Four years ago today at this moment I was lined up to start the Leadville MTB Trail 100 in Leadville, Colorado at 10,000’ in elevation. It was my second attempt to finish and get a buckle, and I was out for vindication and redemption. After two years leading up to my first attempt in 2012 the soul crushing failure at mile 87 had hung heavy on my shoulders. Somehow, I got back in for 2013 and got my second chance.
The journey was deeply person for me. While trying to train for the race, balance work and life, and be a good husband and father I was also suffering from depression, debilitating metal issues, and crippling self-doubt. That I finished at all in 2013 was a big deal. That I missed the coveted belt buckle by twenty-four minutes?
So I wrote and self-published a book about my journey. And to be fair it’s the story of my family through that time as well. They supported me and carried me when I couldn’t go any farther.
My book (for those of you who haven’t followed my bloggery over the past few years) is called Leadville or Bust. In retrospect, I could have come up with a better name. But it is what it is, and somehow it’s more than apt.
I left Colorado in 2013 with a finishers medal and hardly anything else. I didn’t even carry the resolve to try again in 2014 to go back and get a buckle. I was beaten down from three years of effort to cross that finish line. I decided I needed some time off. I needed to give my family some time off. I’m not saying that lack of ambition led to my persistent suicidal thoughts through the rest of 2013 and into most of 2014. But I am certain the letdown from Leadville contributed.
These days I’m happy. Content even. No, the doctors didn’t increase the dosage of my meds. In fact, I don’t have a doctor for my head. The peace I’ve found came from within, and it wasn’t magical, mystical, or novel in any way. I’m not even sure I can explain it, but as complex as the past few months have been I think the simple answer is that I began thinking positively. Maybe for the first time in my life.
The Kentucky state legislature has mandated a later start date for schools. The law goes into effect next year. Our kids started this year on August 8 which is ridiculous. So even if I had wanted to try to get through the lottery for this year it would have been problematic. However, for next year…
I haven’t discussed this with my amazing wife (or the kids) yet, but if she is agreeable I think I want to try to get back into the Leadville 100 next year. If I don’t clear the lottery then I’ll shoot for a race closer to home as a trial run for 2019 and hopefully I’ll be able to find a volunteer opportunity in ’18 to boost my chances for ’19.
This isn’t something I have to do. I’m healed. I can go on and count those memories as part of an amazing life. But this is something I want to do now. I enjoy doing long distance mountain bike races—God help me—and I miss the planning, the training, and the race day excitement that comes with them. As long as I can maintain true balance in my life I think this is something I want to do again. Putting on the Red River Gorge race was an attempt to recapture those feelings, and I have a good indication that it will, but it’s not the same thing as doing the race yourself.
The thing I have learned from all of this is one of the lines Ken Chlouber repeats at the pre-race meetings and which has been used by the race series as a tagline:
“You’re better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.”
I believe that now. I didn’t believe that before starting out on the journey. I didn’t believe that even three months ago; and while I carry around one persistent demon that likes to make my life miserable at times (ADHD)…I can fight off one demon. It was the gang of demons beating on me all the time that kept me from functioning other than at a superficial level.
Regardless of whether we decide to go back and regardless of whether I can even get back into the race for 2018 I am going to begin preparing. From today I have a year and a couple of days to get ready. Just in case. If I can’t knock down this one bucket list item with a year’s preparation then I might as well move on to the next on the list and let it go.
And even if I don’t get in, never go back, and eventually lose interest, the journey to claim a little silver belt buckle for riding my bike in the mountains of Colorado was a good one. It taught me a lot about myself and what is possible. While it didn’t push me over the top and provide the confidence I have so desperately needed my entire life, it did get me higher up the mountain than most other things I had tried. When I got the final push I needed I was mostly there. This has been a good path for me. It’s been rough at times, but it’s been a path of light, and not a path of darkness.