Climbing mountains

It’s hailing. Thunder booms and pebbles of ice ding my helmet and arms as I pedal down the mountain, descending from Columbine Mine at 12,600 feet to Twin Lakes, the low point on the course, which is still 9,200 feet above sea level.

Today is August, 9, 2003. Today is the Leadville 100, the race across the sky.

I’m 55 miles deep into the mountain bike race, and I’ve already crashed twice, suffered through cramps in my calves and thighs, and teetered on the brink of vomiting for at least an hour. It’s been a hard day, and it’s only going to get harder.

What I should be doing right now is concentrating on riding smart, on forcing food down, on picking right lines, on conserving energy, on not getting electrocuted by lightning.

But instead I keep thinking about Sally, my wife, who is waiting at the next check point with an iced bottle of Cytomax, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and mango slices, none of which I’ll want to choke down. I keep replaying the scene from that morning, me pulling together my gear for the race, Sally walking out of the bathroom, Sally showing me a plastic stick the size of a pen.

“Does that line mean what I think?” I had asked.

Sally nodded.

“Holy shit.”

Sally smiled broadly.

“You got that right,” she said. “Holy shit.”

On the bike, I well up, imagining Sally waiting for me in the storm, wondering about the cells dividing and growing in her belly. I’m thrilled and terrified and confused. This race. This hail. That that line on the stick. Holy shit, Holy shit. I’m going to be a dad.

Eight months and two weeks after Leadville, those cells in Sally multiplied and changed and combined and became Eli. In the middle of the night, wailing, covered in slime, Eli arrived, birthed without drugs.

I’m sure I was in shock: Holy shit. Me? A dad? Holy shit. But I bet I was also awestruck: Isn’t he beautiful? Isn’t this all very beautiful?

Eli turns five today. He’s wiry and sensitive like his old man, athletic and smart like his mother. I can’t imagine a better child. And I can’t imagine that life before him, that world of late-night dinners and long bike rides in white sunlight.

I enjoyed that time. I’m grateful to have had it. But I like this better, me riding bikes with Eli on the neighborhood trail, me holding Slade while he coos, me being a dad.

So happy birthday, Eli. Your mom and I are proud of you. We’re awfully glad to have you here.

As to the race? The Leadville 100? I broke and then I broke again, but I kept riding, my gut rotten, my body crushed, a slow flatlander destined to fail.

My goal was to finish in under 12 hours. At Leadville, if you beat 12 hours, you get a belt buckle, your name and time on a sweatshirt, and the pride of being an official finisher. If you finish in over 12 hours, you get jack squat.

With a time of 12 hours, 1 minute and 12 seconds, I got the jack squat.

It burned working that hard, coming that close, and failing. But I knew on August 9, 2003, just as I still know today, that I left every ounce of me on the course.

I’m not ashamed. Not one bit.

And besides, before the race ended, I was gearing up for the looming challenges of pregnancy, child birth, and daddyhood. New mountains were growing in my mind, and soon I would climb them.


4 Responses to “Climbing mountains”

  1. 1 feeddunk April 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Much bigger mountains to come. Enjoy!
    Love the blog!!!

  2. 2 Bonnie April 28, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Such a lovely post and I imagine you are a fantastic father. Besides, someone has to do it…..I want my Social Security check and for that we need more youngsters. So why not have a few more? 😉

  3. 3 Laura April 28, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Happy Birthday Eli!

    Keep ’em coming Craiger!

  4. 4 lesleyfamily April 28, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Bonnie, Duncan, and Laura: Thanks for the kind words about the blog and the birthday wishes for the five year old.

    Bonnie, I’m not sure I’m a good dad, but I play one on the internet. As to having kids, we’re done. So it’s up to you to do your part for social security, global overpopulation, Walmart, and so on.

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