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Knowing When to Stop 10 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling, Random.
Tags: , , , ,

You were going to get a post about cycling St. Vrain Canyon today, but now you’re not. ‘Cuz I didn’t do it. Instead, C and I turned around just beyond Lyons, stopped for some ice cream, then headed home. Sometimes you just have to know when to call it a day.

Last year, around this time, I set out for a Sunday afternoon ride in Deer Creek Canyon. As a Colorado newbie, I’d not yet learned that afternoon anything in the mountains generally spells doom, but you know, there’s only one way to get experience. And it’s not by having people tell you in advance, “Don’t do that, Andy. That’d be stupid.” Getting experience requires first-hand stupidity.

So anyway.

I rode… I’m not sure… 15 or so miles west and a couple thousand feet up toward Conifer under skies you might charitably characterize as “ominous.” After taking a wrong turn and visiting Tiny Town, a place I suggest you avoid, I evaluated the gathering clouds chose returning to the car over figuring out the right path. Even the kids at Tiny Town looked more interested in finding shelter than in riding the toot-tooting tiny trains. Maybe children have a sense of these things. Or maybe children like riding tiny trains about as much as adults do. Whatever the case, rain was on the way.

It fell in torrents as the descent back to the car begin. The temperature fell. The rain never let up. A motorcyclist went by. The rain kept falling. And the temperature, which had hovered unpleasantly around 90 for most of the afternoon, had dropped to the low sixties. To be truly dangerous at a standstill would have required colder temperatures still, but I wanted to get back to a dry car and was riding as fast as I considered safe. When my teeth started chattering, the cold still didn’t seem that bad. But then, as it grew harder and harder to maintain control against growing shivers, I began to realize the danger lay more in falling body temperature than in a close encounter with any car.

That I’m still here of course indicates that nothing truly terrible took place. An hour and a half in a hot shower did away with the the chills, and even if things had progressed beyond safety out there in Deer Creek Canyon, it’s a popular enough location that someone would have carted me off to a doctor.

But in Colorado, situations can sour much farther from help. And in a culture that celebrates goals achieved outdoors more so than anything done in the office, we push ourselves into dangerous territory. Too often, it seems, the late start has turned into a trip that’s pushing the afternoon storm hours, and even though summit may only require another 500 feet, or the pass might lie just beyond the next switchback, you know the right call: turn back. When the storm cloud that used to be sitting pretty three counties away pile up on the ridge throwing hail and lightning so close you’ll call it “hell on earth” in stories to your grand kids, the choice will no longer be yours. Too far above treeline when the storm rolls in and only chance determines whether you’ll return.

You knew all that, yet it’s worth repeating. Always worth repeating. We turned back today because a wet ride sounded pretty miserable, and some ice cream struck us as an okay consolation, but the same principles apply even when the stakes are higher. So put away the ego that assesses the reward, and pull out the logical mind that assesses the reality. Know when to stop.


1. Mere - 11 July 2011

i’m glad to know you are taking your own advice.

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