The White Whale
I stopped to take stock. From a little higher up the mountain I could see the mistake I had made by dropping down prematurely. If I had stayed on higher ground I could have easily circumvented the snow bank. It was now 5 p.m. and sundown was soon approaching. I had wasted an hour and a lot of energy extracting myself from that near fatal episode(s). I had to decide if I should continue on to Fraser or turn back. It was a little under 60 miles if turned back to Denver. I knew what that road would be like, and though it would be downhill, I would have to navigate the narrow mountain roads in the dark. It was about 18 miles to Fraser. Surely the worst was behind me. Soon I would be on the descent and it would be smooth sailing. I still did not have any phone reception, and my friends were waiting for me. If I turned back I would not be able to tell them I bailed, nor could I call anyone to pick me up. The decision seemed straightforward, I must press on, I was so close now, why not finish what I started?
I walked down to the section of cleared road. Once down there, I continued walking a little bit more to further shake off my multiple near death experiences and regain some energy. I hadn’t even managed to get back on the bike when the road started to curve to the north face of the mountain and the road was once again covered in snow. The gentle green giant morphed into a colossal white whale. The further I went, the deeper the snow became. Soon, I was in knee high snow with my bike floating on the top. I knew I would be approaching the descent shortly so had no choice but to keep pushing on. It took me about an hour to go 1 ½ miles. Off to the distance I could see the sign that signified the top of the pass, along with the elevation height. When researching the ride I had seen plenty of people’s summertime selfies, their sunburned faces beaming from cheek to cheek, posing with their bikes and the sign to document their achievement. Though the sign was a mere 50 yards from where I was, it was a slight detour and in the opposite direction from the descent. I was desperately trying to conserve any energy I had left, so I skipped the photo op.
I had not even begun the descent when the sun began to set behind the mountains off to the west. However dramatic of a sight and sensation it was to be alone on top of snow covered mountain and watch such a spectacle, the setting sun took with it all of my motivation and hope. I had lost feeling in my feet from trudging through the snow, and my upper body felt like I had done an 8 hour shift in a Victorian brick yard from shouldering my bike, not to mention the general fatigue from the 10 hour uphill ride. The road did not appear to be clearing up and I knew I couldn’t keep going on like this or I’d probably die from exposure and my body would not be discovered till early Spring. Again? Really? Well, at least it didn’t involve falling off of a cliff this time.
I started to go into damage control and decided that my best chance for survival was to ditch my bike. I simply could not carry it any longer in the deep snow. I knew time was of the essence as the temperatures would soon drop and I still had about 16 miles to go, so I did not contemplate the decision very long. I took my pajamas and remaining food out of my handlebar bag. I also dug around for my “lucky” rock, a black and white striped stone that a friend’s daughter had given me years ago and that I had kept in my bike bag as a lucky charm ever since. I stashed everything in the pockets of my jersey and then laid my bike down by the side of the road. Not wanting to make it harder than it already was, I only offered a short “Good Bye Bike”. As I turned away and began marching down the snowy road, I thought I would never see it again. I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk up the mountain the next day and then walk the bike back down. Snow was in the forecast for the next week and I did not think I could rally anyone with a Jeep or capable vehicle to help me retrieve the bike before the road got worse. I figured it would be Spring before I could get back up there, and by then someone else could have easily spotted the bike and taken it for themselves.
Within the first few minutes of me walking, all of the demons I keep locked up in my head came out for a field day. This felt like a complete utter failure on my part, and as I began the hike down the mountain, any previous failure or personal shortcoming in my life began to rain down on me like a twisted game of Tetris. Why did I attempt such a foolish ride in the first place? Why do I always seem to attempt foolish things? Why do I keep dreaming and taking risks when they rarely pay off? Why don’t I just stay safe at home or in the city like everyone else? I should have raged on Halloween and then spent the day with a horrific hangover like most of my friends. Instead, I went to bed early and then road my bike uphill for 10 hours, only to nearly die multiple times and now I’ve ditched my bike and I am walking 16 miles in the dark, on a snow covered mountain road, wearing Sidis and bike clothes, with only knee warmers and light rain shell to keep me warm. In a way, thinking about all of my faults and string of fuck ups only served to mask the the fact that I had to walk away from my bike. I could not afford even an ounce of sentimentality about my bike nor think about the fact that I was giving up my only significant possession in the world. That would have been too much.
