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Kebler.

I've been wanting to give Kebler its own post because it deserves it. And so do I, for that matter.

Some of you may have heard me reference Kebler. Some of you KNOW what Kebler was like because you were there. Some of you have no idea what I'm talking about, so let me elaborate.

Kebler Pass is a mountain pass outside of Crested Butte here in Colorado. It summits at 10,007 feet and passes through the Gunnison National Forest and is a mixture of paved road and gravel. It's known for one of the largest Aspen forests in the United States. It's part of my Big Bike Adventure course and has been scheduled on the third (of four) day of my ride. It's big and bold and stunning.

It's also the place I've learned (twice now) how to dig deeper than I have considered impossible. 

I went into my ride with Noah in 2018 woefully underprepared. I hadn't looked at an elevation map, or any map for that matter, before taking this on. I knew it was gravel and I knew it was going to be hard. I had NO idea how hard it was going to be. What ensued on the 7 hours we spent riding was nothing short of traumatic. The physical pain was intense, but more so, the emotional wall I hit over and over and over was awful. For everyone. It got done, but it was not pretty.

With my Noah in 2018.
2019 was different. The upside to doing something a second time is that you know what lies ahead of you and, overall that was a bonus for this year. However, it was also a big downside. It caused a ton of anxiety and fear. I was determined, though, to take the lessons I learned with Noah and use them with Hank.

Last year, we ended each day's ride where we'd sleep for the night and continue on to the next stop. This year, I wanted a home base with a kitchen and somewhere we could relax at the end of the day without having to feel pressure to pack and move on. That meant a little more driving this year after our rides were done. At the end of day two, we stopped in Paonia. Kebler connects Paonia and Crested Butte (where our rental was) so after our ride the fastest way to Crested Butte was up and over Kebler Pass We drove it in the same direction we'd begin the ride the next morning. It was the first time I'd been on that pass in a year and driving over it had me in tears. And not the happy kind.

There was a level of PTSD from last year and a level of complete terror because the 130lbs I'd been pulling for two days was already really hard. I began to remember how hard 2018 was with 30 less pounds in tow. I remember the spot I fell. And the spot I had to push Noah uphill because it was too hard. 

Last year, I completed Kebler on my road bike which is no joke on gravel. This year, the thing that kept me from losing my shit completely was knowing that Craig had gotten me a rental gravel bike to use. The wider tires with tread and a different bike geometry would be a huge help. A game changer! When we got to the rental house, we realized that Hank's bike's adapter wouldn't fit the rental bike no matter what we did. I was going to have to ride that slick tire road bike. AGAIN.

Luckily, Hank and family had gone for a walk when this was discovered. Craig hugged me as I choked out, "This will be the first time I fail. There is no way we're going to get through this." And I believed that with every ounce of my being. This was it. I called a couple of friends and got some pep talks, but I believed in my heart of hearts that this was over. The only thing I could do is try the next day.

The plan? Start. Go as far as I could until I couldn't go anymore and suck up the fact that Kebler wouldn't be conquered this year.

We woke up the next morning, my body and stomach in knots and took the long drive back up and over Kebler in the opposite direction. Because of road grading, we started a little further up the road than last year meaning the climb started almost immediately and there was no time to warm up. I had a quick chat with Hank and Kathy, explaining that this was going to be a tough day and that they may see me go to some tough places, but to bear with me.

Then we started to roll.

Almost immediately, the road turns to gravel, the climb gets steep and that steepness lasts a couple of miles We were barely a quarter-mile into Kebler when I said to Hank breathlessly, "push." I heard Craig who rode with us say (as he would about a thousand times that day), "She needs you." And Hank did. He fucking delivered. He was able to give what I'd guess was about two good pedal strokes that would give me enough momentum to keep my legs turning and that road bike upright. I immediately knew we were going to be OK. It would be tough, but there was NO FUCKING WAY we weren't getting it done. Because of Hank.

Turns out, just starting is all you need. And we kept rolling. 

Part of my regret in 2018 was that I didn't take the time to look around and appreciate what I was doing, who I was doing it with and for, and taking the time to relax and trust that it'd get done. I wasn't going to let that happen again. So this year we did. We looked around. We stopped and took photos. We danced to Hank's sister's playlist. We ate lunch on a mountainside. We took it in. 

Not ugly.
It wasn't easy and the loose, dry gravel, proved to be a big ole bitch at times. There was a good section of walking and pushing and cursing (more than normal) and a little fit throwing. The difference between 2018's breakdown on Kebler and 2019's? This year, I was pissed because KNEW I could get this done physically. I was pissed because my equipment was failing me. But, just like in 2018, we kept on keepin' on.

One of my favorite sections is a spot I like to call Fern Gully. It's this shaded groved in the Aspens and it's stunning! We pulled over to take some photos (DUH) and grab a bite. As I was walking to get back on, I looked down to notice the arm of Hank's bike had totally detached from my rear axle. I handed the bike to Craig and Ted, said, "I'm gonna go over here now", and waited for them to tell me that somehow that shit was broken and we couldn't continue. After a few nervous minutes, it was discovered the arm had just come loose and we were back on the (gravel) road! THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why support crews are CLUTCH.

Fern Gully!
The last four miles of that mountain are by far the most difficult. It kicks up hard. I was at the end of the third day of pulling a lot of weight. It was the hottest part of the day. It was dry. It was relentless.

With Hank pushing when I needed him, and Craig by our side encouraging us both when all we wanted to do was quit, we got to the top of that mountain pass. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. And it was because of my badass teammate and incredible support team that we got there.

At the top of Kebler - 2019
I've learned a lot about myself on Kebler. Turns out, I do have "that" deep, dark, has-to-quit place. The one that tricks your mind into believing it's impossible. I discovered that my drive and stubbornness, the things that often burden me, making people say, "maybe you've taken too much on", actually push me further. When I trick myself into believing something can't be done, I actually CAN. While Hank and Noah made me an athlete, Kebler gave me the understanding that I no longer have a need to prove myself to me. Kebler helped me become proud of the athlete that I am.

I may be done pulling assisted athletes up Kebler for awhile. My only goal for that mountain pass in the foreseeable future is to go back solo one day, take a spin, a few pics, and remember the days that it helped me realize I'm capable of incredible bad-assery.



On a side note, Hank and I want to spread the message of inclusion for all and raise money in hopes that other assisted athlete teams will get to say to each other much like we did, "Not many people have conquered Kebler Pass like we have!" Donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/helenandhank

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