On Aug. 22, I rode my 17-year-old mountain bike in the Tour de Cure, a fundraiser for diabetes, which was very appropriate for me since I’m a diabetic.
I was diagnosed in the summer of 2005. I’ll never forget that day. USA Today had a front-page story with the headline, “Type II Diabetes linked to Alzheimer’s” … in the story, it said, “the disease Americans fear worse than death.” Yikes!
I’ve been pretty lucky since the diagnosis. I control the disease as best I can by taking a pill in the morning and another at night and by exercising.
I like to put big goals in front of me to keep me on track.
I gave myself seven weeks to train for the ride. When I decided to do it, my longest bike ride had been 27 miles; I signed up to ride 62 miles or 100K.
I had to raise money, so I sent little reminders to my friends, like this one:
“Two Sundays ago, I made a big mistake. After my ride, I went for a walk with my favorite recovery drink. I walk by the Woodmen Valley Chapel, a quaint name for one of Colorado Springs’ many mega-churches, just as one of their services is letting out.
Thousands attend each week; they even have off-duty police directing traffic. I’m walking around wearing your standard-issued biking gear, a bright yellow cycling jersey unzipped to my navel and a pair of uncomfortably-tight biker shorts.
“Way to go Charlie,” I think, “these people just got a whole week’s worth of sins forgiven, and you’re out here prancing around half-naked.” Impure, sinful thoughts seared on to their mind’s eye. I really should write the pastor and apologize.”
And here’s another one:
“Here’s how I lost five pounds of lean muscle mass in just one short week. I rode my bike three days in a row for a total of 93 miles. On Sunday, I went 48 miles primarily fueled by a bowl of Golden Grahams. Turns out that was not sufficient. I should probably do a little more research on nutrition. My hands hurt a lot on that ride too; made me question my sanity.
“I should also possibly check the weather before I go for a ride. Last week, I rode my bike at lunch during a tornado warning; that was not cool.
“And, I’m pretty sure I ran over a squirrel’s tail and the reason I’m pretty sure is I heard him shriek something that I can only assume was squirrel talk for ‘ow, my tail!’.
“To be completely honest with you, I only needed to raise $150 to participate in the Tour de Cure. The only reason I keep asking for money is … I recently found out that if I raise $1,000 they’ll let me use the restrooms on the course; which could come in handy.”
Those priceless bits of comedy gold placed me in the top 50 fundraisers out of 2,000 riders.
I had been riding primarily on a dirt trail with a gradual elevation gain over 25 miles, so when I went and viewed the course two weeks out, I nearly had a heart attack. There was a climb on County Road 31 to the Carter Lake reservoir that seemed impossible, then leaving that area, there was a ridiculous descent complete with one of those road signs depicting a runaway truck heading down a 45-degree angle.
I was instantly filled with dread. “I’m going to have to figure out a way to fake an injury.”
But once I got my wits about me, I went back to training. I bought some road slicks to replace my fat trackers. I had a choice between two sets: one that could be pumped up more and go faster or one that was slower, but was less prone to getting a flat.
“If you like air in your tires, you should get this one,” they said, pushing the flat-proof tires.
I told the bike guy. “I’m not interested in durability; I just need these tires to last eight days.”
On went the slicks and I rode them up the three-mile road to Helen Hunt Falls, which was much steeper than the approach to Carter Lake. A family was walking to their car and the dad said something about me riding my bike up that road and the mom said, “That’s superhuman,” which helped my confidence.
Then six days before the ride, I drove south of the city to a roller-coaster-like road in the middle of nowhere. It was super windy that day, but I was determined to train on some hills to prepare for the ride. The hills on Bradley Road were much steeper and longer than anything I’d see on the ride. So I did an out-and-back course of 22 miles. The out part was relatively easy. I put the bike in first gear and slowly and steadily rolled up and down the hills.
But when I got to the turnaround and started heading back, I was met rudely by a tremendous wind, all the way back to the start. Going down the big hills, I was worried that I’d be knocked off my bike. It was not fun. But I’m kind of stubborn and I knew I had to get the miles in, so I went back out for round two.
That netted me 44 miles. I tooled around the little neighborhood until I rode 56 miles. I was turning around to go back to the car when I tweaked my left knee.
Nothing serious, it only hurt when I pedaled.
Five days later Rose and I were sitting at the VIP Dinner for the top fundraisers the night before the ride. The guy next to us was riding the century. He asked me if I had recovered enough from my 58-mile ride. I thought, “Well, I did a 58-mile ride last week, a 52-mile ride the week before, 48 the week before that, I think I’ll be fine.”
Later, as I was shoveling a rather large bite of tiramisu into my mouth, this other rider asked, “Isn’t that cake going to bother you?”
