This was finally it.
Today was the day. It was going to happen. I’ve been thinking about this moment for years, some minutes longer than others.
It’s like that other thing you thought of for years, but more important.
I am rested. I have returned home to the mountains of Telluride, Colorado, with my shiny new Boulder road fitness and am armed with a 23-pound S-Works wonder, and I will finally best Eider Creek without putting a foot down once, without leaning on a tree in my aerobic drunkenness.
The beers have left me from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and I’m off to the Tour de France in days. If this doesn’t happen now, it may not happen until … October. And if it doesn’t happen then… will it ever?
On this occasion, the dream was lampooned the second I began writing this column, while riding, in my head.
I’d left the state of the climb for greener mental pastures, and was concocting this narrative of success, of achieving something I’d been trying to do for seven years. It was all going so well. Much in the way things are always going well until the precise moment they are no longer going well.
My hummingbird heart hadn’t yet flown my chest after the two cruxes. The blood had yet to fill my legs from the ankles up. My muscles had yet to become hopeless anchors.
There was foolish hope that I would clear this horrific mountain bike climb, my most cherished climb. I hear it’s been done lately thanks to some much needed trailwork by a Telluride local (thank you, Mark) that’s made the once impassable rideable, but it hasn’t been done by me, ever, and that’s all I really care about. Besides, those other guys are probably lying about it.
All told, it’s about 44 minutes — but who’s counting — and 1,700 feet of elevation gain, 90 percent of it on moody San Juan singletrack. Loose rocks if it hasn’t rained, snot-slick roots if it has. It’s steep, and hard, and wretched. There are about a million wonderful aspens, though riders are usually seeing too many stars to notice. My Garmin stops working because it assumes I’ve drifted off to sleep in a meadow. A fast trailrunner can lap a rider up Eider.
I love it. We all do. It’s a celebrated site of discontent. Over the years, it has served as friend and foe, a benchmark of where I stood, on the bike and sometimes in life.
If you’re good on Eider, you’re likely single, and pissed about it. (I’m looking at you, guy I won’t name here.) If you’re bad on Eider, you’re too happy with the other parts of your life and pay for it among the trees, if only for an hour. It always gives, but it always takes.
Coming off a breakup? Go ride Eider. Hungover, looking to repent those Last Dollar Saloon PBRs? Go ride Eider. Too snowy to ride? Go walk the dog up Eider. Take a nap on Eider. Drink a beer on Eider.
I have a very bright friend who writes for a major national newspaper who has threatened to name a son Eider, but last I heard he wasn’t actually threatening to have children.
There are harder things I’ve done. Much, much harder, for much, much longer. The Paris-Roubaix sportive comes to mind. I feel dread deep in my stomach and the bones of my back just thinking about it. It’s so deep I may never ride Roubaix again. But nothing, no one ride, has caused me greater agony in my brief riding career as Eider Creek.
The end was pathetic. An err in my front wheel — it never does what I tell it to — forced a toe-tap after the two hardest, most technical parts of the climb. It wasn’t my day, but on Eider, it never has been. It may never be.
But I return to this place. To take this corner better than the last time. To go faster, and to be more complete. I achieve it only in parts, and never in one singular thread.
But that’s most things. Never perfect at once, but perfect in pieces. All that’s left is to stitch them together. And one fine day …