Extreme Lunch Brake

Oct 24, 2004

Editor's Note: Technically, this article was written well-before the first Flagstaff Frenzy post hit newsstands. But, it should definitely live here and see the light of day, so voilà!

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Dave climbing out of "The Hole"

While many of us in ITS grab a slice of pizza at lunch break, Dave Underwood slakes an altogether different type of hunger by jumping on his bike and heading for the hills just West of campus.

Since 1988 he has made his lunchtime ride a regular routine, dragging himself up to the top of Flagstaff Mountain over 520 times. To get a sense of what motivates him, I recently skipped lunch and tagged along for the ride.

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"I like hills," he confessed with boyish delight as we rode upward at a spirited clip. "Never worried much about how far I went, just how much vertical I gained. I like the drama of climbing."

Struggling to keep up, I was beginning to feel the drama of climbing in my legs, lungs, and throat. It was a chorus of swelling, painful sensations, so I figured Dave must prefer tragedies to comedies.

"It started as training for bike racing, then trail racing. I never liked working out for my health…seemed too wholesome." After three knee surgeries, with a fourth scheduled soon, Dave is reconsidering the health benefits of regular hill climbs; after 10 minutes riding alongside Dave, I was seriously reconsidering the health benefits too.

Mercifully, Dave let up a bit as the road tilted back earthward. Catching my breath, I managed to ask him what his best times were. "From the stoplight across from the UMC to the top of Flagstaff Mountain, my best time was 24:57." A truly amazing time, rendered all the more impressive by the fact that he did it pushing big gears—his lowest, easiest gear being better suited to cruising around Pearl Street than tearing up Flagstaff Road.

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As I recovered, I asked Dave whether or not he got tired of the same route everyday. "No, the Don Quixote factor is huge for me. For an hour a day I've got my own lovely little world…and the old guy on the 30lb. mountain bike just ahead of me is Lance Armstrong."

Dave laughs at his vivid imagination but secretly confesses that it is a source of great inspiration. "I used to race EVERYBODY. I'd enter victories in my daily log book as little bikes with an 'x' through them." Needless to say, Dave's thick log book is littered with the x-ed out bikes of cycling's greatest champions.

But like a great fisherman with stories of ones that got away, Dave has a few stories of big fish he wasn't able to reel in.

"So, one day, I see a man and a woman just up the road. Aha! Easy victims. I blow past them, then look over my shoulder and notice it's Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter [former pro cyclists]. A quarter of a mile later, I'm fried. They pass me and give me this what-a-moron kind of grin before they disappear."

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When Dave isn't "competing" in the Tour de France, his imagination runs wild closer to home. Indeed, he has named every corner and switchback on Flagstaff Road. Not surprisingly, the majority of the names have a dispiriting ring: "Die Lorelei," "A Bridge Too Far," "The Wall," "The Boat Ramp," "The Ledges," "Heartbreak Hill," and "The Snakes." I was hoping we hadn't already passed "Three Easy Pieces"—the only corner with a pleasant name—for I had yet to experience an easy stretch of asphalt.

Dave has seen a lot in his bike and foot ascents of mountains around Boulder. On one ride, he was almost beaten up Flagstaff by a guy riding a newspaper bike. The guy turned out to be an ex-pro rider "with a twisted sense of fun."

Incredibly, Dave's never had an incident while descending mountain roads on a bike. He attributes his slalom success to slow speeds and smart riding, which entails leaving "wiggle room for when a deer jumps onto the road."

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On trail runs, he's seen a guy sporting a thong, a bear with three cubs, and snow cornices with two inch long ice crystals on Mount Sanitas. Although he's fallen a lot while trail running, he's climbed much higher than he's fallen—Dave's done the Pikes Peak Marathon 11 times (once in under three hours) and he's run up Mount Sanitas over 300 times (once in 17:20).

So, as we finally reached the summit of Flagstaff, I wondered if there was anything that stopped him from climbing at lunch. "I hate riding in wet weather; don't mind the cold though. I've biked Flagstaff in the low teens a bunch."

Even on the soggy days, however, Dave doesn't sit around. Instead, he heads for 11 storey Gamow tower. "I've done it ten times during a lunch break, but I hate it." Indeed, Dave would much rather run trails than walk stairs, even though his knees can't take it anymore. "Some of my greatest memories are from days when the temps were below zero and the snow on the trails was untracked."

While he boasts that his motto is "The older I get, the faster I was," Dave is no slouch these days. Victims still litter his log book, and shattered egos still line the side of the roads around Boulder.

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The only real uncertainty about Dave is what he actually does eat for lunch; after all, he burns a lot of calories over the course of the day. His answer is like most any IT stiff's: "I snack while I work." That's about the only thing we IT stiffs share in common with him though.

And yet, as we stood atop Flagstaff admiring the Indian Peaks, I felt I did share his passion for climbing. "It's poetry," Dave allowed. Though my lungs were still burning, I couldn't agree more.