I have not made a secret of being in recovery. It’s been a long time since I was in the desperate, dark place that is rock-bottom addiction. It is so hopeless, so difficult. I would do anything, and I did. I did what it took to get a better life. If you have read Lance Armstrong’s War then you may know that many cyclists came from a similar hard, dark place. The author makes the comparison between the socioeconomic circumstances of European cyclists and American prize fighters. I would say it was more comparable to American football players: desperate and willing to do anything to make life better.
Lots of people, people who look as I do, feel such athletes should shut up and perform. After all, they are making extraordinary money. Do you know the desperation? Do you know their background? Do you know what it’s like to be that willing? And isn’t that the point of America? Isn’t that the dream we were taught as children? Work hard, do whatever it takes? I can’t condemn others for doing what they felt they had to.
And now, when these same folks are in a position to influence, a position to possibly help others in need, others who are in the same circumstance that they were once in, we condemn them. We criticize and insult. We hate them for achieving what we could not, what we would not do, what we felt we didn’t have to. They sacrifice what we are unwilling to and we hate them for it. We are the hypocrites.
Pro Football Hall of Famer, Howie Long, once stated that there was never a day when he did not wake up in pain. Many bright and amazing humans sacrificed everything to have a better life; to give those they loved a better life. They sacrifice their bodies. They sacrifice their brains. They sacrifice their future health and comfort for our amusement. How many of these people do we hear about who get huge paydays, then buy a house for their mothers, for their siblings, for their families. How dare they.
Ndamukong Suh is judged for his bad behavior on the field of play. He stomps, he spits, he does what is expected of him. Did you know that in 2011, Suh bought replacement equipment, all of their pads and equipment, for Frederick Douglass College Prep Academy in Detroit. Did you know Suh has his own philanthropic foundation, or that many athletes do? What bastards.
Now I could expand this analogy, but you get the idea. We can’t, or at least should not, judge people for reaction to circumstances of which we know little or nothing. I have some other ideas about from where this vitriol comes, but that’s another column.
Have fun, don’t judge. I’m going riding.
Once a year, for three weeks, there is no news. There is no Trevor Noah. No movie premiers. No baseball. There is only the Tour.
I have tortured my family with the bike races of Europe for a while. The one with which they are most familiar is the Tour de France. Three weeks, 21 stages across France and , occasionally, neighboring countries. I try to explain that,with Paul and Phil, it’s more than a race. It’s an experience, even if we never leave our own home.
History, hysteria, geography, linguistics and athleticism; what more could you want from a show. On stage 12 we see the 21 switchbacks, the Dutch Corner, the names of the hero who have ridden Alp du’Huez in the past.
While a few Americans ride the Tour, Tejay Van Gardener, Tayler Phinney, Lawson Craddick, they will not likely be huge factors. That doesn’t matter. There are young athletes with courage and heart and legs from all over the world; Froome, Quintana, Nibali. It’s a spectacle of pain, suffering and ultimately, glory!
My poor family have to put up with the broadcasts, the voices of Phil and Paul, the background noise of the crowds, me getting excited about the action and the landscapes. But they are pretty tolerant. I hope yours is, too.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . right after the stage.
It’s now been a couple weeks and I have had a bit of time to reflect on the 2017 Ride the Rockies. I stick by my assessment I made to one of my fellow riders; I think our brains work similarly to those of mothers. If we remembered all the pain as well as we remember the pleasure, the food and scenery, we wouldn’t do it again.
I wrote after our third night, a short spin around the Ute reservation west of Durango. The next day was the hardest. We pushed for 84 miles over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass and Red Mountain Pass, about 7,792 feet of climbing. After an easy roll-out from Durango and the thrill of the narrow gauge rail road, the road tipped up. The next 20 miles was almost all up hill. We laughed as we came upon the Purgatory Ski Resort. “This is Purgatory, I’ll take it.” Then the road tipped up again.
