July 6-July 25, 2011
Color Me Ado
click on blue-border photos for full-size versions

I know you've been on edge about what happened in the race. Oh right--forgot to mention, I went to Colorado for 18 days. Well, this hasn't been as good an experience as I'd hoped--this plan of adjusting to altitude has not worked. So maybe I need to rethink my training plan--never mind that I'd shown up in Colorado overweight and depressed in '10 and '11. I arrived at Winter Park, Colorado the night of July 7th, after driving in heavy rain most of the 1095 mile drive, sometimes so heavy I was temporarily blinded at 65 miles and hour and just let off the accelerator and prayed. Even the last 26 miles over Berthoud Pass were tricky, with water and mud flowing across the road and sections of the switchbacks crumbling. The staff at the Winter Park Mountain Lodge still remembered me from last year (I think they just remembered Gizmo). Dave, the manager, saw me walk in and said,"Hey, you're Mike Paul! And that's Gizmo!" I looked at him and thought,"Hey! You're--uhhh...you?" It was a small reunion. Maybe if I return next year they'll be so happy, they'll write a theme song for me.

Smiling luggage

But again, two weeks alone with a dog in a small motel room is trying. Gizmo can be a burden sometimes, like when I had to drag my luggage, a mountain bike, a road bike, and six extra wheels along with tools up to my room in a lightning storm, but as you can see from the tongue on the luggage cart, I found a solution. Moving around in a mountain region is difficult too. The motel was on the lower section of Berthoud pass. From July 7 to the 23rd, there was only one day I didn't get rained on at all, and twice I was in danger of bodily harm from lightning and heavy, cold rain. It was exhilarating, like drinking a giant Sierra Mist.

Video: Driving to motel in Winter Park shower

Video: Walking Gizmo up HWY 40, July 9

Video: Running after Gizmo, July 9

At first I enjoyed being home again in Winter Park. It was beginning to feel like home. But last year I had to go to the front desk to microwave meals, and I had to sit in the lobby to get the internet, or go to the front of the motel to see the mountains, the village across the highway, and the sunset. I guess simply because of my popularity, they gave me a free upgrade and put me in the front of the motel this year, where I could see the mountains any time. In the past year they upgraded their internet to go to all rooms, and they gave me a microwave for my room, so I had no reason to leave my room or dress, and other residents were the same. The lobbies were usually pretty empty. Loneliness set in fast. I did, however, attend a local church every week and prayed daily.

Mist rolling over mountains

Mist engulfing morning mountains

Winter Park Village rough panorama
Gizmo doing lap time
Trying to look sweet Returned from war

Gracie and Cash, the two adorable dogs who stayed behind the front desk last year weren't there this year, by order of motel management. But when returning from church, I passed a window and saw a big, beautiful dog that looked just like Gracie. Nick (master) was working, so I asked him. He said yes, it was her—he was working back-to-back eight hour shifts with only a short break, so he was given a room to keep her. I took my camera to the back and tapped on the window and re-united Gizmo with his old friend. Apparently I was the only one of the three who was excited. Look at Gracie's reaction too--it's funny, as if she was trying to remember where she'd kept her gun. Hours later, when Nick's girlfriend came to walk Gracie, I followed her with Gizmo. Again, I was the only one who was excited.

Video: Gracie and Gizmo reunited a year later

Video: Gizmo and Gracie fight to the death

Video: Overlooking Winter Park Village

On July 17, I found a driver's license on a trail, five miles away in another town, while biking to church. Unable to find a police station, I gave it to Nick at the front desk and asked him to phone the guy to come pick it up. Nick began laughing and said,”I know this guy!” He said it was some "brain-dead" guy who wanted everyone to call him “Hippie” and no one knew his real name. Well, we did now—it was Eugene Matthew Petty. I told Nick,”You need to call him Eugene”. And of course, Gizmo and I had a great adventure around the area, celebrating his 9th birthday!

