Day 3 started out after waking from a decent sleep at the Hideout Camp.
After our very looooooong day two, Chris was resolute in getting us up, moving, and on the road early. After all, our goal was ultimately Moab, then a drive back to Fruita, then a drive back to Denver. Day 3 would only be half over by the time the 49 miles of riding concluded.
Day 3 will forever be known as The Day of Layers, No Layers, Layers, No Layers.
The guidebook calls this first section "amazing" and "what a long climb should be."
I'd have to agree.
Even with as much as I decided I NEVER wanted to climb again after day 2, I really enjoyed this one.
We all tentatively mounted the bikes after a delicious oatmeal and hot chocolate breakfast and immediately set out climbing. From the first pedal my right knee screamed out to stop climbing, but after some Advil and warming it up, it improved enough to keep ignoring it.
The best part about day 3 was that we started down in a valley, then we climbed a fairly gradual and smooth climb (albeit "17 miles of pure uphill"), and then suddenly we were in those mountains that had appeared so far away the first two days. Also, even though we'd taken a few stopping breaks in the beginning to strip off layers, our mantra for the day was to "keep moving forward." Basically, any time we'd need a rest, it was totally ok to get off the bike, but we had to keep pushing it in a forward direction at all times. Because of this, we were making awesome time. Because we were making awesome time, Chris was downright giddy. On North Beaver Mesa, as we passed the "Welcome to Manti Lasal National Forest" sign, I thought Chris would fall of his bike with excitement. We even stopped to take a picture:
We continued climbing, chatting, laughing, and enjoying the change from desert to alpine terrain. Soon the air cooled enough to put a few of the layers back on (including my new bubble gum pink arm warmers from my sister!).
Chris and I had some great talks on this first big climb of the day. He was trying to keep my mind off the whole *climbing* thing, and we were pretty isolated as B&N had hauled up the road (Nicolette was rocking the climbing on day 3!). We talked about everything from jobs, life, and future children to favorite I Love Lucy episodes. A few times I would take a break to eat, and Chris would sweetly push my bike as I tore open another PB&Chocolate granola bar. No matter what, we kept moving.
Soon we came across upper Fisher Creek. The view was stunning! We stopped to regroup and put another layer of jackets on, as the wind had become fairly fierce and the air quite a bit cooler (it was hard to believe that we'd ridden from waaaaaaaaaaaay down in that valley).
After taking in the view for a few minutes, we continued a bit more up the climb. The boys went up ahead and Nicolette and I followed at our own pace. We chatted for a little while as we watched the road twist around and the boys quickly leaving us behind. At this point I had arm warmers and my rain jacket on, and I was starting to bake. I told Nicolette to go ahead, and I pealed off the layers again and ate a few goldfish. Soon, I saw my group chugging up the climb, and I was in the back enjoying the scenery by myself. It was really a beautiful day, and although I knew there'd be more climbing to come before the end, I also knew this particular climb was almost over.
4 hours after starting Day 3, we reached the true summit of the trip and of this particular climb. The boys and Nicolette were already sitting on the side of the road waiting for me, and at least once I heard Chris's voice cheer for me and echo through the canyon. I've never checked to see if he really actually did that, or if it was the hallucinations starting again, but either way it motivated my legs to move a bit faster and soon I was sitting with them stuffing my face with pringles, carrots, and jerkey (aka: The Gut Bomb).
Soon we got cold and I, once again, put on my rain layer, and we headed down a big descent towards Castle Valley. The descent was fun, although tainted, as I knew we'd reached the summit of our trip, but still had another 1600+ vertical feet left to climb for the day. That means that whatever we went down, we'd have to climb up almost as much on the other side. Hard to enjoy a descent when you know that!
Chris had tried to make us feel better, prior to this last paved climb, saying things like "It's paved, so it's easy" and "It's similar to riding up lookout, and you have done that in only a little over a half-hour." He was being sweet, but deceitful. Later he pointed out that he didn't really want to tell us how crappy the climb is, because then we'd get discouraged from the start. That was a good choice.
Ok, so the climb is paved. Good.
It is not super steep. True.
It's *only* a five mile climb. True (and compared to the 17 mile dirt climb we'd already done, it could only be a piece of cake, right?).
