BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — I’m standing in a small square of sopping grass near midnight, shoes soaked through, plaid pajamas cuffed to mid-calf in a futile effort to stay dry, watching a broiling pool of black edge toward me.
It’s moving oh so slowly, the black, flowing like spilled ink across a table. It fills the road, and then the drainage ditch, bubbling onward with a certainty and softness that belies its muscle. If it rises to a certain point, not far from the current level, I’ll have three feet of water rushing into my basement-level condo. I’ve packed a bag, ready to knock on the upstairs neighbor’s door.
Something hits me, as the water laps up and over yet another divider.
I can’t make it stop.
It’s an odd, helpless feeling, in this world that we have mastered so well, but an inescapable one. Water of this magnitude is inevitability incarnate, a force of nature that is so far outside the jurisdiction of my sorry, soaking wet feet and pitiful pajama pants that any attempt to stop it would be pure comedy.
Downtown, Boulder Creek continues to rise. The small streams that have carved our normally peaceful canyons over eons, the same canyons that make up our daily rides, now flow with a ferocity not seen in decades, destroying roads and homes, causing mudslides in areas still scarred by recent forest fires.
Our own photo director, Brad Kaminski, is on an island at 7,500 feet, holed up at the top of Flagstaff Mountain with his family and, thankfully, a full cupboard of food. The only road to town, the famous Flagstaff climb featured in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge, has crumbled away.
I can’t make it stop.
Ten miles down the road, the small town of Lyons is an island, cut off from the rest of the world by torrents of water so powerful they would blow any vehicle that dared cross straight off the road. Estes Park, at the top of Big Thomson canyon, which hosted the Pro Challenge this year, has faired no better. Its downtown is under feet of water; buildings have washed away.
All 200 residents of Jamestown, whose city limit sign 1,500 feet above Boulder has served as a frequent source of lunch ride lactic agony, are holed up in that tiny town’s elementary school, waiting for the fog to clear so they can be rescued by helicopter.
Two teenagers died on Linden, a popular riding route here, of four in the car. They were headed home from a birthday party, swept off the road.
One hundred seventy two people are unaccounted for, so far.
I still can’t make it stop.
My body is accustomed to self-perpetrated pain. It is the suffering that this sport romanticizes, the type that is defined, most of all, by choice. It is a choice to suffer on the bike, a choice to dig your face into the bars and slide to the very tip of the saddle and continue to will your legs to spin as they scream bloody murder at your brain to please just stop.
It’s that choice that we love, because the weak, they choose not to suffer. They lose. The strong choose pain, trading it as currency for moments of exquisite conquest. We celebrate suffering as a teacher, as a rite of passage; we have our own vocabulary for the people that hold an uncanny tolerance for it. It embodies the power of the mind over the body.
I can make it stop, whenever I want. Just stop pedaling.
It would be too easy to call this suffer-lust asinine, too easy to compare it to the real pain, true sadness, and genuine fear that lies around me in Colorado, that is occurring in the very same places where I “suffer” so frequently. It would be too easy to come to the conclusion that we should stop fooling our privileged selves into thinking we’re hard men, badasses, just because it hurts a bit.
Because real suffering, the type that surrounds me in Colorado, is not a choice. It chooses its victims. The people up the canyons and out in the flooded plains cannot coast and make it stop. They are not weak, choosing not to suffer; they are incredibly strong, hard men and hard women, who would never have chosen this sort of pain. Nobody would.
Our version of suffering, the sort embodied in grimaced, dirty faces and cobbled roads and torturous climbs, is nothing more than a diluted reflection of the real thing.
That’s why I don’t think it is asinine, choosing to suffer. Nor is it foolish to crave it, or celebrate it, so long as we see the superficial pain for what it is. If this is understood, our suffering is, in fact, an antidote to the real thing. It is a reminder of how blissful most of life really is. It is a reminder to be thankful.
When you ride today, and I hope you do, suffer. Go too hard for too long. Then stop. Revel in that moment. Celebrate the absence of pain and how you, through conscious choice, stopped it. And then spare a thought, or a prayer, for those who can’t do the same today.
Editor’s note: The clean up on Colorado’s Front Range has finally begun after the storm’s peak on Thursday evening, when Caley Fretz stood in his pajamas in the flood waters. Though the Colorado National Guard and other emergency personnel rescued more than 1,200 people over the weekend, more than 500 people remain unaccounted for between Boulder and Larimer Counties. The storm has passed, but communities like Jamestown and Salina were essentially washed away. To find out how to help the people of Colorado, visit helpcoloradonow.org.