Driving between Denver and Placerville, Colorado, takes about five hours and 50 minutes. Via U.S. Highway 285 South and U.S. Highway 50 West, drivers must go through Monarch Pass, which has an elevation gain of roughly 3,002 feet.
Cheyenne cyclist Julie Engler is about to make this journey by bicycle over the course of three days.
“It’s pretty hard,” she said by phone with a self-aware laugh. “So I’m kind of on the fence if I’m going to be able to complete it or not, but I’m going for it, and it’ll be an interesting experience.”
The idea for this trip came from non-alcoholic beer company Athletic Brewing Co., for which Engler is an ambassador. ABC recently organized the Coast to Coast Cycling Relay 2020 as a celebration of its new brewery on the West Coast. Ten employees and ambassadors are traveling a total of 3,188 miles from where ABC started in Stratford, Connecticut, to the new location in San Diego, California.
The total relay includes an elevation gain of 152,678 vertical feet, and Engler’s personal elevation gain will be 22,914 feet over the course of the three days.
Needless to say, this is no beginner’s ride. Engler started cycling in January of last year because she wanted to do a triathlon, but after she hurt her leg running, she realized that wasn’t in the cards. However, biking didn’t hurt, so after buying a “crappy used bike,” she decided to focus on cycling.
She quickly fell in love with the sport, and eventually became a certified LES MILLS SPRINT class instructor at Gold’s Gym. So when the ABC guys called and asked if she wanted to be part of the Coast to Coast Cycling Relay, she didn’t think twice.
Training for the event has been different during a global pandemic, particularly for the two months when Gold’s was closed and she couldn’t rely on her weekly classes to help her keep up with the high-intensity element of her workouts. For outside training, she’s been going on long weekend rides, six to 10 hours long, around southern Wyoming, but she said it’s hard to stay focused when there isn’t as much to look at.
Perhaps the highlight of this part of the training, she said, was an event in Colorado Springs, The 719 Ride, that included 9,000 feet of climbing and 70 miles up some steep hills.
Engler also found an indoor program called TrainerRoad that’s kept her on track with features such as “sweet spot” that puts you at your muscle threshold (the spot at which you can cycle fairly steadily for an hour or two without major pain).
But that feature aside, there’s still been plenty of pain. And Engler knows that pain will get even worse when she’s out there on the ride itself – particularly climbing Monarch Pass. However, she’s thrilled by the challenge.
“There’s something about it,” she said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world. When you get out there and do it when you don’t think you can – the challenge of it was definitely a draw.”
Asked how she plans to overcome both the inevitable physical and mental fatigue, Engler said it’s not going to be easy, but classes like the ones she leads at Gold’s have helped her adopt the correct mindset.
“I try to get through that mental block … you have to tell yourself, ‘Nope, you have to do it,’” she said. “You still won’t want to be there (at times), but eventually your legs warm up, and everything starts to feel better. … It’s about knowing your body and pushing your limits. You have to say, ‘I’m doing this.’ You have to commit to it and make that a thing so you can’t say no. You don’t give yourself the option to say no.”
Other than the challenge of it all, the aspect of the ride that Engler most looks forward to is fundraising for Wyoming Pathways’ new Pole Mountain project. Every dollar raised via her Facebook donation page will be matched by ABC’s Two for the Trails program for the duration of the company’s cross-country ride, so she’s hoping to make a difference in her community by supporting others who want to get out and explore Wyoming’s great outdoors.