I don’t know if I ever felt more like a moron. I was surrounded in a giant hotel ballroom with people who live with diabetes and I don’t know if I ever took the disease as seriously as I should have.
That night Rose and I were lying in bed. Inexplicably, I was having cramps in both of my feet. That can’t be good. Meanwhile, Rose found the controller for our Sleep Number Bed. You can inflate or deflate either side of the bed by a turn of the dial. Both of our sides were perfectly fine, but Rose felt the need to experiment. Moments later, my side is completely deflated, no firmness whatsoever. “Rose!” I yelled; we’re both laughing, but to reinflate my side the motor sounds like a plane taking off and I start worrying about our neighbors. It just felt like a scene from ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’
In the morning, we make our way to the start line. Some huge and agitated man walks up to me and in disgust says, “Watch out for goat head thorns, I just had to fix a flat.”
I turn to Rose. I have no idea what this man has just said to me. I look around for broken glass, anything sharp, but I don’t see anything suspicious.
Rose, known for her pleasing, outgoing personality, has made friends with another guy in line and has set us up to ride together. A riding buddy. That’s cool, I guess. We hear the National Anthem and we’re on our way.
The first five miles are pretty flat riding through ranch and farm land of Longmont, which is south of Loveland, near Rocky Mountain National Park. Very pretty.
I’m wearing a Red Rider jersey, signifying that I’m a diabetic and whenever someone would pass me they’d say, “Go Red Rider!” That was awesome.
Meanwhile, my riding buddy is coughing up a lung. We switch off riding lead; whenever I lead he drops off the face of the earth. I’m happy when we get to the chaotic first rest stop. I hit the bathroom; eat some orange slices and leave. No sign of Riding Buddy.
Since I’ve driven this next part of the course, I know that the reservoir is approaching. I’m taking it nice and easy. I felt my knee hurting a bit on one of the hills, so I’m just going to go slow.
I start talking to people. “I’m going to have a team next year called, Team Slow and Steady,” I say.
But when we get to the steep drive to the lake, I feel incredibly prepared. I know how to conserve energy and when to push it. I feel strong. When I get to the first switchback, guess who is there? Riding Buddy! He has stopped with a bunch of other people. I know from past experience that it’s a big mistake to stop on these steep hills; it’s really hard to pedal from a standstill on a steep part. I decided that since I just met Riding Buddy an hour ago that I could leave him for dead in the dust at the side of the road.
I pass people on the up. There’s a rest stop at the top, but I only stay for a moment. I’m so happy to have killed that up that I’m ready to face the down.
The descents scare me and cause me to flex my whole body. Coming down from Helen Hunt Falls, I felt light-headed, like I was going to pass out. I stop at a rest stop on the other side of the Carter Lake reservoir and collect myself.
Naturally, just like everything else that I’ve worried about, the down was not that bad. It was super long and steep, but it was pretty much a straightaway, unlike Helen Hunt Falls with its twists and turns.
So as County Road 31 comes to a ‘T’ in the road, I’m about as happy as a person can be. I know that I’ve got two-thirds of the course to go, but I’m feeling awesome.
The course continued deeper into wilderness and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. Unbeknownst to me, there was another sharp climb shortly after the lake, but like that movie, Princess Bride, once you’ve dealt with the three terrors of the Fire Swamp, you pretty much know what to do the next time.
I stopped at all of the rest stops to refill my water bottle and Gatorade bottle. I ate my sunflower seeds and my GUs. I really liked eating orange slices and bananas too.
I thought I’d do the ride in five hours and 15 minutes or so. When we got to the halfway part, I was right on schedule.
About two-thirds of the way in, we hit a series of hills. I didn’t mind them. I wasn’t going slow and steady; I was powering up them.
After one final rest stop, we started heading back into town.
A volunteer shouted that there were nine miles to go and it was a gradual downhill.
That was all I needed to hear. I looked at my watch. I knew I could break five hours, if I stepped on it.
So I pedaled my brains out on that final stretch. I would occasionally feel my quads talking to me, so I would back it off a bit. But for the most part it was full-steam ahead.
I finished the ride in four hours and 45 minutes.
I knew I could do it, but I didn’t know what it would be like. And I liked it.
A group of students from a Boulder massage school were giving free 10-minute massages. I got lucky and got the instructor who worked on me for about a half-hour. That was more painful than the ride.
I talked to a guy who just finished the 100-mile course. He looked beat. He said the elevation gain into Estes Park was 5,000 feet. No worries. I’ll be back and I’ll do the 100-mile course. I’ll just be in better shape and on a better bike.
The next morning I was pulling my bike out of the car and I noticed something stuck to my front tire. It looked like a rock jammed in there. I pulled on it, but it wasn’t a rock, it was a very sharp thorn and all of the air left my front tire in a matter of seconds.
It was a goat head thorn.