It’s nearing midnight in the middle of New Mexico, I have no clue what town I’m in, and I’m driving rather quickly up a windy mountain road. Egged on by some excessively loud music and the realization that our destination is close I peg the gas pedal just that bit more out of every corner. I’m tired and, even in the moment, I know this is a terrible idea. As a stereotypically risk averse individual my current venture to the “dark side” is very uncharacteristic but, at the same time, somewhat exhilarating. At least the feeling of tiredness from only a few minutes before has now been replaced by a slight boost of adrenaline…
To lend some context to the situation, up to this point our travel day had been something of a shit show and I wanted nothing more than for it to be over. After a delayed flight in Arkansas, teammate Taylor Shelden and I missed our connection to Albuquerque; prompting the question of whether we would even get to Silver City in time to start the Tour of the Gila which began at 9am the next day. Fortunately, we were able to get re-booked and arrived in New Mexico four hours after we initially planned with a two hundred fifty mile drive still to go. After three hours of sitting behind the wheel I desperately wanted to be at our hotel and sleeping. Sadly, we still had an hour to go.
As the song being blared out the stereo ends the car is filled with a moment of awkward silence while the next track gets queued up. Despite lasting only a few seconds, the short-lived reprieve from audio bombardment resets my brain a bit and it finally sinks in just how Darwinian my current activity is. I take my foot off the gas pedal and coast until the odometer reads within the speed limit. It feels exceptionally slow but I tell myself that’s OK—after all, killing yourself to save five minutes is pretty silly when you really think about it. A few miles later, we reach the summit of the mountain and I pull over to the side of the road and let Taylor take the helm for the final leg to Silver City.
Despite the ominous start, the Tour of the Gila did not go nearly as terribly as I thought it would. Following a fairly brutal wake-up only a handful of hours after arriving at our hotel, I managed to pull off a decent result (in my opinion, anyway) on stage 1—finishing 11th in spite of feeling like total shit (no surprise there). In fact, feeling sub-par was probably the most prevalent theme of Gila. While stage one was by far the worst, I just never felt comfortable during the week and had this continuous feeling of lethargy when racing. I could tell my body wasn’t totally acclimated to the altitude (over the last five weeks I’ve only been in Boulder for seven days) and racing Joe Martin the week prior definitely left a bit of a dent. Fortunately, my legs came around pretty well the final day and I managed to make all the selections over the major climbs—most of which included only five to eight guys. With a bit more organization from the group (including myself who dogged a few pulls) maybe we could have rolled it to the line—who really knows. Instead, there were quite a few regroupings in the final 30km and a group of twenty or so wound up sprinting to the line. I got sixth on the day and tenth overall.
Of all the results I’ve had this year, this past week is probably the one I’m most proud of. Sure, I didn’t win but the fact that I remained competitive despite not feeling amazing is something I’ll hold my head high for. They say good bike racers are good even when they’re bad; and while I’ll leave it to others to create labels about just how good of a bike racer I am, it’s at least nice to know I don’t totally suck…even when I feel that way.