When we crossed the Colorado border, I was curled up in the fetal position on the bed. It was nearing midnight, and Adam had been driving for the better part of the day. About Kansas, I had started to feel sick, like that pre-flu-achey-type that makes you feel useless, the world numb. Chills, sweats, fatigue. I could hardly stay awake behind the wheel for 20 minutes. Convenient timing for a halfway-across-the-country roadtrip.
And so, Adam drove, his eyelids heavy from the 15+ hours he’d already driven. I took the wheel and slogged the last hour into Boulder, the least I could do, before pulling into a Safeway parking lot. It took every shard of energy I could muster to stumble back to the bed and collapse.
When we awoke the next morning, the realization sunk in.
We made it.
In the distance, the Flatiron Mountains rose sharply toward the sky, their craggy faces peaking faintly through the early morning clouds. The Safeway parking lot looked magical, ethereal even, as the sun sparkled down on its blacktop.
I had only been to Colorado once before, and Adam never.
Toto, I have a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore, came Dorothy Gale’s voice from the recesses of my mind.
“Whoa,” was about all I could say.
Were it not for the stomach virus I battled over the next few days, the reality of our new surroundings might have felt more novel than “whoa.” But on Thursday night, our rig heading westward, I finally felt the sparkle of the unknown rekindle my flame of wonder.
From Boulder to Grand Junction takes a little over four hours, so instead of getting up early to drive, we decided to drive late. Adam slept soundly in the back. I fiddled with the radio, landing on a staticy station playing Mexican corridos, and settled in.
Soon, the lighted streets of Boulder faded into clear darkness. It was just me, the wheel, and the moonlit road before me. Mountains emerged out of the shadow of I-70, their snow-capped peaks glistening in the moonlight. I felt swamped in their grandeur. My coworkers in Boulder had deterred us from driving at night, more for the lack of views than anything. But each and every ridgeline was perfectly silhouetted in a silvery sheen, the scree fields and saddles and valleys below. I could see everything.
After a weekend of working the Grand Junction Off-Road, we headed 20 minutes out of town to the cycling mecca of Fruita. That Sunday marked the first day I had felt any significant signs of improvement, and I was eager to see Colorado from a trail and not a road.
We pulled into the BLM camping in North Fruita Desert and immediately knew we were somewhere special. Mesas and cliff faces of red and gold sprang to life from the barren sandy plains. The wind howled, sending swirling tornadoes of sand across our campsite.
Within the hour, I was sweating, huffing my way up Prime Cut, thinking very little of those same impressive mounds of earth around me. My throat cracked from thirst. I felt weak and wobbly, unsure of myself despite the practically smooth, well-graded trail. Adam was waiting at the top of the climb, grinning from ear to ear.
“Would you look at this place?!” he exclaimed, howling into the wind.
“It’s beautiful,” I gasped between sips of water.
In truth, I was so consumed with thinking about how much I suck at mountain biking that the beauty of the desert hardly fazed me. I couldn’t shake it, this negativity, no matter how hard I tried to reason with myself. Every time I had to hike-a-bike was like a walk of shame. I was starting to feel defeated.
Then, the already-gradual climb leveled out. We whirled around berm after berm, picking up speed as we wove between pockets of sagebrush and juniper trees. Up and down, up and down, hugging hillsides and dropping into steep culverts. Was this a trail or a roller coaster?
“Yeeeeeeewwwww,” I yelled, surprising myself. Now this is fun.
I could faintly make out Adam’s yellow pack up ahead, bobbing along as he, too, rolled up and over down the trail.
Suddenly, my front tire skidded. A rabbit darted across the trail in front of me. I braked, looking over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of its tail diving into the thicket. In that second, I shifted my handlebars with my gaze. By the time I whirled around, I knew I was in trouble. Too late to correct.
Smack. My wheel crunched into the trail and pitched me forward, my right shoulder and jaw landing first. I imagine I must have looked like a cartoon character sliding across the ground, face-first, legs up over her head. When the dust around me settled, I slowly righted myself, careful to avoid hitting the raw underside of my forearm. I could feel the gritty dirt in my teeth, caking my tongue and throat. My head was throbbing. I started laughing hysterically.
“Jessie are you okay!?” Adam ran down the hill toward me. When he saw that I was laughing, the concern in his brow relaxed. I, on the other hand, couldn’t tell if I was laughing or sobbing. Whatever it was, it was uncontrollable. For the most part, nothing hurt. I hadn’t broken anything. My bike was fine.
I took a few deep breaths and stood up, walking my bike to the top of the hill.
Adam said something to the effect of “Dude, all I saw was your rear wheel…” but his words fell on deaf ears. I was dizzy. My head, heavy.
“I think I need to sit down,” I mumbled, buckling at the knees and sinking to the ground. I then proceeded to hyperventilate, which I’ve never done before, so I didn’t know I was doing it until Adam said “Breathe,” and I couldn’t.
15 minutes later, the chest spasms had passed. I was starting to breathe normally again, though my head felt foggy. Cautiously, we set off toward our campsite, Adam cruising behind with a watchful eye.
When I returned to camp, I had a hard time laughing off the fall. First a stomach virus, now this?
What gives? I thought.
But as the sun eased past the horizon and the moon rose, lighting up the mesas, I thought back to my drive from Boulder and the sense of wonder those snow-capped peaks fueled in me. I had come west to explore unknown (to me) places, experience new things. Of course I would be pushing myself in the process.
There’s that saying, ‘If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.’ Going westward, getting a stomach virus, and flying otb, I’ve never done any of those things before. Perhaps this is just the start.
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