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Photos by Dan Sharp
Thoughts on Altitude from Rapha Continental riders Joe Staples, James Selman, Steve Francisco and Ben Lieberson during their week-long assault on Colorado during Ride the Rockies.
Asthma is an easy thing to explain, it feels like your chest is breathing through a straw. The effects of altitude are not so easy to describe, but far easier to experience.
Step 1: Live at sea level.
Step 2: Fly to Colorado to Ride the Rockies.
Step 3: Suffer.
I was climbing and feeling good, some sections I was even riding with my mouth closed no problem [my signifier for "cruising"] but above about 9,000ft weird things started happening. Actually weird stuff started happening about three miles earlier when we rode past Alison Dunlap and then Bob Stapleton, but that's another story and has nothing to do with thin air. I digress.
So, James and I are cruising the climb when I feel like a part of my helmet is sticking into my head. To the kind people at Specialized… It wasn't.
This dull pain in my skull got worse the higher we climbed. A mile or two further up the climb the edges of my vision started to blur. It felt scary and really amazing. It's a very surreal feeling to have your world start to turn in on itself, to the guys filming in the car I'm sure I looked like a wild man. I couldn't speak very well, or at least I didn't have any inclination to. I just wanted to keep doing this thing I was doing. To say it was spiritual will sound pompous, but you know what I mean.
James rode with me for the next 2000ft, making sure I didn't really hurt myself.
My initiation with Altitude came in 1991 on a continental road trip drive from Penland, North Carolina to California. The morning after the one long day from St. Louis (0') to Independence Pass, Colorado (11,000' +) in less than 12 hours gave me the most incredible migraine and the most respect for how the body responds to thin air. Since that day, now 20 years on, and coming back to Colorado almost every year, I fully believe in ultimate hydration and staying within limits, adjusting as the days progress. I have to be honest, these little things have made me feel pretty good this trip so far. I am more hurt from lack of fitness than anything else, but enjoying being back in the "true" mountains. I'm hopeful rest and 10,000 feet tomorrow with three passes will give more perspective.
This is my first ride at real altitude for any sustained period of time. Sunday's ride through the Colorado Monument wasn't a very difficult climb - but I could feel the elevation in my breathing. On Monday's ride over the Grand Mesa - I felt like I had acclimated fairly well - and only felt a few spells of light headedness toward the top, while reaching down for my bidden. I had a laugh with Ben, when I swerved and almost took him down. We were both like "whoa man, we better take it down a notch!" So far so good - but tomorrow is another day - and I'm sure the evil demons that live up in this thin air can sneak up on you at any moment.
Altitude is a bad mother@*#$%!.. Go a bit too hard, too deep and there it is, waiting to clip your wings and send you spiraling down into a dizzy head spin. Fitness is only so good at seven-thousand plus feet. Another side effect is sleep. Or the lack of deep meaningful sleep. I have spent the first few nights slipping in and out of that much needed place.This has also been complicated by the rather interesting dreams that I have had when I have slipped into the darkness. More dizzying heights tomorrow, hope the body starts to adjust.
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