The Hammer and I got to come to Leadville a little earlier than usual this year.
Usually, we drive about halfway to Leadville the Wednesday before the race, finish the drive on Thursday morning, and then more or less fail to get acclimated to the altitude before the race begins on Saturday at 6:30am.
This year, things are a little different, because this year, The Hammer will have an icon of Leadville, Rebecca Rusch, riding with and mentoring her to — hopefully — a personal best.
And so when Rebecca asked The Hammer and me if we’d like to come out to Leadville an extra few days early, participate in her Leadville Experience rides and clinics, well…we made it happen (The Hammer got extra days off work, and I’m able to do my job from anywhere with an internet connection).
And it’s been an extraordinary experience. One that, frankly, I’m going to have to dial back a bit on in order to not come out too…gushy.
The Columbine Climb
On Saturday, The Hammer and I got into Leadville just in time for Reba’s first event: a group ride what most people consider the crux of the Leadville 100 race: the Columbine climb. Here we are at the start of it:
About 7.5 miles long, with more than 3000 feet of climbing, what makes the Columbine climb really tough is the fact that it tops out at around 12,600 feet. Which is high. High enough to make you wonder what happened to all your power.
Reba, meanwhile, just seemed so relaxed. Happy. Peaceful. When she says her Leadville finish line happened already, she means it. She was riding for fun, and to share what turns out to be an incredible wealth of knowledge and practical riding guidance.
Here she’s riding with one of the guys from Minnesota. She took time to ride with anyone who wanted to talk with her.
I want to point out, though, that The Hammer rode the entire Columbine climb — including the technical steep stuff above 12,000 feet — without putting a foot down.
I have never done that. And Reba was impressed. “We need to start talking seriously about getting you a sub-nine-hour finish,” she told The Hammer.
Of course, we got a group photo:
And then a surprisingly good “jump” group photo (I’ve found the best way to do these is to shoot video and then pull a still from it later).
I don’t want to boast or anything (yes, actually I do), but I think you’ll agree with me that I (second from the right) have some pretty good air there.
At that point, Reba gave an impromptu clinic on descending Columbine during the race, though the reality is this is good guidance for any big descent.
The Hammer and I didn’t have a place to stay that first night, so Reba let us crash on the pull-out couch-bed at the place she was renting. She and The Hammer talked long into the night, planning their race day strategy — as well as what it’s like to have to poop into a pipe.
Yes, really. This is how bonding happens among alpha females.
Also, we bought a pint of Salted Caramel Gelato, which I normally would think is just the right amount for me. By myself.
Feeling self-conscious, however, I only ate about a quarter of the amount I would want to and — this is so weird to me — between the three of us, we didn’t even finish the pint.
I am shaking my head in disbelief even as I write this.
The next morning, The Hammer made breakfast — scrambled egg whites with leftover shredded barbecue chicken, onions, mushrooms, and avocado.
Then we were off to the next group ride Reba was leading — this time going up and down the single hardest climb in the race: The Powerline.
Reba gave us some good guidance on what the climb is like and how to ride it — I caught it on video, and will post it soon.
It was becoming more and more clear that Reba isn’t just an astonishingly fast and strong rider — she’s an inspiring teacher.
The Hammer absolutely killed the climb — nabbing all kinds of Strava trophies on what she said afterward was a relatively easy effort.
Reba gave us more info about this descent, and of course I made sure we got another group jump shot:
All the way down, Reba followed The Hammer, yelling out instructions and advice on how to descend.
I was starting to get a sense that The Queen of Pain was taking The Hammer’s success as seriously as her own. Which is about as awesome a thing as there’s ever been.
About halfway down, Reba put on an impromptu and unplanned tire-changing clinic:
And then she made sure she got a photo of herself with Tim Commerford, the bassist for Rage Against the Machine.
He’s a fast guy and seems to be chasing a sub-nine-hour time himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up on the Hammer / Queen of Pain train this Saturday.
Reba was nice enough to get an on-bike shot of me with Tim, too, timed just right so it looks like he’s laughing and happy and ready to break into song…as I’m staring intently at my stem, wondering what mysteries it holds.
Really, the whole week’s been like that. The Queen of Pain has been putting on rides and clinics — I recorded her session on how to prepare your bike and clothes for a race like this and will post it soon — all with accessible, practical information. And she’s been gracious, open, and fun.
I already knew it was a good book, but now The Hammer is reading it…and she loves it too.
Honestly, I won’t be able to review this book; I’m no longer even remotely objective regarding Reba. I’m a full-on fan. And friend.
But I think I’m not just blinded by admiration when I say that Rebecca is an extraordinary person, and this book tells the story of her remarkable life remarkably well. You’ll be surprised, impressed, and inspired by it.
I have to say, I’ve never been so excited to see how a race goes as The Hammer’s and Reba’s ride together this Saturday.
And I think it’s going to make a great story.