Brainard Lake

2019 Rapha Women’s Prestige: Boulder, Colorado

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2019 Rapha Women’s Prestige: Boulder, Colorado

The rules are simple: start as a team, pass through all checkpoints together, finish as a team.

On a steamy July day in Boulder, Colorado, I set out with Leslie Ethridge, Sara Liebert, and Lizzie Newsom on a quest: have fun, ride hard, look good

Ad·ven·ture

: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks 

Over the course of 81 miles — half gravel, half pavement — crossing such iconic climbs as SuperJames, Brainard Lake, Peak to Peak Highway, and Chapman Off-Road, 8 teams of 4 women accumulated 8,000 feet of elevation gain, all at Colorado altitude. 

During the more than 6-hours of riding, we cycled through all kinds of emotions, but most often were laughing and cheering each other on. At one point, despite 3 of us living in the area, our team realized we were down a road that none of us had been on before. Unknown risks really are best tackled together. 

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Team·work 

: work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole

Heat, wind, rain, slick descents. And tunes. Leslie mounted a portable speaker to the front of her bars, so our day could be soundtracked by Lizzo and Katy Perry. In other words, perfection on wheels. 

When we set out, most of us had never met. When we finished, we were truly a team. We focused on strengths instead of weaknesses, and pulled each other through numerous tough climbs. And it turns out, with a positive attitude, enough Nuun hydration, and good music, you set PRs without noticing. You find yourself at 80 miles before you’d planned. You win.    

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Re·sil·ience

: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

The first half of the course involved most of the heavy climbing — up to Brainard Lake at 10,300 feet. There was a refueling station that involved popsicles, cold towels, mini Cokes, and pickles. It’s remarkable how crushed one can feel, and then how quickly things can turn around. Five minutes off the bike with words of encouragement and a little sugar / salt fix, and onward with smiles — glad to be coasting down to a mere mile-high. 

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At the beginning of the day, teams departed just a few minutes apart, so we crossed paths several times throughout the course. After an intimidating 3-mile descent in the rain toward the end of the day, 3 teams regrouped at the bottom. Someone said, “For a minute there it was like the whole world was just women cyclists.” And it was true: the day was made even more powerful because it was all women. Organized and cheered on by the legendary Meredith Miller, photographed by Natalie Starr, the whole experience was a mantra of, “we can do anything.” And we did.

The day ended on blankets at a park back in Boulder. Cold beverages, gigantic burritos, sweet watermelon. And as often happens when recounting epic experiences on the bike, the pain quickly fades and strength stands out. I’d gladly get back on the bike with these women — eye of the tiger, fighters, all of us.    

Do it: Century Ride (7,200 ft of climb)

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Sometimes you've just got to do something epic. It's been several weeks since I've done a ride over 60 miles, so I decided to do a full century. I got up at 5am and was on the road by 5:30. My favorite breakfast in the world is a Clif bar on the spin. The road to Brainard Lake has been under construction for several months, and just reopened last week. Anyone who bikes in the Boulder area knows that the ride to Ward is a long, tough climb, and then adding Brainard Lake is 6 more miles and about 1,200 more feet of gain. This last push is all above 10,000 feet, and has a dizzying effect. After a sunrise spin around Carter Lake, I got down to business. I took Highway 7 (Peak to Peak) from Lyons through the canyon. (I especially love the detour that goes through Raymond: this is my favorite route in the fall when the Aspens are changing). Then came the climb to Ward, and that extra push to Brainard. 

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I find that breaking a long ride into little pieces helps me enormously with the mental game. For me, this ride was: Home to Lyons, Lyons to Raymond, Raymond to Ward, Ward to Brainard, Brainard to Boulder. It's been super warm in Colorado, but I thought it would be nice and cool up above 8,000 feet. It was cooler, but not cool. This was still a sweaty, sweaty ride. 

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I assumed I was over-packing when I stocked my pockets with 2 Clif bars, 3 gels, and a pack of Shot Bloks, in addition to 2 water bottles with Skratch. I ended up eating both bars, 1 gel, and the pack of Bloks over 7 hours in the saddle. I ran out of water entirely around the time I was starting the Brainard stretch (mile 56). I've hiked this area before, and remembered that there are some camp faucets. Luckily, I found one at the campground about 2 miles in. I was pretty dehydrated at that point. I kind of love the feeling of going so hard that nothing in the world is better than water.  

All in, this was an incredible ride start to finish. The views at Brainard are truly a reward worthy of 7,200 feet of climb, serious sweat, and dehydration. And the descent on Lefthand is like pudding. As soon as I got to Boulder, I took a dip at the pool, showered, and drank a LOT of seltzer. Stay epic, Colorado!