We all have that friend who ropes us into doing things we'd rather not do. And if we're lucky, we have a lot of those friends.
For better and worse, I'm luckier than most.
Colleen's that friend who always has an adventure up her sleeve, whether it's a random road trip to go ride at elevations in the five-digit range or Christmas day ski runs in blizzard conditions. She's also the friend who doesn't bat an eye at celebrating your birthday by staying out late before going for an early ride, and then trading bike shoes for quad roller skates at the local rink.
We were grabbing a bite at the same dive bar where so many of our best-worst ideas have begun when she casually tossed out her latest fancy plan.
"We should go for a big ride tomorrow," she said. This was her first day of feeling relatively normal after being sick. I normally would have taken her seriously, but I'm more than familiar with the overly ambitious feeling of mistaking finally not feeling like death with the ability to do all things.
I hadn't ridden in months and had already consumed enough Moscow Mules and fried samosas to know that the next morning would range from general intestinal distress to overwhelming life regret. As Colleen talked about linking multiple trail systems that individually were enough to cook my legs, I nodded supportively while fantasizing about eating a plate of bacon for breakfast in bed.
"We'll start riding and bail out whenever we feel like it," she assured me as I ordered another drink. You know those friends who talk a big game, but then find some excuse to avoid actually executing their grandiose plans?
She is not that kind of friend.
When she called the next morning, I not-so-secretly hoped it was to announce a last-minute cancellation, "It's a rough morning" she said. "Let's leave in an hour."
The temperature dropped steadily while driving into the mountains, and I became eternally grateful that I grabbed one more layer before running out the door. In true Colorado fashion, the icy-cool morning sunshine was slated to climb toward a balmy 50 degrees, only to be eclipsed by a snowstorm that evening. As the piercing air invaded my lungs, it evicted the fog from my brain much more adeptly than my microwaved cup of yesterday's coffee. My hands flickered back and forth between tight fists and enthusiastic jazz hands in an attempt to stave off the painful numbness climbers refer to as the 'screaming barfies.' As we took off and the trail turned upward, my blood slowly warmed to a simmer and layers made their way from my body to my pack.
We climbed until the feeling of biting cold was all but forgotten, replaced by a canopy of sunshine that was a strange juxtaposition of warm and crisp. I'm a pocket-sized female, which means my tradeoff for being perfectly comfortable in airplane seats is that I'm perpetually cold. Reaching the moment where I'm wearing short sleeves on a 40-degree day like some sort of temperature-regulating superhero is nothing short of spectacular.
Though I felt better than expected, it was apparent that my training regimen of sitting on my ass hadn't accelerated my fitness in the way that I'd hoped. It wasn't going to be a day for the record book, but I'd set my sights on getting to the trail with the big boulders. It's a beast to climb with rock slabs that sneak in extra miles by enticing you to session section after section, trying to see if you can finally piece the puzzle together this time. At the end of the ride, those same granite outcroppings become a "Choose Your Adventure" story in descending.
I didn't imagine I'd complete this trail without dabbing, which means it entices the perfect mix of futility and determination to be just my kind of trail.
After finagling my bike up a particular bouldering problem I've been working on for years, I made it to the top depleted and happy with more miles under my legs than I thought possible earlier that morning. Now all that separated me from a post-ride beer and burger was a quick descent back to the car.
"Which way back?" I asked.
Colleen's confused look turned into the face your friend makes when she realizes you think narwhals are imaginary, like unicorns. Not that I know that look, and besides, have you seen a narwhal? They're ridiculous and I'm still not sure their existence isn't just some big ruse.
Either way, I could practically hear the words, "Oh, honey …" rattling in her head.
"Umm, we're on an out and back. We're only halfway," she said.
After vetoing my suggestion that we try and get an Uber in the middle of the woods, we turned around and began pedaling back in an endorphin-addled exercise in déjà vu. Knowing that there were still hours of pedaling and a few thousand feet of climbing ahead made the next miles feel almost easy, but I knew it wasn't going to be that way the whole ride.
After all, it's always the last hour in the car ride that's the most painful, regardless of whether you're on a four-hour trip or an all-day excursion. Our constant chatter turned intermittent as we watched the distance between the sun and mountaintops hasten to a close. When the smell of farms settled in—our local harbinger that snow is imminent—the air became silent but for the sound of churning hubs.
With darkness and the first flakes of snow greeting us as we rolled up to the car, my hands once again did their dance to try and keep warm while putting my bike on the rack. It turned out that the big ride I only agreed to because I never thought it was going to happen became an all-day sufferfest that would rank as one of my favorite rides ever.
As we indulged in hard-earned burgers and nachos at the brewpub, Colleen looked at me and said, "I think we should go to Mexico."