Yesterday, I felt like crap and only finished half my swim. Loss of homes for many, loss of loved ones for some and flood sabotaged roads took (and is taking) its toll in different ways on all of us in the flood area. I walked out of the rec center and was instantly stunned by the beauty of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak. They were GORGEOUS in the morning sun that hadn't lit them up for a week.
Then I felt something pull me back. Is this ok? Can I appreciate this beauty in the midst of all the muck and mud and catostrphic destruction? I thought of overrun Estes Park which sits in the valley below these grand masters of the sky and felt deep grief for those dead, for business owners who will have zero income the rest of the year. And I also remembered friends whose road washed out but not their home, hosting neighbors whose homes were filled with water.
Such intensely warring emotions. Feeling brightened and alive by the beauty of the mountains and gut punched by the roaring brown rivers.
I've only been back living in Colorado a couple months, but I've lived here a third of my life. I was born in Trinidad Colorado and spent my earliest years in that small town just north of the New Mexico border. Later, I returned to Morrison and Littleton for a graduate degree in counseling and for my children to move through middle and high school. After being back in Missouri (where I've spent most of the other two thirds of my days) for seven years we moved to Longmont and Boulder County in July with my recently discovered passion of cycling.
And cycle I did. I discovered four main paths to the mountains from Longmont: Nelson, St. Vrain, Hygiene and 66. I started off taking Nelson to 36 to North Boulder and Spruce Confections. I'd take a break there and drink a cup of dark Kaladi coffee (dark coffee being a longer held passion than cycling) secretly hoping to eyeball some current triathlon studs. I'm sure I saw some and didn't know it because each day I would ride by 50-100 cyclists. Lots of people enjoyed riding these roads.
I learned that Hygiene was a small farming community just west of Longmont out 17th which turns to Hygiene Rd. Hygiene is pronounced like it looks unlike Hover St (a major north/south road in Longmont) which rhymes with clover. Hygiene Rd also takes one to 36 and is the closest road to Lyons other than the busy 66.
St. Vrain Rd. goes by the airport where a steady stream of skydivers float downward. Because it's in the middle of Nelson, which is closest to Boulder and Hygiene it tends to be the least traveled although Nelson has a decent shoulder to ride on. Cyclists are well taken care of.
I learned that I could take any of these roads to 36 and back for a good 18-20 mile ride. I also discovered I wasn't having a bad day because I was going slow starting off. Even though it felt flat there is a 600 foot rise to 36 from Longmont.
My confidence increased and I began to climb the actual mountains. Lefthand Canyon is about a half mile from Nelson off 36. Some of the worlds best cyclists and triathletes train here and I was riding the same roads! Lefthand creek splashed and roared right along the road for much of the way. A ways up there was an intersection. Turning left takes one to Ward whose small store has the best homemade cinnamon rolls I've ever had. My friend, Ted and I enjoyed them mightily in the middle of our 60 mile ride.
Stay straight at the fork three miles up is Jamestown. The Merc has some great french roast coffee and a Super James Bar (large Lara like bar with nuts) for energy. I got a second cup of the french roast and walked the 40 yards across the town park and drank it and the mountains in. I sat down by the serene and docile Little Jim Creek and got lost in the trickles over the rocks. After I emptied my cup I walked over to The Merc and talked to Joe.
Joe is a crusty old guy. Good crusty. He's retired, lives in Jamestown and actually volunteers at Sunset Golf Course up the street from my house in Longmont so he can play free golf. On this morning he was watering the flowers near the road to help keep Jamestown beautiful. Another chore of his is to fill the coolers so us cyclists can refill our bottles with high quality H2O on our rides. We chatted and with a gleam in his eye, he told me about the inner city kids who came to the camp up above Jamestown. Joe turned as a car rambled through town ignoring the post numbers. "Slow down you sonavabitch!" Joe is good crusty.
