I was having a hard time breathing, which is not super uncommon when one gains 6,000 ft in elevation, but my particular anaerobia was caused more by anxiety. Driving through the Colorado Rockies with my mom and our friend Terry, I was in yelling distance of the time when I was going to have to get on my bike and ride between 60 and 100 miles each day over mountain passes and through arid wastes.
One time, I cried on my bicycle for 20 out of 78 miles as I rode with my mom around Copper Triangle, triple bypass of climbs, because my butt hurt so bad, it was taking so long, and the wind was in my face. I was about to get a week of that shit.
Mom had to have a root canal two days before our bike trip. Terry and I tried to remind her to take her pain medicine every few hours so the effects wouldn't wear off. A few times she forgot to take her pills, and when pressed she admitted that she had a second heartbeat in her mouth.
The truly terrifying thing about going with Mom and Terry is not their sky-high athleticism -- at 24 years old and having spent considerable time training (I did my homework), I hold my own in the muscles/cardiovascular department -- it's that these women don't fucking quit. Riding with them meant that I couldn't suddenly get a head case and hitch a ride on the sag wagon; it meant that regardless of how much time it took us, regardless how many hours of sitting on cruelly hard and narrow ass-apparati and breathing in scents of roadkill, we were going to ride into camp on our little bicycles.
One of the passes we rode over was where, almost exactly a year ago, I had helped spread the ashes of a friend of mine that died. I thought about him as we climbed 13 miles of dirt road to the summit (average speed: 4 mph). I have dreams off-and-on that he is alive, and nobody's even that impressed because the whole death thing was just a misunderstanding, but in the most recent one, the image of him talking to me was overlaid by my memory of his ashes floating down the small creek where he used to camp.
Up there the sun warms you like a campfire. The side of me not sun-blasted is cold from the sparse air and chill wind, while sunny side is just about dying of heat. A bit like how Mercury feels, I'd guess.
Getting to the top of that pass, I made sure to dodge holes and tried to stay clear of accordion-style divots or places where there was too much loose dirt. I plugged in my tunes and measured my pedal strokes to Gorrilaz and Fleet Foxes. I talked to Mom, stayed behind her, and fought not to think about how long it was taking me.
And it will sound simplistic -- if you have better advice, more complex, instructive, or hopeful, follow that instead -- but all that's for it, I think, is to keep your head down and just keep pedaling. At this point, I don't know what else to do.