In the yin and yang of things, the finest moments come on the heels of the most difficult of times. There is balance in the cosmos, and in racing, to experience the best requires some suffering.
Take for instance, Lynda's time on the singletrack section at the end of day 3 in TransRockies. That was one of her favorite moments in the event. Leading to that section was a stretch where, in her words, "we pinned it for the next 58 km to keep the lead to the finish." That is really an understatement. There were a bunch of rolling roads, some dirt, some paved. Since we knew a long day could be really good for us, I wasn't about to let up on this section. One particular part of this was 20km of slightly uphill dirt, it was hot, and there was a slight tailwind. There was no draft, there was no hint of relief from the heat, our heads were baking, yet I pushed on in silence. I knew Lynda was working really hard - but she dug deep and didn't complain. We passed strong men's teams in this section. We had been racing for close to 6 hours at this point. This big effort set the stage for lots of euphoria in that singletrack descent.
Fast forward to day 7. The previous 3 days had seen lots of difficult racing, and I'm sure I lost a pint of blood each day "bleeding through my eyeballs." On day 4 my energy levels were all over the map, day 5 I stacked it at speed on a bridge, and day 6 was the epic hike a bike day where a bad bought of tendonitis in my elbow made each lift of the bike excrutiating (and sometimes impossible). I was racing to the hilt, and feeling the effects. Sam Koerber of the 2nd placed GC team who won on day 6 was feeling strong and confident going into the final stage. We shared some good ol' fashioned rivalry on the podium and at dinner that night.
Lynda had already set her sights on this stage when she learned of its inverted "v" profile. It was a climbers delight, and since she set her sights on it, well I did the same. We always like to finish strong and this stage was perfect for us.
We didn't have to drill it. Going into day 7 we had a 42 min GC lead, and nothing short of us stopping for a picnic could have taken the overall from us on a short non-technical stage. But that wouldn't have settled quite right. You know how what's his name always had to drill the final TT in that French race 7 years running...I felt the same. Sam added to the motivation.
From the start we were flying. Everyone was. It was a mad dash to finish this brutal event. Everyone had fresh legs all of a sudden. As the climbing began, we were pinned, but we wouldn't back off. An hour later, we were still pinned - but as the climb steepened, we were getting stronger, not weaker. Lynda and I were riding as one, it seemed as though the week of riding had brought us to identical fitness levels. We had strong competition too - Hillary and Ryan were rocking the climb. When we took the lead for good, we laid it all down. Everything. Absolute. We were flying! Lynda was unstoppable, I was unstoppable. Heading up the final pitch to Paradise divide, I jumped up a few gears and got out of the saddle. All pain was gone, PE low. Abruptly, the summit was ours and spread out before us was a view to die for. 10,000' peaks freshly dusted with snow jutting up from the clouds *beneath* us. Absolutely breathtaking - and in fact, I couldn't breathe. With the sudden change from climbing to descending, full effort to coasting - asthma hit me sharp and hard. Next was a round of puking - and I've never ridden so hard to bring this reaction. Yep, it wasn't pretty - I had a jellyfish over my face too with a mucus explosion. What a mess. I don't think I had ever pushed that hard for that long before. But the real kicker was the tears. They were rolling down my face like the rains of the previous days. The beauty of it all, the harmony of teamwork, the absolute effort, the realization of a long term goal achieved - it had all hit me in an instant up there at the top of Paradise. I could barely see to negotiate the fast descent to the finish.
Rather personal, and I may kick myself for sharing this some time later. But I think it's important for anyone interested enough to read this. A question often asked by both endurance athletes and those confounded by our actions is "why?" I ask myself this from time to time. Up at the top of Paradise ridge, I had my answer. I may never need to ask myself why I do this again.