Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015: Day Seven - Hardscrabble Pass and Finish!

The finish line in Westcliffe framed by the Sangre de Cristo mountains
(photo shamelessly borrowed from Phil Cernanec)
Miles ridden today: 47.2
Elevation gain: 4,281 feet
Time in saddle: 4 hours, 35 mins

Final total of miles ridden: 474.42
Final total of elevation gain: 31,217 feet
Final total of time in saddle: 39 hours, 35 mins

I did it!!

On the seventh day, I am told, God rested.  On the seventh day of Ride the Rockies, cyclists pedaled to the 9,085 feet high summit of Hardscrabble Pass. 

As mountain passes go in Colorado, this one isn’t so bad. But it was still approximately a 4,000 feet climb from where we started in Cañon City – which equates to a similar climb up Cottonwood Pass on Thursday, just with more oxygen!

Hardscrabble is an unusual climb because the steepest part with switchbacks is not at the top, but in the middle section of the road up.  It actually flattens out a bit as you near the top.  The biggest challenges today were sun and heat (temperatures in the 90s) and the simple fact that after six days of
Busy car and bike traffic on the way up Hardscrabble
riding, my legs were plain tired! Without an aid station halfway up, many riders found themselves rationing water intake which can be dangerous Many cyclists ‘sagged’ in one of the RTR support vehicles.  I was thankful to the Davis Phinney Foundation support people that offered water to any riders who passed by.

At the top of the pass, I was rewarded with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, views that continued to improve during the quick descent down the pass and the ride to the finish line.

Farm for sale on Hardscrabble
I rode into the small town of Westcliffe, the Ride the Rockies final destination, shortly after 12:30 p.m.  What a great welcome the people of Westcliffe provided.  Main Street was lined with signs and decorations with townsfolk ringing cowbells and honking horns. I thought I was taking a video on my way in, but somehow I must have hit the ‘stop’ button in all my excitement!

There was a street fair with live music and outstanding food and drink awaiting all the riders, all with the sensational backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos. It was a festive and fitting way to end a fabulous week.

Things I learned from my week Riding the Rockies

1)    It’s all mental. As tired as my leg, back and shoulder muscles got at various points during the week, there was nothing on the ride I couldn’t accomplish physically.  Being out with my bike for up to 11 hours a day and climbing steep mountain passes is a challenge of mind over matter. If you think you can….

2)    Sunburn on the lips is no fun.  Use stronger SPF more often next time.

3)    Crested Butte wins the best, most fun, town award.

4)    Never let a bee get inside your cycling shirt.  One little guy can do great damage.

5)    Sleep was surprisingly elusive. There was one night I crashed hard (following the Grand Mesa ride). On other nights, I was surprised to find myself awake at odd hours thinking about the day ahead.

6)    More than rain or heat, the hardest element to deal with is wind.  A strong headwind sucks morale quicker than anything.

7)    It paid to have an expired driver’s license.  It won me a free RTR T-shirt in a corny contest.

8)    Emotions ran the full gamut during the week: laughter, tears, frustration, anger, elation, relief, fear.  It was without a doubt a roller coaster ride.

9)    No one, and I repeat, no one looks good in cycling shorts.

10) My lasting overall sense is one of gratitude:  gratitude to have a job where I can take a week to do this, gratitude to have a 48 year old mind and body that CAN do this, gratitude to have met all kinds of people from all kinds of places along the ride, gratitude for all the amazing support in calls, texts, Facebook comments, etc. all week long from so many, gratitude for James’ jovial company for much of the way, gratitude for the loving support of Emma and Leah, and overwhelming gratitude for Steph and all the support and love she gave me this week and gives me every minute of every day. 

The legendary flapjack man who serves all-you-can-eat
pancakes and sausage at the first rest stop of every day.
The last day was my only day to partake - yum!

The top of Hardscrabble Pass

Sangre de Cristos in the distance from the top of the pass

The final day's ride
My welcome sign from Emma when I got home!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ride the Rockies: Day Six - Royal Gorge Bridge

Royal Gorge Bridge over the Arkansas River
Miles ridden today: 68.3
Elevation gain: 3,087 feet
Time in saddle: 4 hours, 25 mins

Total miles ridden: 427.22
Total elevation gain: 26,936 feet
Total time in saddle: 35 hours, 0 mins 

According to the early route map provided by Ride the Rockies, today looked like the easiest of the seven days of riding – almost all down hill.  And to a certain extent it was: 40 miles of descent heading south out of Salida which I covered quickly. It was a beautiful ride that followed the Arkansas River and I averaged 20 mph.

