If there’s one thing this ride taught me it’s that even when you’re at the lowest physically, mentally and emotionally, there’s always a little bit left.
Like when you’re slumped over the handlebars heaving oxygen into your lungs at the top of a hard climb, when you’re two flats deep into a ride and out of spare tubes, or when your stomach turns sideways at 10,000ft., and especially when you were absolutely positively sure you’d finished climbing for the day but there you are staring at another roller in the distance…those are the moments when you have to get in real deep, drag your nails on the bottom of the barrel and fish out the last little bit of oomph that’s left to finish what you started.
I love those moments, but I let them get to me in the few days leading up to this ride. I hadn’t slept very well, my legs were sore from some hard runs and workouts, my throat was feeling that scratchy thing that eventually leads to a sickness thing, and to be completely honest, I was really scared of the distance and elevation we were supposed to cover. I was scared of getting dropped by my badass lady teammates somewhere up in Nederland. I had visions of calling an Uber on the side of Peak to Peak highway after I’d fallen off the back of my group and cracked under the heat or stress or both.
None of that happened. Because every time I felt like I couldn’t go one more pedal stroke I found one, and each second I doubted myself, my teammates spent two cheering me on. A ride I dreaded turned into one I’m sure I’ll never forget.
The day started early; we had a lot of ground (and mountains) to cover. The five of us met at the Rapha Boulder Clubhouse around 7:15 a.m. for oatmeal, coffee, and a little chit chat before we were sent off just after 8 a.m. There were around seven or eight teams of four to five women participating in the Prestige.
What is the Prestige, anyway?
The Women’s Prestige Boulder is part of a global series of rides taking in some of the greatest riding around. It’s not an arduous individual test but a challenging ride to be tackled with a group of friends. You’ll have a route to follow and each other for support as you ride into the mountains. The rules are simple: start and finish as a team, and pass through all the checkpoints.
Here is this year’s route…for those brave enough to take it on.
^^^ Why am I the way that I am?
Each team was launched about five minutes after one another to avoid clogging up the roads on the way out of town.
Our first short leg helped warm us up a bit; we headed out east on some of our favorite dirt roads before hanging a left and heading over highway 36 up Lefthand Canyon to Jamestown. The paved road snaked up into the mountains along a rushing river then steepened for several miles until we hit the Jamestown Mercantile and the brand new water fountains where we all took the opportunity to fill our bottles.
A couple teams caught up to us on our way and left Jamestown before we had a chance to park our bikes. But we all knew the hardest part of the day hadn’t even begun yet, so we took our time and were back on the road about 15 minutes after we arrived.
From Jamestown, we kept on climbing the route locals call Super James. It’s where the pavement turns to dirt and the grade goes from manageable to downright painful. Up up up up we went for what felt like two hours, but was really just six miles.
As we crested the final few meters of that road, we turned left and enjoyed a flowy couple miles of rotating pulls on Peak to Peak highway toward the nuun hydration station. Pickles, chips, Oreos, Snickers, pretzels, ice pops, sugary sodas, nuun drinks, and even a charcuterie board waited for us just past mile 32 and, in that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Are snacks beautiful?
They were after I had sweat out every gram of salt from my body. We filled our bottles and snacked a little before taking off on a steady climb to Brainard Lake and back. On the way up I was hurting and it was the first time I had to reach down into my barrel. As much as I tried to stay on top of eating and drinking, the hurt came down to training. I hadn’t pushed myself like that in awhile; I hadn’t asked my body to hurt that much and for that long, so I told the girls to go on without me, and that I’d catch up with them at the top so we could descend back to the nuun tent together. As I clicked off each mile, I tried to focus on something else. The beautiful views. The newly paved roads. The cool temps at 10,000ft and the overcast weather that shielded us from the sun. It barely helped, but eventually I made it to the top and reconnected with my teammates to head back down.
Back at the nuun tent I refilled my bottles one more time before we all got back on our bikes and headed 12 miles to Nederland. I’ve only ever driven most of these roads, so I knew the views would be unbelievable, but riding them on a bike is a completely different experience. It’s the only time I’ve truly felt my size in this world; like a tiny speck of dust on this planet. It felt as though the mountains swallowed us whole. Along the way on one of the dirt roads, one of our girls got her first flat of the day. Unfortunately, it took awhile to fix and really set us back. But once we got back on the road, we decided to get it checked out at the Tin Shed in Nederland just to be safe.
Heading out of Nederland was the second time I needed to reach into my barrel. The handful of paved miles out of town was a lung-burner. At around 8,200ft., I was struggling to stay on the wheel in front of me as traffic blew by. When it finally flattened out, I think it was all any of us could do to keep it together after our poor teammate got her second flat of the day. We were all tired, probably hungry, and frustrated that bad luck struck again in just a couple hours. One of our teammates offered to stay with her and call up the aid car that was circling the route as support. Three of us kept on along a fire road toward the infamous Magnolia Rd., most often referred to as “Mags” by locals. When we turned onto Mags, the dirt was dark and tacky, and I think we were all thankful we had avoided whatever storm blew through earlier.
A mix of rolling hills and a well-deserved descent led us down Boulder Canyon toward our last climb of the day: Chapman. For the previous hour and a half, I was set on skipping it. I’d had enough. My ass was killing me, my hands were rubbed raw from holding my bars so tight on the loose dirt roads, and I had a headache that was working its way into my shoulders.
^^^ Laura had a nasty spill on one of the descents, but she was a real champ about it, and Jimena came through with the bandages.
I’m done. This is not fun anymore. I can’t do this. I want to go home.
These thoughts looped in my head. So for the last time, I scraped the last of the last in my barrel and took a right onto Chapman and started climbing with my two teammates. Even with the sun still behind the clouds, it was hot and muggy, a rarity for Colorado. I could see the salt stains on my shoulders out of the corners of my eyes. My legs felt like two sticks of dynamite ready to explode under the weight of a long day in the saddle. I squeezed the last bit of hot bottled water into my mouth and powered up to meet my teammates at the top before enjoying a lovely descent back into Boulder. We’d started this thing at 8 a.m., and were just arriving back to town around 4 p.m.
I feel like we’ve been on our bikes all day, I shouted back at my friends.
That’s because we fucking have, one of them shouted through a pained but relieved laugh.
This ride was not easy. This ride pushed me to my limits that day. And this ride is exactly what I needed to prove to myself there’s always a little bit left, and I would’ve been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t even started it in the first place.
I am excited for more, especially the 100-mile gravel ride in Steamboat in August.