The first pass, Coal Bank, was the steepest of the day at an average of 5% with pitches of 8%. After a very short descent, riders head up Molas Pass, relatively short at eight miles, and again an average of 5%. These were enough to sap the legs. Plenty of vistas to enjoy both on the climbs and the descents. Riders dropped down into the old mining town of Silverton, which is also the finish of the Iron Horse Classic race.
The last climb was not the longest nor the steepest, but as the last climb and the highest, it took riders all their will and energy to finish the 11,018-foot ascent. The view and the venders made the ride do-able. My legs burned, my body was protesting most of the way. After stretching and taking a few photos, it was back on the bike for a thrilling 14-mile descent into Ouray.
Fast, worn, serpentine roads with lots of traffic and no guard rails was quite the experience. Luckily for me, still sporting the scars of a high-speed crash from last year, a lumber truck paced many of us out of the mountains. Riders had multiple opportunities to pull off and photograph the beauty that we wished to remember. That is the point; the joy of seeing Colorado by bike.
A small aid station full of happy, friendly residents awaited us in Ouray. Many riders decided that this was far enough for the day, and took rooms here. My riding buddies and I hammered the last 13 miles into Ridgeway. This was the point where I really understood the challenges of putting together this annual tour.
Imagine 2,000 tired, hungry cyclists cruising into town, sporting the thousand-mile stare, finding that much of the amenities were spread out over a square half-mile, or at least that’s how it felt. I was so short of energy that when our luggage handlers put my bag a mere one isle over from where I had expected it, I was nearly reduced to tears.
The beauty of having been a journalist is that I was able to find at least a little poise. I young man from the Good Samaritan Shelter tent, whom I had met earlier in the week, spotted me and gave me some food and helped look for my bag. Once I got some calories,found my bag and got my massage, I was able to enjoy Ridgeway. The view was the first thing we noticed.
The little mountain town set up entertainment in the middle of their town park. The town, itself has made the transition from mining to art. Lots of public art, galleries and little eateries bordered the park, allowing riders to stroll easily to alternative dinner options. This would be a short night for many of us, after a punishing, though picturesque day.
Day five was a relatively easy, though pretty warm day. Former cycling pro, Olympic medalist and big-hearted fund-raiser, Nelson Vails, led a few riders to a special breakfast in Ridgeway before all embarked on the 33-mile ride to Montrose. While there was an option for riders who had not suffered as much the day before, an additional 19 miles and a small climb, many simply took the opportunity of a recovery day. All of my riding buddies stayed together on the mostly-downhill ride. This also gave us plenty of time to sample what Montrose had to offer.
Montrose is not usually what tourists seek out, but with it’s charming downtown and enthusiastic festival, I would consider returning some time. It’s out on the Western Slope, north of the Sneffles Range, just southwest of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The sixth day had a few climbs, but it was the descent and long false flat into Gunnison that I remember. We followed the river and Blue Mesa Reservoir into Gunnison, making for a relatively easy day. There were plenty of rider trains along the route. Cruising between the last two aid stations, we averaged about 28 mph. It was a beautiful thing. I had the chance to test some wildly-deep aero wheels. The whole day was great.
Gunnison has some great restaurants. All were full of hunger riders that Friday evening. El Paraiso was our choice. This was also the third time I had eaten here. It was for good reason. Everything was tasty as could be, including our sopapillas for dessert. As always, the host town had activities set up, but we had one more hard climb ahead, and a long drive back to the real world.
The high-point of the RTR was waiting for us on the final day. Half the day was just the warmup. We rolled for 33 miles to the base of RTR’s final climb, 11,312-foot Monarch Pass. The pass averages about 5.2% with a maximum grade of 7% for 10 miles and 2,750 feet of ascending. It was unmatched in beauty. We had lots of time to enjoy it after seven days of riding.
