Death in the Mountains: Breathless and Quivering

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver,filling every pore and cell of us….

– John Muir

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, “What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?” and my answer must at once be, “It is no use.” There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. So, if you cannot understand that…that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.

-Sir George Leigh Mallory, 1922

Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top — it is the willpower that is the most important. This willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others — it rises from your heart.

– Junko Tabei  after becoming the first woman to climb Everest in 1975


I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?

Psalm 121:1, New American Standard Bible


It took me months to figure out, but finally I got it two Sundays ago when some friends and I were training hard on Mt. Diablo.  We were on our second ascent of the mountain that day, when yet another cyclist wearing a Death Ride jersey, whizzed by.

“Are you gonna get the jersey, Lauren?” my friend asked.

Breathless, I moaned, “They’re not even attractive!”   We both laughed at the obnoxious skull-and-cross-bones graphic, the loud purple and green colors.  And that’s when it clicked…

“This entire ride,” I declared, “the route, the advertisements, the hype, the jersey,  is testosterone at its most adolescent!”  My friend laughed again, which made sense since he’s a he.  I, however, was mesmerized by what had just come out of my mouth.  Images of teen males laughing at gapping wounds freshly acquired from a skateboard crash, or other stunt-related wipe-out, flashed through my mind.  Why, in the name of all things Holy, had I fallen for this ride?

The Death Ride (yes, that’s its real name) is an annual ride which happens on the second Saturday of July.  It’s open to the first 2000 registrants who are insane enough to sit at their computer on a random morning in December and submit their contact information and credit card digits before the event is full, typically within 2 hours.

The 129-mile ride happens south of Lake Tahoe and consists of bicycling up 5 mountain passes in one day, the cumulative elevation being 15,000 feet.

14,000 feet in the Andes, 2006

After registering in previous years, and then chickening out, I found new resolve last December; and since April, I’ve been training methodically.  Did I just put “I” and, “methodically” in the same sentence?  The training was really fun…until it wasn’t, which was about 6 weeks ago.   I was riding a tough route and struggling significantly with the climbs, realizing that the Death Ride would be asking even more of me.  But I had nothing more to give.  How could I possibly do it?  What had I been thinking?

I spent the next week fearful and depressed.  I began toying with idea of giving myself permission to NOT do the ride.  But that felt too extreme.  Maybe I needed to focus on finishing 3 mountain passes instead of 5?  And then,Marjorie, my dear friend and riding partner, sent a blog post to my inbox entitled, “Fear and Action.”  I gave it a click….


Anything worth doing, any creative endeavor, any new experience will come with a healthy dose of uncertainty. …Nervous energy is often a signpost that what you’re about to do really matters.” – Jonathan Fields


Thanks, Jonathan.  He’d reminded me of something that I’ve mentioned before about me and the bike, right?  That, for me – and I know I’m not alone here – cycling is a sacred, co-creative and dynamic act; it’s where I meet God in the exponential extremes of mental focus, physical effort, nature’s ecstasy, spiritual surrender …and meteorological surprise.

“Yes, dammit!” I admitted it.

“Of Course!” I heard myself say.  “If I finish this bloody ride, I’m going to get the bloody jersey.”

But I can’t ride this ride the way it’s been advertised.  At the age of 40, I’m only slightly less intimidated than I was as a teen, of testosterone at its most adolescent.  While I believe in the validity of, “channeling my inner 17 year old male,” and no doubt will during some insanely steep grade this Saturday,  the way I found my way out of the “fear swamp” a few weeks ago, was to figure out how to ride the Death Ride MY way.

The Andes - 12,000 ft

Riding my way is to ride with my Mother, the Great Mother.  Ah!  Suddenly, my training turned a corner.  I began each ride more relaxed, I softened toward the strength already in my being, and it’s hunger to grow when I call on the kind of rider I really want to be: She who Rides with The Mother.  Afterall, who but She knows better, the bends in the road?  Who, if not She, is the peak and plummet creating Monitor, Ebbetts and Carson Passes.


The Andes, 10,000 ft

It is She who receives the afternoon sun, thunder or hail with neutral appropriation,  and She  who decorates her slopes with trees, wildflowers, and beings in flight.  This Saturday, with every oxygen-limited breath I can remember, I will tap Her wisdom; I will channel her Strength; I will ask for Her Grace; and I will ride with Her at my side – breathless and quivering – for as long as I can.


Death Ride, 2012


4 thoughts on “Death in the Mountains: Breathless and Quivering

  1. Yes, yes, and yes! Death Ride is for many an organized exercise in ego-enhancement through testosterone-cured bravado. But not all who choose to participate in this thing are compelled by the same drives or values. I would tell you that many of us were there to meet the edges of our resolve, to get a glimpse down dark well-hidden passageways, to confront ourselves. For ourselves.

  2. gorgeous! i got “god goosebumps” just reading about what awaited you… now i am ready for the post-ride, rising from Death Ride blog entry!!!

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