When Steve and I first moved from Aspen to Boulder almost two years ago, I was still learning how to mountain bike. For our first ride in Boulder, I picked Walker Ranch based off of trail descriptions I read on the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance website. I had no real concept of what an “advanced” trail rating or what the word “technical” meant at the time, both of which were used to describe Walker…
Some background. The Walker Ranch trailhead is about a 20-minute drive from town up Flagstaff Road, a winding two-lane mountain road that I would come to know as an iconic Boulder climb for cyclists. However, most people on a day to day basis just do the 3.5-mile, ~1000 foot climb to Flagstaff Amphitheatre. The more hardcore guys will from time to time do a ride called “Super Flag” that goes 2 more miles to a set of mailboxes and kicks up in terms of grade and switchbacks… well, the Walker Trailhead is another couple miles past the Super Flag mailboxes. All told, from my house you would ride 11 miles and climb 2600 feet…and that’s just to get to the start of a technical 7.5 mile singletrack loop that descends to the bottom of a canyon (Boulder Creek) and then climbs about 1800 feet back up, all while navigating big rock gardens, some tight switchbacks and a long hike-a-bike section up a steep set of stairs.
Needless to say Steve and I drove up to the trailhead. On our way up, we passed a guy on a mountain bike RIDING up Flagstaff Road. This was crazy, most people find the climb tough enough on a road bike. By the time we got the bikes out of the car and set up, he was already up there too, chilling by the start of the trail getting ready to ride.
In our first week in Boulder, Steve and I were quickly becoming accustomed to seeing “Those Crazy Boulder People” everywhere we went. Whatever we were doing, they would be doing it faster and gnarlier than we were. If we were hiking up a steep trail huffing and puffing, someone was running it past us. If we were falling off the easy routes at the bouldering gym some kid was hanging upside down next to us. So of course if we were driving up Flagstaff, some guy was riding his bike, and not just any bike but a heavy mountain bike, up the same road…and beating us to the trail! These were “those crazy Boulder people”.
This guy was a classic Crazy Boulder Guy and as with all of them meeting him was simultaneously awe-inspiring and depressing. He was friendly though, advising us to go “clockwise because that’s the fun way” before he took off. We watched him go, and Steve turned to me. “Man, I can’t wait until we’re that guy one day. I feel like living here, we’ll become like that too.”
The strugglefest that followed in the next 3.5 hours basically to me absolved any possibility that we would one day be anywhere CLOSE to the level of this absolute monster that had just gone before us. Yes, it took us 3.5 hours to ride that 7.5 mile loop! It was horrible. There was walking, cursing, and melting down (I’ll own up to that last one). It was such an ordeal I did not go back to Walker again for almost a year. For a long time, I could barely conceive of how anyone could even ride that trail, but also do it after RIDING UP THERE from town.
Fast forward almost two years, and I’m a very different woman on the bike and off. (It’s also a different bike). Since that long painful afternoon at Walker there were more exposures to even more “crazy Boulder people” particularly at my job working in endurance sports. There was a period of discouragement and then there was my learning that I just needed to build a bridge and get over it, because there would always be someone more hardcore, faster, who had been doing this stuff for longer. I couldn’t stop riding bikes and working out just because it seemed like everyone was faster than me.
I got back on the wagon (and the bike) and the adventures grew bigger in magnitude, and with each feat we accomplished I grew more confident and strong. This year I told myself I would try racing, and I started training in earnest. I found myself feeling the same confidence with riding with others that I used to feel on the snowboard or skis. I was starting to feel like I could hang. I started thinking, maybe it was time…maybe I was ready for Super Walker.
A couple days ago I went for a long mountain bike ride with my friend Scot. We rode up Flagstaff Road, past the amphitheatre, past the mailboxes. On the way up we were passed by road cyclists who gave us nods of respect as they glanced down at our fat tires. We passed a guy sitting on the railing next to his mountain bike, panting for air. “This is not for humans,” he gasped. “You’re almost past the hardest part,” Scot encouraged him. “You can definitely do this.”
We rode to the trailhead and by then the rain was coming in. We put on our rain jackets and soldiered on, and I kept up with Scot without a problem. We did the loop in a little over an hour with some long breaks for chatting. As I came down Flagstaff Road, I knew I had more juice in my legs. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I did it, I did Super Walker. I’m now one of those Crazy Boulder People, and of the many random titles I may have in my life, this is one of the ones I’m proudest of.