After the top of the pass, it was literally all downhill into Salida. Once again, the tour rolled into Salida amid sunshine and the FIBArk whitewater festival. Again, Salida was all-in, hosting the finale for Ride the Rockies. Their park was jammed full of venders, great causes and riders looking for food and shade. The only thing that could have been better would be if my buddies and I had more time in town. Salad has always been a great host.
Renee Wheelock put on and admirable tour for her first RTR effort. I don’t envy her position, having to deal with cranky, hungry, tired riders, though I have a feeling she took it in stride. I look forward to seeing her and the rest of the RTR crew next year.
Next week, yes I am giving myself a schedule. I will review some of the equipment I got to use this year. Until then . . .
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
Grand Tours have begun, one-week tours and the Spring Classics have come and gone. For mere mortals, like me, the cycling season has just begun. Without a doubt, the biggest of the multi-day rides in Colorado is Ride the Rockies. I had the pleasure of speaking with the tour’s new director last week.
Renee Wheelock was the Ride the Rockies tour intern when I first met her in Gunnison, the start of the 2012 RTR. In the intervening years, Renee has climbed to the position of Tour Director.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said about her promotion. “It’s a unique perspective that allows me to provide some leadership.”
Wheelock started in March of 2012 with RTR as an intern, helping out where ever she was needed. It was just a single season before she moved into the role of Community Relations Manager, and three more before landing on the big saddle. But change is nothing new for Wheelock.
“I’m from all over,” she says.”I was born in California, lived in Tucson, moved to Australia for a while and went to college in North Carolina.”
After earning a degree in Elementary Education, Wheelock took a bike trip across the country when she first discovered Colorado. After finding energy bars in the convenient stores, she decided Coloradans enjoyed the lifestyle she wanted. But spearheading Colorado’s premier tour is not all sunscreen and wind through your helmet.
“We are already gathering ideas (for the 2018 RTR). Usually, we start up again between August and October, talking with the communities, taking trips to meet with them. In December we start working out the details of the route, organize the Route Announcement Party (which happens in early February). As a team, we all have different projects, but it’s all a small team.”
She adds, “I think it surprises people when I tell them there are only three people working full-time. This is a full-time job and it takes all year to put an event like this together.”
Wheelock pointed out that her degree has been helpful in running RTR.
“When you look at teaching, it’s planning and adjusting on the fly. Teachers also tend to be pretty detail oriented,” she says. “When I was teaching abroad, I also discovered my passion for the outdoors and fitness.”
Adjusting on the fly has been a hallmark of Wheelock’s time with RTR. In 2012, the route was detoured on the last day to avoid smoke from wildfires around Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins. In 2013, the route detoured again, creating the longest RTR route in its history. This time, the Royal Gorge park was in flames. Then, in 2014, the first day saw snow on Berthoud Pass, a closure by the State Patrol, and a huge sag with help from the Winter Park ski busses.
“We always have contingency plans,” Wheelock points out. “The beauty of the event, with such long-term partners, makes it special and rewarding when we see all hands on deck to make it work.”
Wheelock plans no major changes with RTR this season, though, one new thing will be a mobile app, which should promote even more of a community spirit within the tour. Wheelock acknowledges that at 32 years in, it’s getting hard to create new routes. In fact, riders have seen much of this year’s route before, but not all at once.
The 2017 route visits many of the towns and cities that Wheelock saw in her first year. Alamos, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Gunnison and Salida were all on the route in 2012 and 2017, though not in the same order or direction. Riders will travel over the east ascent of Wolf Creek Pass, this time. Riders can enjoy a short ride through the Southern Ute Reservation on the third day, then head north from Durango on Day Four over the picturesque Million Dollar Highway through Silverton and Ouray toward Ridgeway. The next day, riders head a short way into Montrose, with an optional “Challenge Loop.”
“Each day gets better and better,” says Wheelock. “Some riders might take the day in Durango off, but (the route through the Ute reservation) is beautiful.”
Wheelock continues, “The day into Montrose is quick and downhill, and the challenge loop, there’s not much traffic. The towns have all really come together.”