Skyline Drive
What everyone failed to mention were the two incredibly steep hills towards the end of the day’s riding.  The first led from the valley floor to above the Royal Gorge Bridge, a climb of almost 1,000 feet in about 2 miles.  The Royal Gorge Bridge is the world's highest suspension bridge, spanning the Arkansas River, at a height of 956 feet!

The second was a shorter but similarly steep ride to a narrow sliver of road above Cañon City, known as Skyline Drive, a road just wide enough for a single car that hugs a spectacular ridge top.

While both of these short climbs taxed the legs and the mental drive, both led to incredible views. I stopped several times for photo opportunities – and to catch my breath! I had never visited either place before and both are stunning.

The good news is that today was a relatively short and speedy day and I rolled into Cañon City just after noon.  My bike needed a little first aid on its gears at the hands of the capable technicians that follow the ride and it should be in good shape for tomorrow, the seventh and last day of Ride the Rockies.

It looks like a tough day ahead – there’s a reason, I’m guessing, that it’s called Hardscrabble Pass!

Early morning light 

Views from US 50 south of Salida

Along the Arkansas

Crossing Royal Gorge Bridge

That's me, on the bridge

Looking down at the river and the train, 956 feet below my feet!

A nice reward on our last night: Cheyenne Mountain Resort

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015: Day Five - Cottonwood Pass

Miles ridden today: 102.8
Elevation gain: 5,812 feet
Time in saddle: 8 hours, 21 mins

Total miles ridden: 358.92
Total elevation gain: 23,849 feet
Total time in saddle: 30 hours, 35 mins 

One of the reasons I wanted to do this ride was to see parts of this beautiful state that I didn't know.  Today, I certainly met that goal and saw some spectacular scenery.

With 102 miles ahead of me between Crested Butte and Salida, it was an early start. The route took me around Taylor Park Reservoir, up and over Cottonwood Pass (at 12,126 feet above sea level),
down through Buena Vista, past Mt Princeton Hot Springs and into Salida.

Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, I will write less but let you know how much I enjoyed stopping, somewhat frequently, to take these photos.  I was grateful for the panorama feature on the iPhone 6 camera - it makes for some wonderful photographs.  All of these were taken 'as is', no filter.

This was my first ever century ride. While it was the longest of the week, it was not the hardest physically (that honor belonged to Monday) or mentally (Tuesday).  It was a beautiful, though challenging mountain ride for the first 70 miles or so. The last 30 just felt long.

At least Salida had a fun whitewater river festival going on and we had a great dinner in town.
Chapel outside Buena Vista

Blogging about this ride for a week would not be complete without a heartfelt expression of gratitude to my beautiful fiancee Steph.  She has been here all week as a wonderful supporter.  Not only providing perfect and much needed words of encouragement and hugs (even when I probably don't smell too good at the end of a long day of cycling!), she has also been a fabulous logistical support - driving between towns, hauling suitcases, checking in on my every need.  She is awesome and you should all know that (if you don't already!) and I adore her!

Taylor Park Reservoir

Dirt road up Cottonwood Pass

Panoramic view close to the top of the pass

view close to the top of the pass

The road I just climbed

Made it!

Rest area at the top of the pass

Whitewater festival in Salida

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015, Day Four - Crested Butte

View towards Crested Butte
Miles ridden today: 27.7
Elevation gain: 1,424 feet
Time in saddle: 2 hours, 12 mins

Total miles ridden: 256.43
Total elevation gain: 18,037 feet
Total time in saddle: 22 hours, 14 mins 

For many years, Ride the Rockies incorporated a rest day on the middle day of the ride: a day with no riding.  No more!  Now, they call is a “recovery day” – and plan a shorter, easier ride, just to keep us on our toes (or in our toe clips).

Today’s ride was 27 miles of gentle upslope from Gunnison (altitude 7,703 feet) up to the ski town of Crested Butte (altitude 8,800 feet) – some high alpine cycling.

As Gunnison doesn’t have accommodation for all the riders, Steph and I were actually staying in Crested Butte overnight.  We drove down to Gunnison and met up with James, who was camping there, for the ride back up the hill.

Packin' 'em in the car!
At breakfast at the hotel, we met other riders, some of whom had been waiting for the RTR bus to Gunnison for over an hour – more evidence of the slight lack of organization around here.  Realizing the bus was unlikely to come, we ended up piling eight of us in Steph’s car – a cozy way to start the day.

The ride itself was beautiful, as evidenced in these pictures.  James and I took it slowly, in the spirit of ‘recovery’ and rolled into Crested Butte in time to meet Steph for lunch.

