Fall Sunday: How I Fell for the Mountains to Desert Ride

Fall Sunday: How I Fell for the Mountains to Desert Ride


Photo credits: Mary Hagan

My path to a road bike started with (as the best things often do) a dare. Or perhaps I should say a compromise. My husband Andy wanted me to ride the Mountains to Desert Ride, a 103-mile ride from Telluride to Gateway. He’d done the race the year before and had fallen in love with the course. The red canyon walls are beautiful. The community great. The riding fairly straightforward. I wasn’t convinced.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s fun about it?”

I knew I sounded like a curmudgeon. But in fairness, my to-do list was long. Between graduate school and teaching at Telluride Mountain School, writing a novel and caring for my family, my days were full. Overfull. If I was going to prepare for and complete a hundred mile bike ride, I needed some more persuasion. Actually I needed more than that. I needed something in return.

“Fine, you start doing CrossFit, and I’ll ride with you.”

IMG_1665It was a bluff. A cruel trick. My husband’s days as the associate head of the Telluride Mountain School were even busier than my own. Exercise was something that happened when it happened for him. And it was always outside, never in a gym. Andy’s naturally lean frame allowed for this flippancy.

To my surprise, he pulled out his laptop. “I’ll sign up for the intro class right now.”

We started riding. Our first long ride in Santa Fe, climbing up to the ski basin wasn’t my best. The road climbed 4,200 feet in just under 15 miles. Andy and the friend we were visiting quickly abandoned me and I spent two long hours, slogging up to the ski area, intermittently crying out to no one in particular, “Really?! This thing is still not over?!”

The way down wasn’t much better. It had been over a year since I had been on a road bike and I was nervous about drafting. When I finally returned to the car, the boys had already loaded their bike on top of the car and changed into real clothes.

“Beer,” I said. “And a sandwich. Right now.”

IMG_1737Over, the next few Sundays, we continued to do long rides. I told Andy that he couldn’t leave me. It was too hard. Too boring. Also I needed snacks halfway through the route and not at the end like Santa Fe. He adjusted our routes accordingly, leading me up and over mountain passes into places as far-flung as Ridgway and Rico. I couldn’t believe I was riding a bike to places I’d previously only driven to.

“You’re starting to like it, aren’t you?” Andy called to me over his shoulder. I puffed air at him. I wasn’t ready to admit anything.

The day of the race arrived. A race to a desert but I was freezing. We were biking along Telluride’s Valley Floor at 7am. Temperature: 42 °F. “If we catch up with the pack, it’ll be warmer…” Andy said. “Come on, let’s get ‘em.”

In Norwood, where it finally warmed and I got stuck waiting in a bathroom line, it was the same kind of convincing. “Come on, if we sprint and catch Cindy, the riding will be easier.”

Somehow, a hundred miles went by, then three and a half more. When we pulled in, a group of riders was already sitting in the shade, drinking beers. I didn’t really count the number of women in the circle, didn’t ask who had come in first. The end of the race is a bit confusing—some people get to Gateway and keep going for another 30 miles up a hill. Besides, I was just relieved to have finished. And to be off my bike and in the shade.

“You did like it, didn’t you?” Andy asked, passing me a beer.

“It was a great ride.”

Little did I know, the fun wasn’t over. I was standing at the awards ceremony, waiting to cheer on fellow Telluride Inside and Out writer Jesse McTigue, who had, of course, done the bonus hill climb and come in as the first woman. Suddenly, they announced my name. What had I done wrong?! It’s turns out I was the 2nd place winner for the 103 course.

It was all a fluke. Cindy could have just as easily crossed the line first—we were in the same peloton. But, as they handed me a backpack full of prizes, I decided to just go with it. Sometimes, life offers you greatness and asks for nothing in return.

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