Learning to Lean

When we left Colorado Springs on Sunday, it meant leaving behind a strange unease and wigged-out-ness and welcoming in a next phase – more difficult riding on curvy mountain roads. We crossed over the mountains via Monarch Pass at over 11,000 feet, the moment you cross the Continental Divide. It was a small group of us: my parents (Mom on the back of BVB’s Indian Springfield loaner for the first time this trip), our ride leaders Bob and Peg, and I. Awesomely, we are all from Massachusetts.

Monarch wasn’t that bad at first, but two intense turns at the top gave me pause. I had to lean really far over on the last one, a sharp curve that seemed to go on forever. It freaked me out but I made it.

Pure goodness awaited us on the other side. We stayed the night in the beautiful town of Ouray, Colorado, nestled at the foot of jagged peaks on all sides. We stayed at the Twin Peaks Lodge, the “Switzerland of America”, a motel complex complete with hot springs-fed hot tubs and a pool. The air was bright, fresh and clean, we sipped drinks by the pool, and bobbed about in the salty, mineral-rich water. The almost-full moon rose above the tree tops, and Marjorie said “click!” to remember the moment by. That night I slept soundly, wrapped in the deep quiet.

The next morning I felt substantially more refreshed than usual, despite the fact that I had slept less and drank more. Must be the hot springs. However, my well being was soon diminished by the growing anxiety setting up shop in my stomach. Today was the day that we would ride the Million Dollar Highway. Switchbacks. Hairpins. Sheer drops. High elevation. I imagined the worst – a sheer cliff with a tiny road hanging off the side of it, no guardrail in site, and nothing more than thin air to slow your fall.

Freaking out, I sought the advice of a few seasoned riders:

“Remember to push. Don’t pull,” said Queena.

“Take it down to first gear and ride the turn like you would in the parking lot,” said Pete.

“Keep your head up, and look through the turns,” said Robert.

Well, that’s all it took. Amazing how clear-headedness and some good advice can breed slight (albeit temporary) mastery. I followed their directions and had zero issues. It was kind of a breeze. We got to the overlook (after the third round of mountain passes) and I wanted to do it all again. That’s the thing about riding – you can predict your outcome as long as you know how to handle the various circumstances presented to you, often multiple circumstances at once. It was a great feeling, and a great relief.

During our descent I came ‘round a bend and was greeted with a pristine mountain view. And then it hit me, and I lost it. I cried in my helmet for a while. I was truly happy to be alive. And I don’t mean the relief of being alive after a death-defying act – no; I mean truly realizing that life is a gift that I’m lucky to have. Whatever “life” actually means (A dream? One dimension of many?) is besides the point. The smell of Balsam wafted through the cool alpine air. The road spilled out in front of me. And the bike purred along.