Gracie dealing with peeping toms

Moon over Winter Park, July 17

Winter Park Mountain Lodge

Trail behind motel


Winter Park Mountain Lodge from mountain trail

Begging for a sip of bourbon

Gizmo in his birthday suit contemplating old ageGizmo in his birthday suit

Video: Gizmo's birthday walk

Video: Gizmo's birthday tour, Winter Park Overlook

Video: Gizmo's birthday tour, overlooking Fraser

Video: Gizmo's birthday--running (this is cute)

I rode the 610 foot tall, 3000+ foot alpine slide in Winter Park Village, the largest alpine slide in all of Colorado, two days before the race. I'd wanted to do something other than sleep, eat, and ride. I was surrounded by people enjoying good times with friends, and I was utterly alone. I did the slide. It was fun—it was scary, and that's what made it fun. I was nervous about going too fast, and also nervous about crashing two days before my race (it's not unusual for folks to crash on these things), so I took the slow lane, but by the finish, I was passing people in the fast lane. I timed myself at 2:06. I wanted to do it again, but the cost was too high.

The Chapliks were there from Ohio for the annual Fillipino Heritage Conference, an annual event put together for Fillipinnos who were adopted from their home and knew nothing about their heritage. The Chapliks loved Gizmo last year, and it was Mr. Chaplik who gently handed Gizmo to me when he sneaked into a fancy banquet last year, soliciting belly rubs and attention. We had a lot of laughs over my little Gizmo.

That night, I struck up a conversation with a stranger at the laundromat and found out he was a cyclist who raced Mt. Evans in 1999. So we talked a lot, and I soon found out he was also retired Air Force, stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base from 1988 to 1992 (I was there 1990 to 1994) and had visited my office many times. He knew the people I worked with. His name was Mark Tidwell, and he flew in a tanker, and we supported them. So I'm certain we'd spoken many times at Fairchild. He knew my friend who died in the B-52 crash in 1994. He remembered Lt. Col Houston, and Colonel Weinman, who was famous for being the fastest runner on base. I told Mark that the Colonel and I did a race once in late 1990—the only race we ever did together, and we both broke away and led for five miles, talking. I was just 24, and he was--well, probably twice that--I was just a new Staff Sergeant, and he was a Colonel nearing retirement. But we talked about life, and it was pleasant. Then I pulled away with ease, just before the finish. It was after all, a race. Mark gave me his card, and he was also a pastor at a Texas church. He wished me well and told me to email him if I needed someone to talk to. When he left, I saw an article of clothing on a dryer, and I grabbed it and ran down the street after him. He turned around, looked at it, and said it wasn't his. Then he said,”Thanks, Brother”. He called me Brother! I was touched.

I knew I wasn't in shape to turn any heads before the race, but I was committed, I had to do it. I don't have that fire in my gutt like I used to, but I could still pedal for hours if I wanted to. I prayed for, if nothing else, something memorable to happen. I told God I'd dedicate the race to Him. Not sure what that meant, but I knew that I needed to be on His good side, and I probably need to burn my race number as an offering now.

So I got to the race yesterday thinking I might beat my best time from 2009 (when I was working full time and training less but somehow thinner and faster), but most likely I'd perhaps do better than last year, which wasn't good. This whole experience has me rethinking my entire life. I don't know what to do, and I was wondering if I should continue racing. But it's all I have to wake up for now. It was very stressful the past month. The motel was at 9100 feet, and this alone caused me to shed five pounds, because I burned more calories at this altitude. As I stood at the starting line, chatting with other competitors (I'm very personable with strangers--it's the people close to me that I don't trust), I said,"This is probably my last race".