I then discovered the Barking Dog coffee shop in Lyons. I took Hygiene, St. Vrains and 66 over there on different rides. Their dark coffee is Italian Roast. They serve a great muffin top. Eventually Ted and I took 7 up the St Vrain Canyon and took a left on 72 (Peak to Peak) Hiway. We took a left at Ward for that cinammon roll. Yum!
The next time (September 6th) we went to Lyons we headed to Estes Park. I had been excited about the prospect of riding to Estes since I knew I would be moving to Colorado. I had almost decided to wait until 2014, but on a whim and some dark roast decided to give it a go. Instead of hanging a left after the 11 miles up the canyon we stayed straight and went through Allenspark and past the trailhead for Longs Peak. Shortly after that it started to sprinkle. Ted mentioned that maybe we should grab lunch. I urged him to c'mon since we were almost there. At Lily Lake we began our descent and so did the rain. We rolled down the steep switchbacks on shiny, slick roads. Ted mentioned that maybe we should have stopped and had lunch.
Our hands and wrists ached and our feet were wet and frozen when we finally made it to Kind Coffee on the banks of the Big Thompson. I had a cup of Blue Scoot to start warming up. I added a breakfast panini and Ted garnered both of us smart wool socks from next door. Dry socks never felt so good.
We waited out the rain and took a picture over the Big Thompson. I decided my hair is granite gray since it blended in with the boulders above Estes. Neither of us ever guessed we wouldn't be able to go back there for who knows how long.
We road the 7 miles up the switchbacks and then, then we flew. Down the mountains that goaded us for several hours going up. At Allenspark we hit 47 mph down the big straightaway. We flew like eagles down those mountains, along the banks of the St. Vrain and back into Lyons. I was exhausted but the wind was at my back and was heading down mountain so I flew down 66 to 75th St. Vrain to Airport and along the St. Vrain Greenway to finish the 93 miles. My inner lion roared inside as I pulled into home. Really it did. I've never before had that happen after a ride.
But then Thursday came. At 7 everyone was curious watching Lefthand and St. Vrain get out of the normal banks but not up to the road. Us common folk had no idea the full destruction that flowed down toward us. Much of Longmont was under water by 11.
As I walked out of of the rec center iall that fun and beauty stirred in me. The mountains were becoming a familiar place of beauty and well, home to me. But Lyons being isolated and slammed with mud and boulders were in there, the Little JIm on steroids took out much of Jamestown, Lefthand became a giant fist washing out roads and snatching houses like twigs, Estes was flooded from all directions, Ft. Collins and Loveland were awash from the Poudre and Big Thompson and of course, Boulder for a few days was the Niagra of the Rocky Mountains. I'll miss riding in what was becoming home. In some ways it was what was most familiar to me as I settled into Longmont.
Was it ok to appreciate the beauty? Not only was it ok but I must. I must pay attention to the beauty that stirs life in me. Also, I must pay attention to the grief that also stirs that very same life, just the flip side. For where there is joy and love and beauty there will most certainly be grief and loss and darkness. To ignore any of it is to kill important parts of my heart. And I want to live.
So today, grief in my soul, starting in the morning darkness, slightly disturbed by the sprinkles from the clouds, I went down 3rd past Sunset Golf Course. I took a left on Hover then a right on Nelson and I climbed and pedaled my way to 36. And it was beautiful. The colors painted over Longmont, the Flatirons and Boulder, Lefthand Canyon and north towards Lyons.
Some may say it's just a bike ride. How can you ride when so many are cleanding up? What's your loss when so many have lost so much? Yesterday, Ann and I helped a young woman clear out her home, carpet and all, from muddy flood waters so I got a glimpse what that looks like on the inside. Its devastating to see so much of ones life sitting at the curb. I know there isn't mud in my home and my wife is safe in the other room. I'm grateful and feel a twinge of survivors guilt that I wasn't harmed more. But today I just had to ride as I had to write. I can't let the flood take all that is life. Today I choose to be Graced by beauty in the midst of grief.