Into The Mountains: Gravel Ride to Gold Hill

Maybe someone somewhere up there knew my friend needed a friend this weekend and that I was the friend he needed. I don’t necessarily subscribe to those kinds of beliefs, but I felt something.

On Friday evening a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile messaged me on Instagram. His message wasn’t related to biking, but the conversation turned that way, and I was the driver.

“Let’s ride tomorrow! I’m thinking about heading up to Gold Hill,” I threw out there. For some reason, I was adamant. He told me hadn’t ridden since last year, the last time we rode together. He was out of shape, he said, and not fit for a long ride with several thousand feet of climbing.

“Neither am I,” I assured him over and over. “No one’s fit right now. Let’s just get out there and do some gravel. It’ll be fun.” We went back and forth and for some reason, I wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Part of me was pumped for Boulder’s first real weekend of spring-like weather. Another part of me missed my Rapha people and community after not seeing them during my first full week at my new agency job in Denver. And then part of me—a part I can’t really explain—felt like this friend needed a friend that day.

After a little friendly bullying, I wore him down and we were set to meet Saturday morning at the clubhouse at 9:30 a.m. We’d watch a little of Milan-San Remo then head out into the mountains for what would be something akin to a death march up into the mountains. But on gravel bikes.

A few different rides were happening on Saturday, so when we got there the clubhouse was packed. Bikes hung off the wall rack, some leaned up against the windows, others were parked outside in front of the store, being watched over with careful eyes. These are my favorite days in the clubhouse—when cyclists are bellied up to the tables, eyes fixed on the TVs watching some big race weaving through some Spanish countryside, and there’s not a seat to be found. Standing room only.

Our ride didn’t start out on the best pedal stroke. About one mile into our journey, my friend flatted. Not a little but A LOT. So we filled up his tire as much and as safely as we could and slow pedaled to the closest bike shop that had just opened for the day.

I could tell he was upset about it. Like, really upset. Irrationally so, I felt, especially for something as simple and almost routine and inevitable as a flat tire on a Saturday morning bike ride. But his luck, I learned later, hadn’t been the best and either has his personal life. So as we sat there waiting for the mechanic to get his bike sorted, he opened up. An important person in his life was really going through it and it weighed on him. He’d let the things he love move down the priority list in favor of staying busy and late at work. He was stressed and sad. I won’t share the details, but I really felt what he was going through because I was in that place several years ago, before Colorado turned my life around.

When we were finally on our way, our climb was slow and mostly silent, only interrupted with our heavy breaths in and out. My legs were feeling fresh, my head was clear, and my heart was loving every second of climbing a gravel mountain road on a brisk Saturday morning.

It had been quiet for some time and as I turned around to see how my friend was doing he let out a heavy sigh, You don’t know how thankful I am for this. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be out here right now.”

His words and the tension in them sent shivers down my arms. My face warmed up, empathy flooded my heart. I knew how he was feeling—like he was finally above the tide taking a breath after the ocean waves had tossed him around and pushed him under water for months. Like he’d been climbing mountains for months but the one were on that morning was one he finally enjoyed.

And the flat tire started making sense.

I paused.

“There’s no way in hell I’d be doing this alone,” I shouted back. “So thank YOU.”

I think he needed me because I’m finally on the other side of what he’s going through right now; I can be his eyes and his ears and his clear head until he makes it up this mountain.

After a few more steep and twisty miles, we high fived, he turned back for home, and I decided to keep going up to the General Store at Gold Hill, a sleepy town stuck in the 1800s. Population: 230.

^^^ There was a bigger group of my friends that headed up to Gold Hill earlier than us and I ended up finishing my ride with them, which was great.

Looking back, I think a lot of people have come into my life when I didn’t know I needed them so badly, until I made it out of whatever hole I’d fallen into. Like when I became friends with Ali in Tampa so many years ago, when my cousin took me in when I moved to Colorado in October 2017, and even when I got dumped HARD last year.

I think it was my turn this time to help pull someone out of the darkness, or at least let them know I’m strong enough to do it when they’re ready. And I’m so thankful for it.

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