Day Two: Gates Pass Throwdown
Soft-pedaling at 37mph on Sal’s wheel. That may be the best vacation moment ever.
I run out of gears. Ty Lambert opens up the throttle and I am out of gears. The compact crank – a blessing and a curse. In a heartbeat, Sal comes through to my left – in the drops and grinding. I jump into his draft, duck my head and spin out while we try to stay in touch with the lead group ahead. There are 5 of them. Or maybe 4. I can’t remember.
All I know is I am out of goddammed gears so I am using Sal’s instead.
Arizona stretches out in front of us forever. Every few seconds I peek around him to check on our progress, which is consistently miniscule.
His rear wheel is an oasis and a miracle. A pocket full of nothingness where I sit like dead weight while he pushes 53×12 in pursuit.
We come together eventually and I sit up to catch my breath.
“Good job, Heidi” says Mr. Ty Lambert. It sounds like he means it.
Owen Gue drips of PRO-ness next to me with impossibly long gleaming legs. We’re on the west side of Gates Pass, ripping out loops on roads that are smiling.
I’m tired. When the pace rises I convince myself that it will hurt more to be off the back. I find wheels and hide and suffer and stick in.
Swooping down into a rolling climb with the boys I find my legs and stand up on the pedals, dancing off the front – a move that is met with vocalized approval from Owen and Ty.
I can hear Sal respond behind me: “Dude. I think I’m about to cry. I have never seen her ride like this.”
Owen Gue is rolling up his sleeves so I do the same. We chat and spin and roll.
He leads us out on Mile Wide road which turns to potholes and mayhem and adventure about a mile in. Cruising speed is 27 miles per hour but Ty reports he’s only doing 60 watts. False flat and a tailwind. Wooooosh!
Too bad this is an out-and-back.
The road turns into gravel so we turn around and point our skinny tires back into the wind. Owen has the camera and shoots Sal and I riding away. The journey back is a grinding, gritty chore during which I sit obediently just to the back and left of the Shecko’s wheel trying to be smaller than I am.
The wind is coming hard from the SE. Paul is in pursuit and bridges to us as we approach the stop sign that marks the next left turn.
We’re out of water so we rendezvous with the van and fuel up. Three endurolytes and a calm determination to get me up the west side of Gates and we’re off.
A few miles in I pop and wave Ben and Mark through to close the gap that’s growing in front of me. The gruppetto gets smaller and smaller ahead of me and I plod on methodically.
This is not like before. This is not getting shelled relentlessly by a huge group of hammers. This is me finishing my ride – a really good ride – at my pace. I can hear Tina Brubaker in my head: “Ride your ride, Swift.”
Ride your ride. Ride your ride.
I know the next two turns and I believe that Owen will make good on his promise to keep me from missing them. All that’s left for the day is a climb up the west side of Gates Pass. A very steep but fairly short climb.
Sal comes back to me. I make a sweeping right and see him there, sitting up, looking back at me. I bridge and pull up alongside, smiling.
“I’m fried.” I say.
I know he’s not lying. I know because we’ve been burning it up all day long together. I’ve ridden with him today for the first time ever. Until today, he was always riding with me. Today I rode with him. Legitimately.
The importance of that is not lost on me.
“Let’s just ride steady.” he says, “Get on my wheel.”
We find Owen and Mark at the left hand turn to climb the pass and the four of us start up together. The climb rises steeply and stretches across the hillside out front. We can see the switchback ahead. The way the grade kicks up. Off to the left, way, way up ahead, the rest of our group, who’d headed back earlier, is visible.
They are red and blue and black and a little bit of pink, nestled in the crook of two mountains where the road will dump us onto the long descent back into town. Mark drops off the back a ways and Sal, Owen, and I climb rhythmically and slowly toward the waiting group.
Reaching them is a tiny triumph, followed by a gliding descent during which I attack Javad despite the fact that I only have a 50T ring on the front and he is known for his exceptional ability to go downhill in a hurry.
He counter-attacks, as I expected, and I’m dropped. Spinning out my big gear on a dry mountain road with the afternoon sun on my skin and the taste of salt on my lips.
Back at the house we tear lunch apart like starving animals and then stand in the icy pool water with beers and the kind of smiles that only 50 fast miles and 4114 feet of climbing can produce.
I could get used to this.