The only part I don't think any of us really expected was the massive headwind/crosswind that we would fight the ENTIRE way up the climb. A few times it blew so hard it knocked Chris and I both a solid few feet to the right. The wind was the worst part of the climb. Without the wind, I can see this climb being annoying, but not tear-inducing. Instead, it was tear-inducing for sure.
Chris not only played sherpa on this trip, he also played motivational speaker, life coach, and psychiatrist. This stinking climb was the only point in the trip that I truly thought I wouldn't make it to Moab. We were soooooooo close, yet each gust of wind seemed to want to keep me from getting there. We walked a ridiculous amount considering the fact that it was a paved climb (and stripped layer after layer off), but I luckily had the most wonderful man in the world with me and he kept redirecting me in a positive direction.
I had a few talks with The Man Upstairs about this wind in my head, but it kept gusting harder and harder. ONCE, and only once, the road turned in such a way that this massive wind turned into a massive tail wind. This is my best THANK GOD face, as captured by Chris:
After several false summits and several very frustrated, angry sounds from me, we FINALLY reached the top of this climb. It was windy, and cold. We put more layers back on (including, for me, a light wool cap to keep my head warm). From here, at the top of the Upper Connector, Chris called Saint Fred to give him an ETA for our group to make it to Moab.
Vitamin I: The candy of champions
Soon, we pointed down and "zipped" the final 16 or 17 miles back to Moab.
The Upper Connector trail was not fun. Everyone seems to think it's fun. I don't think I would've found it fun even if I were fresh. With basically nothing left in the suitcase of courage, suitcase of fitness, or suitcase of mental stability, I merely found it to be a cruel joke. It is a short section. But rutted, and rocky, and technical. I got cranky and probably snapped at Chris when it wasn't necessary.
Luckily for both of us, the descent soon turned to a grated road that flew down to Moab. At this point I launched my front bag that had my sleeping pad and down coat in it, so I had to retrieve it, shove the straps in my pocket, and the bag in my backpack and catch back up. Chris soon turned around to make sure I didn't fall, but alas, I was back in business.
We all rode as a group through the last few twists and turns down to the Slickrock parking lot, but the group was silent. I think we were all stunned that we'd actually made it. I was too tired to get emotional which surprised me. I was mostly focused on how dramatically the weather had now changed dropping down into town, and I wanted my rain jacket, knee warmers, arm warmers, and wool hat off of me as fast as humanly possible. I didn't think Chris got a picture of this, but luckily he did. At this point, I had the knee warmers sagging in a very unattractive fashion, my arm warmers pulled down around my wrists, my jacket pulled up around my arms. I was a mess and didn't care.
We cruised past Slickrock parking lot, and went on into Moab. We stopped to strip off the layers and got to take this picture with self-timer on a mail box.
From here we headed straight for the Wendy's where Saint Fred would pick us up. Chris, B&N stood in the longest and slowest line ever in the history of Wendy's, while I managed to find a booth and promptly fall asleep. At some point Saint Fred must've gotten there, and eventually those four came to me with food and a nice, icy cold Sprite (which I had craved the whole trip).
We finished eating, sharing stories (as Fred is one of the maniacs who does this sort of crazy thing in a day), and then we headed to the parking lot to load into Fred's van. Fred lives in Moab, and graciously offered to shuttle us from Moab back to Fruita where our car was waiting for us. He is an awesome guy and is another example of the wonderful human beings we have met being part of the cycling community.
The parking lot is where I found a curb, sat there, and would've happily been run over had a car chosen to try to do so. There would be no quick movements from me. Chris found my state cute, pathetic, and humorous. By the way, this smile took every last bit of energy left in my system (notice the coat on AGAIN, the Wendy's was freeeeezing and my body had given up on any sort of temperature self-regulation):
Within five minutes, according to Chris and Fred, this is what the backseat of the van looked like:
In a few hours we would see our cars again (WOHOO). Chris and I would stop for snickers and snow-cone in Fruita and then head home. We would also stop at Qdoba. We wouldn't get home until about midnight.
One LONG shower later, I was in my bed.
I woke up 12 hours later in the exact same position that I went to sleep in. The sheets and comforter on our bed looked like they had just been freshly made.
Somehow we survived what can only be called the hardest physical and mental adventure of my life.
But don't worry, the story is not yet over, the aftershocks are coming...