The Road to Leadville | by Casey Hague
“No straight lines make up my life; And all my roads have bends; There’s no clear-cut beginning; And so far no dead-ends.” – Harry Chapin
The Prologue: The road to Leadville thus far has been anything but what I had imagined it would be, and to be completely honest the last few months of my life have at times felt more like a roller coaster than a road. In the time between entering the race lottery to sitting here a few nights before making the trip out west I have enrolled in online courses, taken my state exam, received my license, and started a new career working in Real Estate. In short, this year has been better, more fulfilling, fun, challenging, and harder than I could’ve ever expected. Inevitably my training has been pushed to the back burner more than I care to admit, and not just due to work, there has been more than a few times where I simply lacked the motivation. But that’s life, isn’t it? Sometimes life just gets in the way, and sometimes when we think we have things planned out the most the road takes a turn we didn’t see coming. I guess what I’m trying to say is that at times life is just about showing up at the start line no matter the circumstances. Sure life will always be there with a curve ball or two, you just can’t let that keep you from showing up. So come August 11th, I can guarantee I won’t be in the best shape and I won’t be the most prepared, but I will definitely show up and give it what I got. Yes it will hurt, probably a lot, but I’ve done more with less and so far there’s been no dead-ends.
The Race: There’s something to be said about not having a plan sometimes. It can either be very liberating or extremely nerve racking, and I think in the end it comes down to your mentality about it. Even the race founder, Ken Chlouber, touched on this in the riders meeting just a short 24 hours before race day. He had quoted the great Mike Tyson in his pre-race speech by saying, “Every man has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth, and I guarantee this race will punch you in the mouth tomorrow.” Now these may have been daunting words as I sat there with a meager 1,600 miles of riding this season. But as I laid down for bed that night with my forever hopeful, shoot from the hip, live for today mindset, I thought to myself “ha jokes on them, I don’t even have a plan.” Well 4am came real quickly that morning and Mike Ortega and I were up before dawn scrambling to get ready for the 6:30 start. With the temp being a balmy 39 degrees that morning, I decided arm warmers were a must! The funny thing is, that as I went to pull them over the fresh layer of sunscreen I had applied for later, my hand slipped and I of course, at that point, proceeded to punch myself squarely in the mouth! Yes, a full two hours before the race start and just 30 minutes into the day I had already been punched in the mouth as I had been promised. Again with my forever forward attitude I thought “well, I’m glad that’s out of the way.” Oh how wrong I would be! But it’s with that attitude I took to the line and never have I raced with such a clear, settled, and worry free mind. Typically I do pretty well at pushing a lot of doubt away and only worry about the things I can control, usually this involves getting to the start line with a healthy well fed body and a clean working bicycle. Leadville was different though, I knew deep down it was going to be the biggest and toughest race I had ever lined up for, but that never crept in. I focused on my love of racing, my excitement of just being there, and ultimately my eagerness to get started. And for the first 46 miles I had the race of my life. There were big climbs, fast downhills, and more people than I could imagine. Rolling through the first few aid stations and finally seeing Mark and the crew at the 46 mile point, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. From there Mike and I had re-grouped and set out to tackle the infamous Columbine climb, an 8 mile climb starting around 9.5k feet and ending with an elevation above 12.5k feet. The in between is 3,000+ feet of climbing rock and gravel with an average gradient of 8% and max of 24%. For those of you that might not know what those numbers mean, it’s exactly what you think it is… a big, steep, nasty hill! This climb would be the second time I was punched in the mouth that day, and it definitely hurt a lot more than the first. About a mile from the summit the lights started dimming and I found myself bonking badly at the top. Anyone will tell you the more time you spend at elevation the worse you will feel, however managing the extremely technical decent in my condition didn’t seem possible. After spending the better part of 15 minutes at the aid station I decided to get to lower elevation in hopes that my body would recover. It was apparent at the bottom that the damage was already done though, my time at the summit had left me with a touch of altitude sickness. I had a splitting headache and felt very nauseous. From there I pushed on and did what I could, I had a lot of trouble eating and my legs felt the effects of the hard efforts I had put in during the first 50 miles.
The Conclusion: In short I struggled all the way to the end. It took longer than I hoped. But I finished, and I got my buckle! Those are two things I’m pretty proud of. For me this race had always been sort of a bucket list goal and I had finally finished it. I still remember watching the 2009 “Race Across The Sky” movie at a buddies’ house ; this was even before I had ever rode mountain bikes. That year Dave Weins and Lance Armstrong battled on the very same course I had just rode. The only thing I kept thinking back then was that someday I hoped to find myself at that start line and to earn myself one of those coveted belt buckles. From that day until now, I didn’t know if I would ever have what it would take to finish such a race, but it’s been a long and crazy road since that day. Not only has riding bikes brought me an abundance of good friends and so many new experiences, but it has taught me a lot about myself and life in general. It’s what finally made me feel capable this December and with that I decided to enter the lottery, my hopes were honestly to get in within the next five years. But again that’s not life, and low and behold this year would be my year. Yes things didn’t exactly go as planned this year, some for the good, and others not so much, but that still never once change my excitement and eagerness to toe that line. Truly this is what I’m most proud of, not my a buckle, not my determination, not even my finish. There will always be things you should’ve done, always something you forgot to consider, always a reason why condition won’t be perfect. The one guaranteed thing is that your road will have some bends, you just can’t let those be dead-ends, because sometimes showing up and giving it what you can is more than enough.
Special Thanks to the entire RE/MAX Team, along with my friends and family for the well wishes. To Mark and Amy Deering for their constant hospitality and support on and off the trail. Chip, Amberlee, Dave, and Diry for their encouragement and race support. Lastly, Mike Ortega for taking on such an event with me and the support/motivation throughout, congrats on the finish buddy!