I did have one thing on my side, and that was experience. From participating in countless endurance events over the past few years, I knew there was always a period when your mind wants to play tricks on you. It’s begging you to stop, and will come out with the most malicious ammo to get you to do so. It will attack your motivation by screaming insults at you, far worse then even the most loquacious bully could conjure, for your mind knows all of your weaknesses and also knows how to push your buttons better than anyone else.
Luckily, experience has taught me how to quiet my mind when it starts to unleash its attacks. I knew that the hike would go a lot better and faster if I wasn’t having a meltdown. I didn’t try to reason with myself, that would just prolong the conversation. I simply excepted the situation. For the next 16 miles I would be on a little mountain jaunt. That’s where and what I was doing for this moment in my life. The hike would take as long as it would take, and I ll get to my friends’ house when I do. There will be plenty of time to reflect on the mess I had gotten myself into, but at a later date. For now, it was just me, the mountain and the moon light.
I walked for a couple more miles in pretty deep snow till the road started to clear slightly. I felt slightly vindicated that I had left my bike behind because there would have been no way I could of carried it that far. Now it was easier to walk, but there was still some snow. After about an hour I regained feeling in my feet and lower legs. My toes were still numb, but I figured that was a small price to pay. My spirits were lifted slightly, and I felt a little more positive about my hike. Now my main concern was now only possible wildlife encounters with either a beer or mountain lion who might not appreciate my late night ramblings.
The railroad grade of the road meant that there were many sweeping bends. One moment you are sitting above the town lights, and then the next you are a mile to the South. I was nearly 2/3 of the way down before the snow actually stopped. I had refrained from checking the time as I knew this would only serve to make me anxious, and would not actually speed anything up. When I eventually got to the bottom of the road and stepped foot on a the paved highway leading into town, it was after 11 p.m.
Hitchhikers’ Guide to Winter Park and Fraser
As it was a friendly mountain town I figured I could easily hitchhike to Fraser, which was the next town over and only 4 miles away. Surely a passerby would think “Oh look, that guy is trying to hitch. Weird, he is wearing bike clothes, but, oh wait, he has no bike! Hmmm, maybe he is in fact in trouble and in desperate need of a lift, and is not some sketchy guy that is going to rob me if I give him a ride?” Apparently this thought did not occur to any of the drivers or passengers in the 20 cars that passed me as I walked into the town of Winter Park.
As the only places open at this time were bars, I figured that should be the next place to try to get a ride. I had been taking a little break from drinking during the weeks before the ride to have a little cleanse, but after the ordeal I had just been through, I figured a few libations were in order. I walked into the first bar I saw and ordered a beer and a shot. I downed a whiskey and took a big swig of the beer. I took another swig of the beer and then began to give the bar maid the abridged version of my predicament and inquired about getting a taxi to Fraser. She informed me that as it was still the off season, the taxis were currently not in service. I asked her if she knew anyone that could help me out, trying to subtly convey the extremity of the situation and hinting at my desperation. She did not seem too eager to help, and didn’t offer any solutions. Having to ask complete strangers for a ride to the next town, while also explaining why I was in bike clothes and was currently bike-less was not my greatest moment, and you could imagine my embarrassment, but I knew I wouldn’t get there if I didn’t try.
I asked a couple more people in the bar. One drunk girl suggested that I “call the police, because if they don’t have anything going on, they will give you a ride.” Ending the night in the back of a police car, whether it be under casual circumstances, was certainly not the way I wanted to end an already horrible day. Then, a drunk guy suggested that I walk to Fraser as “it is only another 4 miles, and you’ve already walked that far, it would only take you another 45 minutes.” I gave up trying to get a ride. I really did not want to walk the rest of the way as I was beyond exhaustion, but it started to look like the only option. I at least had phone reception and I was able to call Chunyu and Masha and let them know I was safe and not that far from Fraser.
