking enough and I wasn’t eating enough. I got dizzy every time we stopped to let cars pass us on the one-way, one car length-wide dirt road. My head was pounding because it was probably starving, and I couldn’t get in a full breath no matter how hard I tried; it felt like sucking through a straw over and over. It’s a freaky feeling, not knowing what’s happening to your body and not being in control of it, either. When we reached the visitor’s center above 12,000 feet, we stopped to regroup and refuel. But I couldn’t stomach anything, not even water.
“You need to eat something.” One of the guys urged me try and choke down a bar or gel—anything.
But the thought of chewing and swallowing anything made my stomach churn and gurgle; I was afraid if I put anything in it, it would come right back out.
“If you throw it up, you throw it up.” He tried again, but he also didn’t know of my irrational and paralyzing fear of vomiting. So I took baby sips of water until the group was ready to descend. I needed oxygen bad.
Like any massive climb, the descent is worth the hard work it takes to get to the top. We enjoyed sweeping views of Rocky Mountain National Park, rams grazing on the massive grasslands, and snow-covered peaks that stay that way all year. But as freeing as it is to fly down a mountain at 40 mph, it is borderline terrifying.
I’ve never been a good descender, so when the crosswinds pushed me back and forth over the white line, I lost it. Tears streaked my face and blew back behind my ears. I white knuckled my handlebars and laid on both front and back brakes. The only other female in our group—who just so happens to be a pro cyclist—gave me a pep talk and coached me on the way down. It was either that or I’d still be on top of that mountain today.
I think we pulled back into the parking lot by 3 p.m. and were on the hunt for burritos by 3:30. As I shoveled chips and queso and salsa into my mouth I fully recognized how lucky I am to have been welcomed into this community and how much I owe the universe for this one.
To more. There will be so many more.
Push on, PUSH ANIMALS >>>