Sweet Caroline: Riding 100 miles with my sister.
My sister Caroline visited Martin’s Ride for three days. We rode just under a hundred miles, saw the Royal Gorge, Bishop’s Castle and had a great dinner in Pueblo. I haven’t always been the best brother. Life takes strange and unexpected turns and we quickly forget what really matters – family, friends, service and love. Guilty as charged.
Redemption is possible and one of Martin’s Ride’s goals. My dream was Martin’s Ride was a family affair, and we’ve successfully included my brother in our pre-planning, my sister during our first three days in Colorado, my mother joined us for dinner in Tennessee and I’m hoping we can swing by and see my father in Scottsdale. One lesson Martin’s Ride is teaching is to SLOW DOWN. I put that idea to work today and climbed to the Continental Divide (11,300 of elevation).
My sister deserves much of the credit for my climb today. Caroline is an exercise physiologist and nutritionist. Like many, I come by my poor nutrition habits honestly. Eating is so critical to life yet we treat it so unimportantly. Caroline travels with balanced fresh foods. She attributes much of her incredible riding skills to her obsession with “fueling”. Fueling is what eating really is, but how rare it is to think so.
I won’t belabor my sister’s talent on a bicycle other than these three examples:
There are not many people I want next to me descending a Colorado mountain at over 40 mph. Caroline is one of them because she sets a firm line and knows what to do. Jeremy and I discussed descending as a “mental” thing today just before I left 11,300 feet. Jeremy is absolutely right. Thousands of stimuli hit you FAST when you are moving over 30 mph on a bicycle. Today, for example, my brain was trying to keep me in a narrow band on the right of the highway even as centrifugal force tried to throw me out into the middle of the street, my back tire was making a strange dull thud (this happens at high speeds because pebbles become boulders) and a cross wind wanted to buck me into the ditch. There were ten other critical things going on. Every stimulus has to be quickly categorized and acted on or properly ignored. I wrote about what is happening inside a cyclist’s brain when descending at 45 mph in a previous post. I looked over at Caroline coming down a mountain at 42 mph. I could see her mind working. I looked over my shoulder. “No cars,” I shouted at the top of my lungs. Wind is deafening at 45 mph on a bicycle. She shook her head yes and lowered her upper body becoming part of her top tube (you do this to get even more speed). There are few people on the planet I want next to me in such circumstance. Caroline is one of them.
Breaking Wind (in a good way)
Riding behind someone is a gift. The first rider cuts the wind. The second rider expends 40% less energy. My sister is a MACHINE. She rides rolling hills so fast, somewhere close to 30 mph; I had to tell her to slow down. We got separated on one section when I ducked down to a men’s room and Caroline didn’t see me. She was traveling so fast, and with a headwind, a man on a motorcycle offered to act as her windbreak. “Aren’t you sweet,” she told the Harley man, “But I’m looking for my brother. Have you seen someone in an orange jersey?” The biker told Caroline I was half a mile back. She caught me in about two seconds. Imagine how fast my sister was riding to have a man on a motorcycle offer to act as a windbreak. She was riding at his speed limit; riding 30 mph on a flat next to a roaring Colorado River with a headwind is not something everyone can do. Riding with my front tire inches from my sister’s back tire there where times when it felt like a tandem bicycle.
Somewhere between Westcliffe and Salida Colorado traffic got hairy. Caroline and I separated again. She stopped to use the rest room. I stopped because I wanted to be together. We compare notes when she arrived. There was no shoulder and six large eighteen-wheelers just cruised by at light speed off our left hip. “What do you think,” I asked my sister. “If it continues like this we need to stop,” she said. It wasn’t safe, but we forged on. In about 400 yards the shoulder got better. This means there was a shoulder. When a highway’s shoulder is crumbling or full of dirt cyclists have to on the white line. Caroline can set a line to stay on the white line and only come off ten percent of the time. I’m more like twenty percent, so no shoulder means I’m in the road. I decided I finally had something I could do to contribute to our bicycle riding partnership. I could ride out to my sister left forcing cars to slow down and go around. At last I had a job as important as breaking wind (in a good way). I puffed up my chest and pushed out to the left hoping eighteen-wheelers would see a large man wearing a bright orange jersey. Cars and trucks seemed to slow and the shoulder got better so I yelled, “how are you doing.” “I’m in a Zen State,” Caroline answered back. If there are few people you want descending a mountain at 45 mph there are even fewer you want cutting traffic on Highway 50 in Colorado with a stiff head wind and rolling hills. Caroline is one of those rare cyclists capable of attaining a Zen State while pedaling very, very fast with large dinosaur trucks flying by.
Caroline has been competing in triathlons for years. She has sponsors and her nickname is Thunder Munchkin. I had no idea, but I couldn’t help but see the Thunder Munchkin stencil on her Specialized. “What is that,” I asked. She explained that was her race name given to her by mechanics at the first bicycle shop sponsor. This is an apt nickname. My sister BURNS up the road with intensity and joy. She descends at 45 mph, climbs like a person possessed and is one of the most skilled cyclists I know (if not the most skilled). She’s been racing, racing and racing so, at 51, she has the requisite 10,000 hours necessary to be highly skilled (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more on the 10,000 hour rule). It was fun to visit my sister in her backyard, “where I like to play,” she explained. I’m glad Martin’s Ride achieved one of its goals. Now I just need to be a better big brother to my Thunder Munchkin ☺. M