The Wrong Gear #9 – Avalanches and Plateaus

IMG_20190303_123347.jpgThis blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

The words and ideas for this post flowed so much easier in my head when I was spinning on the trainer, and as I sit here staring at the notes I wrote down, days after the fact, all I am left with is a few crude ideas to try and develop into something coherent. Had I done the workout I was actually scheduled to do that day, I probably wouldn’t have had the brain power for random musings about my blog, but instead of a two-hour effort with sweet-spot intervals, I spun the pedals for about an hour with the leisure of a boardwalk cruise because I simply didn’t have it. Again.

It’s been a long couple weeks, and a big month for snow so far. Considering I live within 15 minutes of five different ski areas, snow events shouldn’t be big news, or be overly disruptive. We had an overall good winter, and with all the snow this season, our whole county is torn between glee that only comes from skiing bottomless powder, and wishing it would hurry up and summer already. We are running out of places to put the snow, and even two-inch storms produce conditions sketchy enough to make weekend traffic more menacing than normal. Then things got weird. The warm Pacific air that came our way brought periods of rain in addition to snow. Heavy moisture content, wind, and the sheer volume of snow from the cycle put an inordinate amount of stress on Colorado’s already fickle, diva-like snowpack, which resulted in avalanche activity of historic proportions; in frequency, size, and destructiveness. Ski areas and road crews routinely perform avalanche mitigation by setting off smaller, frequent slides to relieve some stress on the snowpack and prevent larger ones. This time, they couldn’t keep up. Naturally triggered avalanches ran further, wider, and deeper down known slide paths than they have in years, and some slides created brand new paths, demolishing old-growth trees in their wake. They closed major highways and buried cars, one took out a gas line, and a dust cloud from another caked Lee’s truck in snow and debris when he was parked off the side of the road to help get another car unstuck. Later mitigation attempts resulted in additional prolonged road closures, and one ski area couldn’t open for almost two days because of the avalanche risk.

In other parts of the state, Red Mountain Pass, a terrifying and beautiful stretch of road between Ouray and Silverton, and a favorite among motorcyclists and jeepers in the summer, is closed indefinitely because several large snow slides have buried it beyond the current capabilities and resources of snow removal crews, and residents in Lake City (approximately 700 of them) have been evacuated from their homes after an avalanche demolished a house and injured several people inside it. In Crested Butte, several people have been caught and buried in roof avalanches, and unfortunately, one of these burials was fatal. Other fatalities included a backcountry skier who went out in spite of the conditions and multiple official avalanche warnings, and, tragically, a Colorado State trooper who was struck by an out-of-control vehicle while he was helping another motorist. For a ski and tourism economy that typically thrives on, and is somewhat prepared for snowfall, the overall cost from these last few storms due to closures, endless traffic, grounded flights, lost time at work, vehicle and property damage, overstretched resources, and the loss of life, is vast and incomprehensible to me.

In my own little world, all this snowfall meant extra hours and late nights at work, bouncing around in the loaders and plow trucks and dump trucks, clearing roads and moving piles. It meant having to leave the house earlier than usual to make sure I got to work on time, as well as planning additional time to snow-blow and dig out our driveway. Through all of this I still had to train. Coming off of a lighter training week before the snow started, I was supposed to start this new block feeling strong and ready to go. However, after two hard days at work, I couldn’t move. A failed bike session resulted in a text exchange with my coach, and we scrapped that workout for a rest day. More snow, and more continuous rattling from the equipment, and more shoveling, I stayed tired. Though I completed all but one planned workout, I can’t honestly say I did so with the integrity I expect from myself. After almost three months of what felt like progress, like I was developing a superpower, I have hit my plateau. I was more tired than I thought I should be, I wasn’t going as hard as I thought I should be, and my enthusiasm for leaving the couch definitely waned. Whereas just a few short weeks ago, I genuinely enjoyed going to the gym, having all the equipment at my disposal, and getting my extra dose of motivation watching other people work out, I began improvising workouts at home, unable to get moving early enough to have time to drive to anywhere. Where I would normally make sure that I completed my bike and cardio workouts to the minute, no less, I was bailing 10 or 15 minutes early to go shovel or feel sorry for myself. I also can’t remember that last time I rode my fatbike. Like, outside. In fresh air. Because there’s too much snow.

All these setbacks, yet not everything was garbage. I learned quite a bit about myself and this whole process from my lackluster performances. When I texted Coach about being unable to complete a workout, it was after a solid 25 minutes of actually trying to do the ride, unable to get my heart rate to respond in spite of breathing like someone with COPD. I still showed up. I learned, definitively, the physiological difference between not wanting to do a workout and not being able to. By listening to my body that day, I was able to get out the next morning, and have the best cross-training day to date: I earned some incredible turns with Lee, in perfect snow, in perfect weather, and I hit all the numbers I was supposed to hit for the workout itself, and then some. In the subsequent days, while I may have gone too easy even for my easy spins, I still showed up. While I could barely move the pedals in between intervals, I still showed up. While I was crying on my bike because I was exhausted and had no emotional energy left to deal with myself, I still showed up. While I had to switch and modify some workouts because I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, I followed through the next day, I still showed up. And finally, as I worried about my waning enthusiasm, I also realized that my hunger for learning about sport, mindset, and human capability has been insatiable and inspiring. To fight the monotony of training indoors and driving trucks, I have been listening to podcasts and audiobooks about endurance sports, nutrition, meditation, psychology, and remarkable people from all walks of life. In turn these lead me to more podcasts, more books (audio and print), and infinite nuggets of wisdom that are helping me understand the world better.

One thing I am slowly beginning to internalize is just how crucial failure and setbacks are for growth and development. So as I have become increasingly dedicated to the process of athletic training and doing the internal work to be a better person, I find myself ever-so-slightly more forgiving of my mistakes, imperfections, and bad rides. I know that I just have to continue to show up, ride this funk out, give what I can, and eventually I’ll feel like I have my superpowers back, even if it’s just for a little while.

Published by Veronika Hewitt

Writer. Cyclist. Cat Lady.

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