The last day between Gunnison and Salida includes the ascent of Monarch Pass.
“You never know how you will feel from one day to the next,” says the director. “Monarch is a slow, steady climb. Climbers might feel dog-tired, or they might feel really strong after six days of riding.”
One way or another, riders will likely enjoy the first Ride the Rockies under Wheelock. Her passion and that of her staff and army of volunteers, should create yet another beautiful tour, and years-worth of memories and stories. Hopefully, we will have Renee to thank for years to come.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going trainer . . . for Ride the Rockies.
Ride the Rockies has announced the route for their 2017 tour, and it’s a grand one. RTR will travel 447 miles and climb 37,337 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. The route includes some of the most stunning and legendary terrain the state has to offer, including the famous Iron Horse race route, Million Dollar Highway, Wolf Creek and Monarch passes.
If I seem excited, there’s a reason for it. In the ’90s, I had heard of the Iron Horse, a short and intense ride from Durango to Silverton, paralleling the narrow gauge railroad between the towns. I have dreamt of the climbs and descents for 25 years and so I’m very excited to see the route in person.
The ride begins in the San Luis Valley in Alamosa on June 10. If you can’t wait that long, you can bypass the lottery and sign up for the eighth annual Prologue, which begins with a VIP dinner on Friday, June 9, in Taos, New Mexico. The prologue ride, the next day, takes riders south from Taos, through stunning Southwestern landscapes to Rancho de Chimayo, where participants will enjoy a massage and dinner. It also includes a lift to the start line, back in Alamosa, on Sunday, June 11. Click here for more on registering and making a donation to the Denver Post Communities Foundation.
The ride, proper, starts with registration in Alamosa, on Saturday, June 10. Alamosa is surrounded by the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, near the border with New Mexico. It features a short rail line that takes visitors into downtown from their community center, south of town. Just to the northeast of town sits the tallest sand dunes in North America in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Show up early and spend some time exploring the contrast of the dunes against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos. If you are lucky, you may see some of the park’s wildlife, including elk and bison, at Big Spring Creek.
The first day takes riders out of the valley, west over the formidable Wolf Creek Pass. The pass climbs to 10,856 feet, and comes late in the day, at around mile 68 in the 93-mile ride. Total climbing amounts to 4,296 feet, but the pay-off is the 25-mile descent into Pagosa Springs and a dip in the natural hot springs that flow into the San Juan River. The ride came through here, in the opposite direction, in 2013, and will be a welcome stop after the long-day’s ride.
Day Two is a relatively short affair from Pagosa, deeper into the San Juan Mountains to the cycling Mecca of Durango. The route is 68 miles with 4,048 feet of climbing, spread over three bigger climbs, including Yellowjacket Pass at 7,800 feet, and a few smaller challenges. The route takes riders away from the highway at Bayfield for the last stretch through farmland outside of Durango.
Durango is home to writer, commentator, former cycling pro and all-round funny guy, Bob Roll. Roll entertained crowds during RTR’s last stop in his hometown back in 2013. He is expected to return again this year, hopefully with some of the same stories and a few new ones about his travels and experiences with the professional peloton.
Day Three is the loop day, this year. Last year’s loop was the decidedly non-relaxing, 78-mile, Copper Triangle loop. This year will be a much shorter 38.7 miles into the Southern Ute reservation with one notable climb, the 8,212 foot Hesperus Hill. It’s relatively steep, with ramps of better than seven percent, but it comes about 11 miles into the ride. The rest is a descending stair step back to Durango.
The short loop day encourages riders to enjoy a little more time in the host city. Durango, founded in 1880 to serve the San Juan mining district, is home to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Fort Lewis College, a cycling powerhouse, in their own right. The town boasts amazing mountain biking and has been home to such legends as 1990 mountain bike world champion, Ned “The Lung” Overhand and Missy “The Missile” Giove, world champion downhill mountain biker in 1994. The town hosted the first mountain bike world championships in 1990.