After walking a couple more blocks, I spotted another bar. I figured I should give hitching one more try. I decided to change my approach in asking for a ride. There was a group of guys smoking outside of the bar. Instead of the long sob story about losing my bike and having to walk that I had employed in the last bar, I changed things up and went with the more straightforward “Hey, any of you guys going to Fraser later?” This promptly received a “Yeah, I’ll be heading that way in a little while. I can give you a ride.” Shortly followed by “Wait a minute. Why are you in bike clothes and don’t have a bike?” With a ride found, I could finally relax. I would make it to Fraser after all. I bought a round of beers for my new best friends. Shortly thereafter we made our way to Fraser, where we spotted Chunyu outside their apartment awaiting our arrival.
I was both relieved to be there, but also felt terrible about keeping them waiting and presumably worried about me. I apologized for a solid ten minutes and then recounted what had happened. Masha began preparing some food for me, which I promptly devoured. I was supposed to be there for lunch, which I missed, then I missed dinner too, and now I was having a midnight snack in the wee hours of the night. Fuck. There I was, in their house, I fuckin’ made it, I survived and now I was eating delicious spring rolls, rice and veggies washed down with hot tea. The pain and exhaustion vanished, being replaced by feelings of deep gratitude. Gratitude in finding one person willing to give me a ride to Fraser, gratitude for being in the warmth of Chunyu and Masha’s apartment, their friendship, and most of all, gratitude for simply being alive. I had lost my bike, but walking away from all of this virtually unscathed, made the loss seem like small chips to pay for my complete lapse of sound judgment and sensibility in deciding to attempt such an idiotic challenge.
The Great Bicycle Rescue of 2014
As it was late, we all turned in pretty soon after eating. I had no problem falling asleep, but woke early due to being extremely sore. As I laid their exhausted, my body feeling like it had been put through a grinder for 20 hours, feelings of defeat began to resurface. I made a quick call to my dad to fill him in on what happened, almost coming to tears on the phone. I then made a rather ambiguous post online about what happened, avoiding too many details of how bad things were.
A little bit later Chunyu and Masha got up and we had breakfast. My cousin, Jenna, who also lives in Denver, had caught wind of what had happened and called to offer to pick me up. I reluctantly accepted as she is probably the busiest person I know and I didn’t want to put her out, but it sounded like a better option then waiting for the train. About an hour later Jenna and her boyfriend Tim arrived. Before any “hellos” could be exchanged Jenna presented me with a change of clothes and some hiking boots, and said “Here, put these on. We are going to get your bike back.”
After a short stop at a cafe so Jenna and Tim could have breakfast, and me using yesterday’s caloric deficit as justification to have a second one, we began making our way up Rollin’s Pass. Both Tim and Jenna have spent numerous winter seasons living in mountain towns, so driving up a snowy pass was a non-issue for them. Tim had recently put new snow tires on his Subaru, and was excited to have a chance to try them out.
Even in the car it took us 45 minutes to get close to the top of the pass. The snow then became too deep to drive, so we parked and then hiked the last 2 miles. Well above tree line on the barren mountain top, it was not hard to spot my bike, laying there like a corpse whose meat had been ravaged by vultures and now reduced to a meager skeleton that was soon to be buried by Winter. The day before had been one of the worst days of my life, and though I was still shaken up by the whole thing, having my bike back in my possession and after experiencing the graciousness of both my family, friends, and even a few strangers, today had become one of the best.
There wasn’t much time to hang out, so we simply grabbed the bike and made our way back to the car, taking turns shouldering the bike through the deep snow. Back at the car, we loaded up and made our way down the twisting road. Maybe it was the lazy Sunday vibe, but when we made it back to Denver, the city seemed so tame, almost sleepy, compared to the vastness and raw power of Nature that had humbled me over the last couple of days.
As Tim and I were pulling my bike out of the back of the car I heard Jenna say “Wow, check this cool rock out.” I looked over to see what she was holding. “Oh, that’s my lucky rock,” I responded, “it must have fallen out of my pocket.” Before Jenna could hand it back to me I quickly added “You know what. You should keep it. I don’t need it anymore.”