Chasing Winter // Chapter Three // Home Away
Words by Fiona Millburn
Photos by Adam Phelan & Col Elmore
The alarm jolts us awake at 4:30am. It’s Monday, the day after the JingleCross World Cup weekend. Our legs are tired, but we bound out of bed full of excitement, grab our bags and jump in the car. We are a mere 16 hour drive from one of our favourite places in the world, Boulder, Colorado.
We are traveling with our friend, Mark, and his dog, Pixie. Their truck and trailer are big enough to fit all our stuff and they are kind enough to share the long journey. Mile after mile of cornfields, we chat, we listen to podcasts, we sit in silence. Pixie the dog falls asleep with her head in my lap, and after a big weekend I too feel sleepy, but I will myself to stay awake.
It’s late when we finally drive into town. As the mountain ranges come into view outlined by the nearly full moon, a sense of calmness comes over me and I can hear Garry breath a sigh of relief. We both feel like we have arrived back home.
THE BOULDER BUBBLE
Mention Boulder and people often roll their eyes and quickly remark “the Boulder bubble”. Boulder is like it’s own little world, far removed from anywhere else in the USA I have spent time in. Not necessarily better, just different, but it’s a different that I love. The riding here is fun, which makes for great training, the mountains - whether looking at them or riding in them, makes me feel happy and wherever I turn, I bump into someone I know.
So perhaps it is a little bit of a bubble, but I care not, for my head and my heart are happy when I am here.
The excitement of returning to Boulder has been brewing. Many mornings prior to our arrival were spent sipping coffee and daydreaming about the rides we wanted to do. Garry had mentioned, on more than one occasion, he want to take me on this epic ride. I knew there was a high chance this would be an adventure for the books.
GRAVEL GRIND #ClassicMillburnStitchup
Stitch up: To play a prank on someone, and usually planned in advance.
Garry often plans rides, that are:
1. Challenging - mentally and physically
2. Take much longer than anticipated
3. Lead to unrideable roads or no road at all.
It was a cold and misty morning, the air was quiet and still. However, there was potential rain forecast in the mountains where we were headed.
Perhaps any normal person would have taken a raincheck, perhaps we didn’t really know what we were in for. Regardless, we were excited for the day’s adventure. We layered up, putting on most of the cycling kit we had bought with us. We rolled out the door and headed straight for the cafe, a nice hot coffee before the ride would surely set us up for success.
The route had a 700m (2300ft) ascent straight out of the gates, we decided that I would get a 15 minute head start. I rolled out into the cold as Garry sat sipping the last of his coffee in the warmth of the cafe.
As I started to climb I knew I wasn’t fully adjusted to the altitude, within minutes I was breathing heavy, my heart rate was high and my power numbers were low.
Today wasn’t a training ride though, today was about adventure, so I ignored the numbers and just rode.
The mist was becoming heavy until I couldn’t see more than 15m (50ft) in front of me and the the road started to kick up. I rounded another corner and it kicked again, unsure what lay ahead, I contemplated just settling into my rhythm. But that pesky competitive voice in my head got the better of me, I didn’t want to be caught by Garry before the summit, so I got out of the saddle and pushed hard on the pedals.
It wasn’t long before I could hear someone behind me, I didn’t have to look around, I knew it was Garry. No one else was crazy enough to be out in the mountains today. Unfamiliar with the climb, I felt slightly deflated to have been caught until I realised we were just cresting the top.
The air is frigid as we start the descent. But before we feel it to our core, we turn onto a gravel road and begin to climb again. At first it is the perfect gravel road climb, the surface is smooth and the gradient is steady as we wind up through the trees. However, it’s not long until the road starts to undulate, the pitches are steep and the descents sketchy. The road turns into a trail and becomes more technical with large stones littering the surface, and although its rideable the pace has slowed considerably.
There is something so medatitive about exploring unknown roads. The only noise is that of our tyres crunching the dirt beneath us and our rhythmic breathing.
An hour passes.
The drizzle has well and truly set in, the cold has begun to take over us.
Looking ahead, I can see Garry has stopped his hands cupped to his mouth trying to warm them. We are at an intersection, it’s time to contemplate our options. Turning left is another three or more hours riding, turning right it is homeward bound. With the temperature never rising above freezing, we decide it’s time to search for some warmth.
A rolling gravel road followed by a long descent has our whole bodies shaking from the cold. We don’t even make it home, we stop a mile short for the warmth of the cafe and a hot cocoa. I can feel myself defrosting from the inside out.
Adventure rides are the best rides.
Our days swing between hard training sessions, exploring unknown roads and weekends packed with racing. There are some epic race days where the weather changes from beautiful one day to perfect the next. Perfect for cross that is…
There are also so many special moments shared with some truly wonderful people. Evenings spent enjoying a meal with friends running late into the night. All-day mountain bike adventures that start with pancakes and end with pizza. Impromptu coffee dates. Post race laughs and hangs with some of my favourites.
Packing my bikes and bags, I smile as I recall all the great times I’ve had here and feel a touch of sadness knowing it is almost time to leave.
THE LAST HURRAH
Before the sun rises on our last day in Boulder we gather our jackets and head out the door. The streets are quiet, with not a soul in sight, as we make our way towards the base of the Flatirons.
While I stop to briefly look at the trailhead map, Garry is already striding towards the trail, as always a man on a mission. Whether its racing ’cross, working as a financial advisor or hiking a mountain, Garry is all in, all the time.
I contemplate this as we start the hike towards the first flatiron.
As a youngster I rode motorbikes and horses, swam in rivers and oceans, I camped and hiked, I also attempted to play the guitar and piano. I skipped between activities, always having a go but never committing to any one specific thing. Garry on the other hand, at the ripe old age of 13 competed in his first MTB race and was hooked. I wonder if his determination was rubbing off on me, or was it that I had finally found the sport that interested me and I was willing to give it everything.
My focus shifts from these abstract thoughts to my surroundings, the trail is becoming steeper and more rocky. The trees are still thick around us and towering over head. In what can only be described as perfectly cliche, little squirrels dart across the trail in front of us and birds sing from the branches.
We scramble over rocky outcrops and the switchbacks become tighter. The twilight has given way to the rising sun and I briefly lose sight of Garry as he darts ahead. We have reached the summit.
We stand tucked into a nook behind the flatiron, watching the sun rise over Boulder.
Until next time...