Grand Mesa. The world's tallest flattop mountain.
For years it has taunted me every morning as I go to work, its siren call -- "Climb me! Climb me!" -- growing louder each year. Five times I've mounted an attack, five times I've failed.
Last week a friend (who also has failed to make the grade) and I committed to riding to the top this summer . . . the next morning he called and said he was so inspired that he got up early and slogged up to the top. I was crestfalled until he described his ride, including the fact that he drove to a neighboring town which cut the distance and total climb in half.
So yesterday I got up early and mounted my sixth assault on Grand Mesa, determined to ride from my house to the mountain and back, a 65-mile trek with more than 20 miles of a steady 3-4 percent grade. Rather than set a speed record, I was determined to keep a high cadence and a steady pace up the grade. I ticked off the past turn-around points and at the 22-mile mark stopped at the ice cream shop -- the highest I've gotten before. Pausing for a brief stop, I assessed the ride so far. I had been riding 2 hours, was halfway up the 5,000 ft. climb, and was feeling really strong. I knew the top was within reach.
As I sipped down a little water and enjoyed some dark chocolate, two roadies came up the road. They offered to let me tag along. It was tempting, but I knew their fast pace would soon burn out my thighs. So I told them to go ahead and I'd plod along on my own. So with a smile and a wave, they were off and within a mile were quickly out of view.
And so I continued on my personal quest. I kept my cadence up, setting a comfortable pace of 6-7 mph. With each bend of the road my confidence grew and I started to enjoy the ride. My pace climbed to 7-8 mph. Deer poked their head up from the oak brush, marmots whistled as I passed, and a couple of rabbits came out to laugh at my turtle pace. I even caught a glimpse of a black bear amongst the aspen . . . okay, it could have just been some shadows.
After 3 1/2 hours of riding I had to face reality -- I had the ability to reach the top but did not have time to get up and back in time to go to work. So I paused at a view point about 4 miles from the visitor center, taking in the vista (wishing I'd brought a camera along), and relishing the knowledge that the Grand Mesa was mine for the taking. Although I did not reach the top, I was turning around on my terms and know I can ride to the summit any time I want.
The 30 miles back home flew by and I got back just in time to clean up and get to work. 4-3/4 hours on the bike, 60.1 miles and just under 5,000 feet of climbing. Not a bad way to start the day!
Next time I'll take the camera along.