Winter Park and Fraser overlook

Descending alpine slide

Racing up to Summit Lake

The pack was pretty tight at first. I'd been so nervous around Winter Park that even casual cyclists could've passed me on the slightest downhill (but none did) and here I was, an inch from my competitors, comfortable. Had something snapped in my head? A mile into the race, everyone bunched up on the side of the road, there was an opening, so I shot through at 25 miles an hour on a 5% uphill, took the lead, and pulled away. I was off the front for a while, but the acceleration on that grade zapped the strength from my legs. I knew this was a bad idea, but I wanted to have fun before I was put in my place. After a few minutes leading the biggest race I've ever raced, someone caught me as my legs turned to rubber. The dude got in front of me and said,"I'll pull to the next sign and then we can trade". He wanted us to pull away from the pack, but I had already grossly overextended myself. I said,"No, this was all for show-- I'm done", and the entire group came around me as I started having breathing and leg issues. I was in the opening, easy miles of a very difficult 27.4 mile race was ready to quit. I was complimented on my aggression by other cyclists (as they passed me), but I went from 23 miles an hour to less than ten, and that was the best I could do. My best option was to let it happen--crawl for a few minutes, recover, then accelerate to race speed. I've been told about this race--once you blow up, you don't recover. I was passed by two groups who'd started minutes after me before 10 kilometers we done.

It was hotter than usual, and seemed to me the attrition rate was high—14% of the 800 racing that day didn't finish. Considering I was in loss-limiting mode the entire race, people I passed were in very bad shape. I survived. I couldn't do more. Hypoxia had gotten so severe that by the time I approached the finish, even reaching for water was tricky because my balance had been so badly affected, and I was on the edge of some pretty scary cliffs. I happened to look down at my bicycle computer by accident just before Summit Lake (with five hard miles to go) and it said I'd been out for 2 hours, 50 minutes, just a minute short of my finish time last year. Here's a photo I found of myself in the background of someone else's photo--I've taken my left foot out of the pedal because this is the only real downhill in the whole race, and some of the bumps are so severe, they can best be described as speed bumps.

The upper part of Mt. Evans are terrifying, with vertical drops of 1600 feet past the unguarded edge. The average grade of the entire race is 4.8%, but it varies, with grades as high as 16%, and the finish having 40% of the oxygen at sea level it felt so steep at the top, I often checked to see if my tires were flat. I believe Mt. Evans is a category 1, the hardest rated climb.

I survived with my pride. I've never felt that bad at the finish of a bicycle race. I could barely stand, walk, or speak. I'd already decided prior to the race, that I would try to find a ride down the mountain rather than risk flying off a cliff without medical insurance. With my stagger, one of the guys who had a 12 passenger van immediately locked onto me and asked me if I was biking down. I said no. I found my back pack on the ground, handed him my camera, and asked him to shoot a photo of me--they were getting ready to leave but I needed a photo for Mom because she loves those photos, and if I didn't get one, I'd have to ride up there again. I didn't want to do that. He didn't quite know the camera, and accidentally shot three photos of me trying to figure how to lift a bicycle over my head.

I closed my eyes during most of the drive down, afraid to look out the cliff window of a tall van.

One kilometer from the finish

Trying to get more power near the finish

It seemed to take as long in the van as it would've on a bicycle (which I've done thrice before). Halfway down, we dropped off some guys at Echo Lake who had friends waiting for them (I had no one). Dave had vomited on the way down, from altitude sickness, and when we dropped him off to meet his wife, he vomited again. I was in the back of the van and noticed we weren't moving. Dave was on the ground and the driver, his wife, and another dude were standing by him. They were asking for water. I got out and Dave was white (not Caucasian, but like, white) and breathing heavily. I called back to the guys in the van to ask if anyone had medical experience. The dude sitting in the back row with me had EMT experience and relayed information through me to the people with Dave. After a few rounds of this I told him to get out and supervise because I didn't have his experience in observing vital signs. So dude--don't know his name, I'll just call him Dr. Love--ran the show.

