Boulder (part two), 8/3-8/6

Sunday: Twenty minutes into the ride I realize that my face hurts—it’s wrenched somewhere between a death-mask and a grin. Sabrina is not someone I (or you, most likely) could ever hang with; up here she is quickly reduced to a blue blur in the aspens and then a speck on the horizon where the Forest Service washboard meets the sky. Regardless, I am having an excellent time. There are flowers I don’t know and the world is bright and balmy.

Sabrina, per usual, a speck in the aspens.
This is much better than the last time one of us vanished in the foliage.

Later, in town, I lie on the grass drinking a milkshake while watching people run the Ironman. Heh.

Monday: Among my more drastic and less frequently used tactics for subduing fear is to attempt something scarier than my actual goal in order to make it feel easy by comparison. I decide to apply this method to my mortal terror of outdoor leads by attempting an easy free-solo of the second Flatiron. Sure, right?

To be clear, this is kid stuff (literally—note all the photos of happy toddlers). But I’m quickly off-route, and the easy bail option is not easy enough: in sight of the top, I yield to my commitment issues and downclimb—all the more absurd because doing so is almost certainly more dangerous than finishing.  Alas, there are known knowns, and I will always prefer them when 500 feet off the ground.

Tuesday: By contrast, my relationship with the sport of mountain biking has matured—which is to say that I no longer feel any obligation to try. This is especially true at resorts. Gone is the lift-pass guilt, the pangs of impostor syndrome that accompanied a big-bike rental, and the self-consciousness of plastering myself in armor just to ride my brakes down green runs. I know what I can shred and what will shred me and these days I’m pretty much fine with leaving those categories as they are. I paid my money and I’m here to have fun. And I do, bro, I do.

Ideally I would wear this much gear all the time. On BART, for example.

Boulder (part one), 7/31-8/2

Thursday:  On the bus I meet an Australian who relocated to Boulder to join a startup. They’re developing some sort of kitchen appliance for growing fish. (“It’s very modular,” he explains. “Like, you have the option to add a tomato vine.”) In retrospect, this is the first indication that I may not have actually left San Francisco.

Friday: Lisette and I became friends at a collegiate mountain bike race in which I tried to sit on her wheel  and  she tried to push me off a cliff. These days she attends parasitology conferences, most recently in New Orleans, where she received a flask engraved with the image of a hookworm wearing Mardi Gras beads. This to me is very glamorous.

Lisette consults a map; I consult a
Tour-guide consults a map.

She escorts me to the forest (ROOSEVELT National Forest!) for my first-ever view of the Continental Divide. The sight of the white-gold glow behind the rim of a still snowy cirque has me in big-dork tears that I attribute equally to oxygen deprivation, rapture, and dismay at the realization that it’s physically impossible for me to ever reach such heights without months of expensive acclimatization in a mountain town.

But I have to admit I would not chose Boulder proper. It’s one thing that the air is thin, another that it lacks atmosphere.

Saturday: Eric is living the dream so hard I’m initially concerned it may be difficult not to hate him for it. But Boulder has made him a generous rope-gun: he runs me up an El Dorado Canyon arrete that combines slackjaw exposure with reassuring rock in a way I didn’t think was possible. It’s a glimmer of hope that my consistently miserable attempts to convert this activity into Type I fun might not be totally futile. Dare to dream?

Photo by Peter Hamel, one pillar over. I’m the gray speck, Eric’s the green speck. Not pictured: many angry birds and how badly I needed to pee at this moment.

We go back into town to eat nachos and wait out the heat, then start the first Flatiron at dusk. That ending a day like this is feasible—the casual undertaking of six pitches?—blows my little flatlander mind, as does the view from the rappel: summit silhouettes and a big moon, distant Denver rising from the wide, dim plains like Oz.