Durango is also a short drive from UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is a collection of about 600 cliff dwellings that were stumbled-upon by a pair of brothers who were searching for lost cattle in the area in the late 1880’s. While photographer William Henry Jackson had noted the existence of the cliff dwellings, and the Ute tribe of the area were certainly knowledgeable, it took the Wetherills to bring attention to Cliff Palace, and subsequently the many archeological sites of the park.
Day Four is the beast! Eighty-three miles with 7,792 feet of climbing over three passes; Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes. The day starts with the route of the Iron Horse Classic bike race, following the narrow gauge railroad north to Silverton. Riders will continue over the Million Dollar Highway, through the state’s ice-climbing capitol of Ouray, on to first-time RTR host town, Ridgeway.
Day Five continues north out of the former mining town of Ridgeway, on a mercifully short 32.4-mile, 490 feet of climbing ride to Montrose. If the legs are still fresh, riders can opt for the Governor Springs out-and-back challenge, adding 18.9 miles and 1,875 feet of climbing. It’s not mandatory, however.
Montrose is the gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the backdrop to Day Six of this year’s RTR. Sheer cliffs give way to the Blue Mesa Reservoir as riders head east, 65 miles, to Gunnison. The ride will take cyclists over 6,691 feet of climbing, jammed mostly into the first half of the day. At almost exactly halfway, cyclists will be done with the serious climbs and will get a descent and a relatively gentle, rolling ascent into Gunnison.
At 7,703 feet, Gunnison has the reputation as one of the coldest towns in Colorado. The stop will be a welcome cool down on the penultimate day. Gunnison has hosted Ride the Rockies two other times in the last six years, including 2015, most recently.
The final day will seem like a visit to an old friend as RTR heads to Salida, once more. Salida hosted stops in 2013 and 2015. This year the small arts and outdoors community hosts the finale. First, however, riders must negotiate the fearsome Monarch Pass.
While Day Seven is not the longest, at just under 66 miles between Gunnison and Salida, the bulk of the climbing involves the ascent of the highest pass in this year’s ride. Monarch Pass crests at 11,320 feet at around mile 43. The pass is also the jumping-off point of the famous Monarch Crest mountain bike trail.
Salida, the final destination of this year’s Ride the Rockies, is home to white water rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, near-by hot springs and 12 of Colorado’s famous 14’ers. It is a friendly, creative, outdoorsy community and a great little town to host the final party of this year’s RTR.
This year’s Ride the Rockies also marks the beginning of a new era, as Renee Wheelock takes the helm. Renee was an intern with the organization when I met her in Gunnison in 2012. She spent four years as Community Relations Manager, and now takes the job of the tour’s director. Congratulations, Renee! If this year’s Ride the Rockies is any indicator, the tour is in good hands and I look forward to many years of great rides.
To register and find out more about this year’s Ride the Rockies, click here! You will find information about the host towns, maps of the route, information about lodging and other logistics, and information about the sponsors and supporters. I hope to see you on this year’s Ride the Rockies!
It’s the time of year when cyclists are evaluating the season past and attending to injuries, aches and new tech for the bike. I am lifting heavy and paying attention to the aches I have accumulated over a frustratingly truncated season.
I had the chance to test my health insurance, more than once, and the chance to truly appreciate ER doctors. I also have to say that I love good helmets, an ample supply of bandages and positive negotiation within a marriage.
In August, I found myself bouncing off of the boards on my local velodrome. I won the sprint, patched myself up, then won another match sprint before the race director told me that I was done racing. No new stitches, but an angry rib and an angrier wife, when all was said and done.
It’s been rough, honestly. I’ve never been good at balance. Life balance, that is. After the second crash, my wife declared an end to my season. At the time, it sounded like an end to all racing, and possibly cycling, EVER. This would never stand, and I think she had known it. I understand, to a degree.
