I had casually ridden bikes my whole life, never 10, 20, 50 or heaven forbid 135 miles before! I had a teacher in high school who talked about riding the Trans Am route several times, yet all I could think about is “Man, that sounds like no fun!”
After graduating from high school in 2002, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and served a tour in Iraq from August of 2004 through February of 2005. My unit was involved with operations in Fallujah in November, and while I came back physically whole, something had changed. My drinking increased. I began using a multitude of narcotics, anything that would change my state of mind in order to to fall asleep, to stay awake, to forget…. Life was hitting me hard. PTSD has been a part of my life since my return and I found a cure for myself 6 years after my discharge in 2008. I have since been rated by the VA as disabled, my service dog Rosco is with me all the time, and life is better, but still not right.
It wasn’t until two years ago, May, 2014, that I started riding. I remember purchasing a GT Traffic 4.0 just to putt around town on. I rode every day that month replacing one errand a day with a ride. Early June, after enjoying so many rides, I purchased a full suspension mountain bike thinking I would enjoy it and proceeded to ride some trails. This was not for me and I found myself riding dirt roads and asphalt more, so, I sold it and purchased my first ever road bike July 1st, 2014. It was when I purchased this bike that my life was changed.
About a week after this, I had found out my mother may have Multiple Sclerosis (ended up coming back negative), so I decided to go home to Toledo, OH and visit her and the time lined up with the MS 100 from New Brusnwick, OH to Sandusky. This was my first month of really riding and I rode a century, it was amazing and I was hooked. The following 5 weeks I rode a century every weekend all over the country. The ultra bug had struck! It also was the first West Elk Bicycle Classic I had participated in, I swore I would never do it again.
This “Ultra Bug” hit hard and fast as I saw a drastic change in who I was as a person. I found a purpose and a meaning which my PTSD had been blocking. I was sleeping, eating, behaving, and preforming better than I had in years. My flashbacks were reduced and it was all thanks to this sport. In October, a friend shared a post on the Trans Am Bike Race the following year and I hoped on it. I had to ride. I made it 1604 miles in the race until I called it due to a second dehydration issue and major mental break downs.
Upon my return from the ride, I signed up for any century or event I could. I rode the Waxahatchie Cow Creek Classic, The Double Triple Bypass, Mt. Evans Hill Climb and the ride where I find my peace in the peloton for the first 32 miles every year; The West Elk Bicycle Classic.
Of all the rides I have done in my short career of riding, the WEBC is the most fun, most humbling, and most inclusive (now adding the 52 mile loop), that I have found. The early morning start, rolling along US 50 as the fog lifts from Blue Mesa Reservoir to the climbs and descents through the Black Canyon. The thought of legs hurting can be cured by looking up and realizing that a place where many people feel lucky enough to drive their cars through at 40+MPH, I get to ride my bike and take it all in. The stop in Paonia with all the fresh fruit from the Orchards and the amazing sponsored support of Honey Stinger and breweries, Primal and more add to the atmosphere of belonging and lighten the mood of the event.
While I have felt as though I was accepted in the cycling community when I started riding, it wasn’t until I rode the WEBC that I felt I belonged. It gives my head the freedom to breath but my legs the goal to keep pushing knowing that the clock was going at the top of Kebler Pass. While I may not Catch Dave or the multitude of other top athletes who are happy to ride side by side with a guy who is essentially one of the greenest in the field, at the end of the day, after they have left me on the climb following the dam, we are side by side again having a beer.
There is no community like the cycling community and there is no event like the West Elk Bike Classic. It is one of my favorite routes and it is one of the reasons I have not become a statistic like so many other Veterans who suffer from PTSD. It keeps me going knowing that I always have family to come back to year after year.
I am honored to be a West Elk Bicycle Classic Ambassador and am constantly humbled by the route. I look forward to riding alongside everyone this year as I return for year number 3 (keeping in mind I said I would never do it again following year 1!)
Thank you Dave and Jarral for all that you two do for the Gunnison cycling community and cycling as a whole.
Keep the rubber side down,
Jordan D. Schwartz