It’s not easy to define the word “adventure.”
As I pedaled my mountain bike up 3,000 feet over 12 miles during my recent trip to Colorado – legs and lungs yearning for a quiet vacation on a tropical beach – I wrestled with my own definition.
When I was screaming down the backside of the mountain – dropping 3,000 feet in 5 miles – I had a pretty good grasp on what I thought an adventure might be.
When you aren’t 100 percent sure what’s coming around the next corner, whether that’s on the side of a mountain or walking down a strange street, you are in the midst of an adventure.
If you apply that definition to my 100-mile bike ride in Colorado, I experienced the adventure of a lifetime.
Here’s the breakdown: Along with a good buddy of mine from TCU, I rode approximately 100 miles over four days through the mountains of the Centennial State. (Once again, that’s Colorado for those not familiar with obscure state mottos.) It was a hut-to-hut ride that was highlighted by single-track excursions, nasty climbs, and “hold-on-to-your-hat” descents.
We topped out at 9,300 feet. We battled sand, wind, and altitude. There was a little blood, a lot of sweat, and maybe one tear when the adventure was finally over.
I kept a crude journal that helped keep the adventure in perspective.
After the first day of riding, I wrote, “Adventure…challenge…pushing your own physical limits.”
If I only knew what the next three days entailed. (I should have had an idea – before the adventure started, I had to fill out a search and rescue permit just in case they had to air-lift my mangled body off the mountain.)
I took a couple of spills my first day on the bike – hence the blood. I was acclimating myself with the climbs and new pair of cleated shoes. (For all of my non-bike-riding friends…imagine having your foot duct taped to the pedal of a bike. Now, when you’re in the wrong gear on the side of a mountain – which literally keeps your pedals from moving – you have to separate your taped foot from the pedal in order to catch yourself. If you don’t you bust your tail.)
Five miles into the ride, I didn’t get my foot separated a couple of times and I honestly thought filling out my search and rescue permit was the smartest thing I had done all morning. (I wish I could say that these “wipe-outs” were worthy of the highlight reel, but I was just falling over.)
As the day progressed, I got more comfortable and finished extremely strong – a 1.5-mile climb described in our directions as “nastiness.” The altitude tested my intestinal fortitude, but I made it to the first hut in one piece.
All part of the adventure.
I was loving it!
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At the start of Day No. 2, I was extremely confident. At the end of the day, I wrote the following phrase in my journal, “Hell came early!”
I was introduced to “hike-a-bike,” which is a stretch of the trail that is un-rideable. You literally have to get off your bike and push it. My first “hike-a-bike” was half a mile, straight up the side of a canyon. (If I failed to mention the rocky terrain, you would miss some of the color from the experience.)
Other highlights from Day 2: By our own stupidity, we got a little lost. It wouldn’t have been too bad if it weren’t for the poison ivy and the fact we generated our own “hike-a-bike.” We probably took a 3.5-mile detour, with half of it off of our bikes, through the poison ivy capital of Colorado.
(Needless to say, I was anticipating a trip to the 24-hour clinic after the ride. At this point of the trip it would have entailed stitches and a steroid shot to combat the poison ivy.)
As you read this on your computer – the air conditioning sending cold chills down your spine from time to time – this might not sound like fun.
I was having the time of my life.
I was pushing my body harder and longer than I ever thought possible; I was in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in the world, and I didn’t know what was going to be thrown at me next – a true adventure!
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Day No. 3: Best riding of the trip, by far – that was with a ¾-mile “hike-a-bike.” (Please re-read the previous “hike-a-bike” paragraph and add another quarter mile of hell.) The third day was mostly single-track and a lot of rolling terrain.
Besides getting a lot more confident and aggressive with my riding, I learned a couple of lessons – trust your instincts and live in the moment. The “trust your instinct” lesson was from another minor detour and the “live in the moment” lesson was generated by the 6-mile descent to the hut. (I had to do everything in my power to not think about riding the same 6 miles uphill the very next morning.)
One of the highlights of the day was when I bathed naked in an irrigation stream after the ride. (It was my first bath/shower in 48 hours. That is the only reason I mention it.)
That night, my buddy and I sat on the porch of the hut (clothes back on) watching the sun race behind one of the canyon walls. That’s when I started to get philosophical. I started thinking about my life – specifically where I’d been, where I am now, and mostly about where I’m going. I think the endorphins from the ride – plus the cold water from the irrigation stream – gave my brain a jump-start.
With my mind going 100 mph, it was hard to fall asleep that night.
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Day No. 4: “I wish I had gotten a better night’s sleep!”
This was the 3,000-foot climb in 12 miles. It was a little more extreme than that, because during that 12-mile stretch, we went downhill for the most parts of mile seven, eight, and nine.
Once we started up for good, I referred to it as the “NeverEnding Incline.” (If you sing that with the tune from the movie “The NeverEnding Story,” it makes the time go by faster.)
As mentioned before, it was a grind going up, but we were shot out of a gun on the way down – 3,000 feet in 5 miles. As I raced down into the canyon, my main focus was the extreme drop-off within arm’s reach, but I also thought about how to make everyone understand this part of the adventure.
Three thousand feet in 5 miles: Take two Sears Towers and stack them on top of each other, connect approximately 25 of those old-school metal slides together – some long, some short, and some curved. Then pour gravel, sand, and dirt from 500 dump trucks down those slides.
Now, it’s time to balance on two wheels and point those handle bars towards the bottom.
The instructions we were given read, “Have fun, be careful, and hang on to your hat.”
We finished Day 4 at the Gateway Resort, where a hot shower, a real bed, and a decent dinner was waiting for us. (The dinner aspect would have been a lot more extreme if we hadn’t eaten so well on the trip…brats the first night, BBQ chicken on Day 2, and cheese burgers in Hut No. 3.)
Reacquainting ourselves with world news – especially Sportcenter – was huge as well.
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Day No. 5: We were done. We had the option of a different kind of adventure on the fifth day – kayaking, tubing, white-water rafting – but exhaustion had crept in during the night. The real bed, ESPN, and our looming journey back home kept us close to our bungalow. We had a great breakfast before we were shuttled back to our cars.
As I drove down the highway out of Fruita, the small Colorado town where the adventure started, I could see the mountains and canyons we had just conquered.
A sense of pride and fulfillment overtook me.
Was it the hardest thing I had ever done? No…the marathon still holds that distinction.
Was it the most exciting thing I had ever accomplished? No…loading everything up and moving to Oregon for a year packed a lot more excitement.
I wasn’t chased by a bear or mountain lion. I didn’t swim a raging river that was miraculously infested by piranhas. I wasn’t forced to battle a forest fire with nothing more than my water bottles.
It was still an adventure, though. One I will never forget.
I boldly did something I never thought of doing, and I quenched my passion for something new and different.
The only remaining question: What’s next?
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Epilogue: There is not a doubt in my mind that my current adventure – e-Partners in Giving – is going to make my other adventurous endeavors (this bike ride, moving to Oregon, running marathons, coaching football, etc.) look like trips to a petting zoo.
As I re-read the final segment of my "column," I couldn't help but smile.
I can't wait until I can re-write these words in regards to e-Partners, "As I drove down the highway...I could see the mountains and canyons we had just conquered. A sense of pride and fulfillment overtook me...I boldly did something I never thought of doing, and I quenched my passion for something new and different."