I tend to go all-in. If I decide to do something, I want to be immersed. If I actually commit, this is the thing over which I tend to obsess. I’m not really a dabbler. This can cause problems, even neglect, in other areas. Occasionally, my wife feels she and our daughter fall in this category.
It does not help that she does not understand why any middle-aged person would want to compete in anything, much less ride a bike without brakes at break-neck speed in circles. It’s also not helpful, to my point of view, that the nearest place to compete, in any discipline, is more than 20 miles away. The velodrome, one of only two in Colorado, is an hour away. The big, competitive Olympic velodrome, which is covered this time of year, is more than 100 miles, about three hours, from us. I don’t dare to dream of getting there to merely train.
I realize that this is not something that is going to help my family, other than making me smile and satisfing my competition cravings. It will take creativity to pursue racing, of any sort. It will take a bit of thought and planning to strike a balance between the sport I enjoy and the family I love. This will cause bumps, but they are bumps I am willing to suffer. I’m sure that I’m not the first cyclist to have these issues. I will let you know if I figure anything out.
In the mean time, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . on the trainer . . . at home.
When we left our heroes, they were being buffeted and blown all over Trail Ridge Road’s highest points by gale-force winds . . .
We were never so happy to get down and back into trees. And while the wind persisted all the way into Estes Park, it was never so bad as on the alpine tundra.
Riders arrived just in time to see one of my favorite weekly events, the Estes Valley Farmers Market, as the market was closing for the day. The town wanted to make room for the riders events later in the evening.
Local bands, including Amplified Soul, performed for the riders as local venders offered their wares. It was fun but it was a brief night, as most riders were tired from the short but challenging day through the park.
Donald at the Estes Valley Farmers Market.
Amplified Soul plays at the RTR event in Estes Park.
This particular stop was the whole reason I could not resist the pull of RTR this year. This was the chance to show off my little town. I have lived in Estes Park for 16 years and love promoting it. I also got to sleep in my own bed, and offer Donald a spare bed. It made for a wonderful night’s sleep ahead of the Grand Arrival, the final day of riding.
The last day of RTR2016 was a relatively short 51 miles. Starting in Estes Park, we rolled down the Big Thompson Canyon. The long line of riders snaked and plunged through the canyon, tracing the Big Thompson River until the famous and popular Masonville ride. Riders ambled through the countryside west of Loveland toward Horsetooth Reservoir. Then, the final climbs.
Horsetooth consists of four hard, steep, short climbs. All of them between 6-10 percent. A bit of a sting in the legs. After the last descent around the north end of the reservoir, riders enjoyed a sort of precession through the beautiful neighborhood on Mountain Avenue, eastward into Old Town Fort Collins. We rolled into O’Dell Brewery for food, entertainment and closing festivities.
Donald Lewis and the author pose at the finish in Fort Collins.
After a week of riding and more than 400 miles, we had arrived; tired, short on sleep and as happy as we could be. The arrival is always bitter-sweet.
We see each other for one week, once a year. We share stories, we catch up on lives outside of the tour, and for a week, we are a large, rolling family reunion. When we roll into the final stop, we have to say our good-byes.
Betsy, the Tour Assistant.
Renee, Community Relations Manager.
Liz, the Event Coordinator.
One good-bye was going to be a bit more permanent. Tour Director Chandler Smith was stepping down after eight years. Chandler challenged riders and adapted to last-minute challenges, himself. Just in my five additions, Chandler had to change two tour routes due to wildfires, and had to sag riders all along the Berthoud Pass climb on the first day of the 2014 RTR. He has served us well and advanced the RTR, improving the event and, hopefully, improving relations with the beautiful little towns in this amazing state.
Ride the Rockies has been a great tour for a long time. Each rout, even when closely paralleling previous routs, offer a new adventure. Chandler, Renee, Liz, Betsy and the army of volunteers, once again, gave riders a week to remember, about which to reminisce, and stories to retell.What more could we want. Thanks for the memories, and may luck smile on you, Chandler.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.