The van then emptied and we took orders from Dr. Love. Dave had a heart rate monitor in his backpack, so I hobbled over and found it for him and we started monitoring. It had shot from 60 to 120 beats per minute, and he wasn't sweating (I was a bit frightened when I noticed my conditions were identical to Dave's, minus the white and vomiting part). Dr. Love had us pour water on Dave for an hour as he kept vomiting and apologizing. When we weren't assisting, some of us just stood over Dave to block the strong sun at 10,000 feet. Dr. Love asked about ambulances and none of us knew anything, so I hobbled up the road in my cleats and found the ranger station at the entrance to the Mt. Evans wilderness and two surprisingly attractive lady rangers (in my day, they all looked like Smokey Bear) who came down the hill with me and advised us on the ambulance. One of the ladies--don't know their names so I'll call them Tiny and Looney Tunes--Tiny phoned the emergency and Looney said we needed someone on the road to wave down the ambulance because of our remote location. I suggested the driver do it (because we had cleats and he had real shoes) but after a while, I could see he was preoccupied with other things, so I hobbled out and watched.

Dave continued to vomit a river with his wife standing by, and it became apparent that Dr. Love and I seemed to be the only two who were taking action--oddly enough, I was the one who said we needed to call the ambulance when no one else wanted to make the call, and when Dave was on his back and wanted to vomit, Dr. Love told him he could turn on his side to do it, and Dave just laid there and stared, so I stepped in, with all my medical expertise, and said,"You NEED to turn on your side now or you'll choke--that's how Led Zeppelin lost their drummer". Dr. Love said,"Yeah, he's right, you need to turn on your side now". I tried to make Dave's wife laugh (any EMT will tell you that laughter is the best medicine, and it's best to laugh while eating an apple). I was able to use my Holiday Inn Express joke when another cyclist asked Dr. Love if he had EMT experience. I told Dave his wife would never let him race again after this--then I told him I felt embarrassed that none of us tried as hard as he did, since I hadn't vomited or needed emergency medical attention all day. The ambulance arrived and Tiny and Looney left, while Dr. Love gave them a detailed analysis of Dave's situation (something I would've never been able to do while thinking of jokes). And like the Keystone Cops, they picked up Dave and hurled him into the ambulance. Dave was going to make it, and I turned to his wife and said,"That's a relief--for a moment I thought we might have to name the race after him". She pointed at me half smiling, half looking like one of those guys in those slow-mo movies from the 1960's showing the effects of excessive G-forces, and said,"That's not funny".

We cleared half the van, and proceeded to the bottom. I spoke to a guy named Ned Rule, and as we were talking, I mentioned Indiana a few times (usually with disdain). He asked me,"Why do you keep mentioning Indiana?" I said,"I live there"--he said,"Get out! Where?" I said, "Evansville" and he said,"You're sh-ting me!" I said,"No, I wouldn't do that in a van".

Video: Disgusting at the summit

Video: Driving down Mt. Evans

Ned was from Evansville and now lived in Colorado, and his father lived close to my

Trying to lift a bicycle over my head at the summit

Still working on lifting that bike

This is as high as I could get my bicycle

uncle and was a urologist, every man's dream occupation. I felt like saying,"Well then, can you tell me what's wrong with this thing???" I told him his dad probably knew my mother.

It was fun--I talked everyone's ears off, but they re-attached, and when we left, as I was putting my bicycle in my trunk and the guys rode by, called me by name, and wished me good luck. Boy, a theme song would've really come in handy at that time. I was a coward for not riding down, but this whole van thing was a very warm experience. I never get to bond with guys, but once, in my glue sniffing days, I sneezed on a guy in the locker room and it almost happened.

It took me a long time to recover from that effort. I was still loopy when I got back to my room, so much that I became confused while trying to heat my dinner when I put the food on top of the microwave oven and tried to climb inside for protection.

I wanted to leave Colorado so I could have housework and yardwork to do, but I loved Winter Park. No ticking time-bombs like in this place--no ex's, no hauntings, just a clean slate with people I barely knew and didn't need to know. I drove out of Winter Park, Colorado at 2:41am, local time, and made it back to my house in Indiana by 9:05pm that night. I've been sad ever since. I missed home when I was away, and now, I miss Winter Park.

Trying to avoid looking over the cliff