After racking up nearly 180 miles in the last two days, it was nice to have a gentle morning ride. An afternoon of rest and relaxation sets me up nicely for the longest day tomorrow.

I had mistakenly identified Monday as the longest day at 98 miles – not so – tomorrow will be 102 over Cottonwood Pass and the highest point of the ride at 12,126 feet. It will be an early start…. 

The West Elk mountains

Gunnison River

Gunnison River

A typical RTR aid station

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ride The Rockies 2015 - Day Three, Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Miles ridden today: 80.4
Storm clouds at the summit of today's ride

Elevation gain: 5,990 feet

Time in saddle: 7 hours, 26 mins

Total miles ridden: 227.75
Total elevation gain: 16,613 feet
Total time in saddle: 20 hours, 2 mins 

As hard as yesterday was physically, I found today to be much harder mentally - all because of the weather. Yesterday was a grueling climb, but I knew it was going to be -  so it was just a question of keeping going.

Today, we awoke to rain and thunderstorms and, due to the idiosyncracies of the Ride The Rockies shuttle bus system, I spent a delightful hour and a half on a bus this morning and started riding an hour later than expected.  The silver lining is that those who got an early start got soaked.

I began my ride out of Hotchkiss at 8:15 and it was a steady climb in drizzling rain to Crawford.  I was damp but not cold or drenched.  A few hundred yards before the Crawfod aid station, however, the heavens opened and I had to take immediate shelter under a farm building porch.  The pouring
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison
rain finally relented and I rolled into Crawford (home of the late Joe Cocker!) to find James huddled away from the rain where he had been waiting close to an hour for the deluge to subside.

We rode together for the next few hours, frustrated by a brutal headwind that hindered any chance of gentle downhills.  We had around 15 miles of rolling hills, but with the intense wind in our faces it was impossible to freewheel - instead we had to fight for every yard.  It was hard not to get grumpy and I appreciate James' positive outlook on keeping us focused on short goals - a mile or two at a time. We fought our way through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and climbed to over 9,000 feet. 

Blue Mesa Reservoir
At the top, the sky was stormy to the south and blue to the north and it was unclear which weather was heading our way.  James and I separated as I pushed on, taking a gamble that good weather would prevail.  It did, but I biked as fast as I could to avoid the impending storms.

Finally down from the mountains, it was a hot thirty mile push along the busy US 50 to Gunnison.  And then a bus ride to Crested Butte where Steph was waiting and where we are staying for two nights.

Overall, it was tough to face that kind of headwind and to risk whether to push on into potential thunder and lightning storms.  I feel lucky that, in the end, it was a day that ended well.  Though with 80 miles today and 98 yesterday, I'm looking forward to a shorter day tomorrow.
Views from today's ride between Hotchkiss and Gunnison

Views from today's ride between Hotchkiss and Gunnison

Views from today's ride between Hotchkiss and Gunnison

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015 - Day Two, Grand Mesa

Miles ridden: 98
Rock wall near the summit of Grand Mesa

Elevation gain: 7,631 feet

Time in saddle: 8 hours, 51 mins (about 11 hours total)

Total miles ridden: 146.6
Total elevation gain: 10,623 feet
Total time in saddle: 12 hours, 36 mins 

Well, I learned some things today:

1) A 98 mile ride is a really, really long way. 7,631 feet is high!

2) All the training I did around the foothills in Denver did not prepare me for a day like today.

3) Never ride fast with your mouth open and big bugs flying around!

Leaving Grand Junction at 6:30 a.m. and getting into Hotchkiss close to 6:00 p.m. gave me a really long day.  However the scenery was spectacular. The photos hardly do it justice.

The morning began with a nice flat stretch along the swollen Colorado River. James and I rode together for this section, though I left him at the first rest station in the queue for all-you-can-eat pancakes!

At mile 17, I started to climb, gently for the first 18 miles, and then it was a hard and steep, but steady climb, all the way to the top of the Grand Mesa - 19 miles of UP!

A fast descent for 20 miles, hitting 40 mph at times, and then rolling hills for 23 miles into the small farming community of Hotchkiss.

At one point I called Steph almost weepy with exhaustion.  Thankfully, the day ended with a 30 minute massage and a cold beer, rendering me ready for another long day tomorrow. 

The extra protein from the insects can't hurt either!
At the summit - after 7,000 feet of climbing and still smiling!

Farmhouse near Mesa

Colorado River flowing near Grand Junction

Early in the day on a bridge over the river

Views from the ascent up Grand Mesa

Views from the ascent up Grand Mesa
Views from the ascent up Grand Mesa

At the top of Grand Mesa

Yup, that's a hill alright!