Lee at the USGP in Fort Collins last year. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman

Lee at the USGP in Fort Collins last year. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman and Mountain Moon Photography

Well, it’s finally happened!  It was inevitable although it took quite a while.  I’ve been completely transformed from a died-in-the-wool roadie to an irrevocably addicted off-road rider.  I no longer crave hours of asphalt, instead I wake up in the morning thinking about single-track climbs and rhythmic swooping descents.

The problem is that the weather recently has been completely uncooperative. Since the first of July, the weather in Colorado has been more or less what I imagine it’s like living in the Northwest.  It has rained every day. Not some piddly little afternoon shower either but lawn-drenching-flower-bending-street-swamping rain. We’re talking inches here!  I’m a Colorado boy, born and raised here. When I was younger, I remember afternoon rainstorms. They’d  cool off the streets, tamp down the dust and make it bearable, even fun to splash through the gutters barefoot. When I was old enough to drive, it would be the kind of rain where you wanted to roll down the windows and inhale deeply to give your lungs a break from the searing air you’d  been breathing all afternoon. Every once in a while, we’d get a true gully washer but what we’ve experienced the last week or so has been, for a semi-arid climate, is true monsoon-type weather.

And the end result hasn’t been pretty. I’ve not been on my ’cross bike or my mountain bike for almost ten days! I’m suffering withdrawal;  truly.  I find myself daydreaming about mountain bike rides. The other day I rode by the cyclocross course that I’ve so lovingly and regularly maintained through the early part of the summer. I was almost afraid to look at it.  I’ve tried so hard to keep the growth under control, sweating behind a 21 inch mower, and it has now sprung back up, undoing all of my efforts since late-May. Now the rains have threatened to ruin all of my efforts.

And, I’ve been relegated to riding my road bike. It sounds strange: I know that I’m complaining about training on a beautiful sub-16 pound carbon road bike but … I guess I am.  I almost feel guilty saying it out loud.  It’s like cheating on a lover.  Sneaking around behind her back, meeting surepticiously to avoid getting caught.  Making excuses.  But the reality is, I’ve moved on in many ways.

I used to fit in my mountain bike rides around my road training schedule. These days, I find myself doing exactly the opposite.  Instead of grabbing the road bike first when I get ready to go training, I look to the mountain bike and the ’cross bike, and then finally to the road bike. When I look at my weekly training schedule I immediately think about how I can make the efforts fit into off-road rides.  My intervals and my tempo rides become efforts on the ’cross course or the single track as often as on the road. And for some strange reason they seem to be easier when they take place on dirt. There’s just something about the way it feels to ride off-road that’s become an addiction.

I look forward to the carefully parsed out effort that it takes me to keep my rear wheel fully engaged, not slipping, on a steep, rocky single track climb.  I find myself pushing just a bit further into every corner just to see if I can make the rear wheel break loose and then recover.  I’m learning to ride with “soft hands,” as my friend Lee Rivers labels the way to effectively descent on the mountain bike.

I long for time on the ’cross course, slowly working my way through walking dismounts and remounts to full-on race pace efforts where I’m as close to the red line as I can get in training.

I no longer look at myself as a roadie but as a cyclocross / mountain bike racer.  Funny thing is, I used to swear it would never happen.  I always knew I loved ’cross but I promised myself I would not forget my roots on the road.  That I would race ’cross seriously, but that deep down inside I’d always be a road rider.

Somehow it’s all changed.  My paradigm has shifted.  I have, over the last five years, learned to love the dirt.  To crave the totally exhausted, yet exhilarating feeling I have when I come home from a long off-road ride.  I’m not sure that I can really explain or describe in words the difference is betwen hard road rides and intense mountain bike / ’cross rides, but it’s real and it’s what causes me to daydream about cyclocross and mountain bike racing.  It’s what keeps me walking out the door everyday and grabbing the bike for another serving of dirt.  Maybe it’s the difference in the challenges that riding off-road offers to me.  Climbs are different, corners more thought provoking, descents are DEFINITELY different.  And every time I face those challenges and come away successful, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get riding on the road.  Yeah, maybe that’s it.  It’s facing the challenge, taking the risk, putting myself out there physically and mentally that keeps drawing me away from the road and onto the trails and over the barriers.

I have the third endurance race of the summer coming up this weekend.  I’ve become so much of an endurance “geek” that I’m feeling guilty only doing the 32 mile race.  I have to remind myself that it’s just a part of the bigger picture, the plan that hopefully will get me to Louisville in January at my best.  But for now I’m pining for dirt again and I’m not sure that a “mere” 32 miles will do it.  My wife looks at me and rolls her eyes when I say that.  She reminds me that it took me ten full days to recover from the last 60 miler and that I might want to think about that when I start to examine the possibility of riding 68 miles this weekend.  And I know, intellectually, that she’s right.  But, in some sick and demented way suffering for seven-plus hours on the mountain bike sounds like “fun”.  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what I decide.

Enough of this, go ride your bike.