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.
So there are two, diametrically opposed trains of thought within cycling, these days. These are the stealthy fitness and the showy fitness. The first has been around for a while, and the second, a more recent event linked to our modern, mobile, social media age.
For as long as there has been competitive cycling, there has been stealth fitness. This is best illustrated by an e-mail that was circulated about a decade ago, and attributed to one of Chris Carmichael’s CTS coaches. The old e-mail stated that cyclists were the biggest fitness liars and stealth trainers. We say one thing, but it quickly becomes evident that we mean something completely opposite.
We say “This is a no-drop ride.”
We mean “As soon as the first hill comes, I will grind you into dust. I will attack every hill, I will contest every town-limit sign until you are left in a weeping heap on the side of the road.”
We say “I’m not in race-shape.”
We mean “I’ve been spending every waking moment on the trainer/rollers. I have more miles in my legs than the Interstate System.”
We say “I’m not feeling it, today.”
We mean “Hope you have your race wheels on, cause this is going down.”
My personal favorite, “This is my beater bike.”
We mean “This bike was made of Unobtainium. The frame was blessed by the Pope. It is lighter than a fart and more expensive than a divorce.”
This has been the prevailing attitude for generations of cyclists. Everything is very secret. Every play is close to the chest. Sunglasses on cyclists were not to protect one’s eyes, there were to hide any tells, hide anything that might indicate fatigue. Or, possibly, hide just the opposite. Exhibit A: Lance fakes being tired during the ’01 TdF stage of Alpe D’Huez. Lance and the Posties pretend The Boss is suffering, prompting Jan Ulrich’s Team Telecom to drive the pace to the base of the storied climb, basically tricking the German team into doing all the heavy lifting for the day, before the Texan’s famous “Look” and the trademark attack to grind Ulrich down and eventually win that Tour.
But these days, there is another cycling saying. It makes secret training much more difficult. “If it didn’t happen on Strava, it didn’t happen.”
I want to keep track of my miles and my workouts, but now there is no hiding from my sea-level buddies who will join me on Ride the Rockies this year. My California friends ride every chance they get. One commutes through Orange County, while the other trains for marathon rides, like the Breck Epic and Leadville 100. Our friend from Texas is an Ironman. I’m a giant track sprinter who happens to live at 7,500 feet.
I can’t let these guys embarrass me in my home state, in spite of the fact that I out weigh each of them, some by significant margins. I’m Altitude Man. But I can’t hide the training, either.
I suppose it will keep me honest. They can see what I’m doing, and I see the miles they are putting in. It’s more positive, even inspiring. We can cheer each other on. Give each other kudos. We can recognize the efforts and the KOMs. We can act like teammates.
Of course, there are still the rollers . . .
Have fun. Be safe. I’m going riding!
So, I love food. Just in general. I have a sweet tooth, but I also love Mexican, Mediterranean and Italian. I love French pastries and cowboy cookies. I love breakfast.
I once dated a wonderful, beautiful, smart young woman, but knew it was ultimately doomed. It was getting to be late in the day and I asked what she wanted for dinner, thinking that we could go out that evening. She showed absolutely no preference. I started quizzing her on her favorite cuisine. She said, “I’m just not that in to food.”
By contrast, the first big family function I attended with the woman to whom I am now married, was Passover. It’s a big, really big, meal commemorating the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt depicted in the Torah, or Old Testament. I think it was her mother who informed me that the basis for all Jewish holidays was “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
So it should be no surprise that a major part of my Instagram feed is the stuff I get to make in my kitchen. I spend a fair amount of time finding yummy stuff in uniquely athletic places. I made egg cups of two varieties today. One was based on a recipe from the fantastic Scratch Labs cookbook, Feed Zone Portables, the other I stumbled across on line. Both are easy, both are tasty, both recipes are great for active, age-group athletes.
I typically spend Sundays cooking. I get up early to make breakfast for my family. Today I made baked oatmeal with bananas and berries. I took the extra step of adding a scoop of vanilla protein powder, just so it wasn’t all carbs. I cooked up some uncured turkey bacon, as well. It was filling, tasty, and made my family happy.
Next, we usually get started on lunches for the week. Egg cups for me, and we usually make a batch of chocolaty fiber muffins for our daughter.
The first, a variation from Allen Lim and Biju Thomas, the minds behind Scratch Labs. I change the recipe slightly, so If you want the original, go to SkratchLabs.com, or go out and get ahold of the Feed Zone Portables cookbook.
Pre-heat oven to 350
Chop desired vegetables for a dozen cups
I will also find some lean meat, like a turkey kielbasa, left-over turkey bacon, if I’m lucky we’ll have some ground bison
Distribute these evenly into a dozen muffin cups. We happen to have the silicone muffin “tins”
Then add one egg-worth of liquid egg whites into each cup
Put in oven, middle rack
Bake for about 20-30 minutes, turning every 5-8 minutes
For a sweeter option, pre-heat oven to 390
Mash three ripe bananas
Add two whole eggs, three more egg-worth of liquid egg whites and mix
In the muffin tins, place berries
Pour in egg/banana mixture
Bake, again, for 20-30 minutes, turning the tin every 5-8 minutes
I honestly don’t remember where that recipe came from, other than my Facebook feed. I look for great food everywhere. I read Peloton magazine knowing that they will have some great meal they discovered somewhere on their travels. I have a small sleeve on my book shelf of recipes I’ve found in Bicycling or Triathlon magazines.
When I travel, whether on vacation or on my bike, I try to find some local gem, like Pandor, a French pastry and breakfast place in New Port Beach, California. If you don’t know, there is a little pastry and coffee shop in the La Fonda Inn in Santa Fe. Some of the best cookies I have ever enjoyed were from the little breakfast restaurant in Hygiene, Colorado.
I suppose that the point of this post, more than anything, is to enjoy. The vast majority of us will not get to be pro roadies. We don’t have to season stone soup in order to be happy skeletons and climb ridiculous European roads like mountain goats. Most of us have jobs and families. While I want to drop some holiday weight, I won’t do it at the expense of enjoying my family and my life. I exercise lots, and very hard. I will stoke my engine. I will taste the flavors that this short, wonderful life has to offer.
I hope you will, too.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . right after this cookie!
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!
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.
Well, The Giro is behind us, The Tour is ahead and my favorite ride, Ride the Rockies, is a pleasant memory. It is becoming more pleasant the further away I get. But, wow has this summer gone by quickly.
The ride began in beautiful Carbondale, just down the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen. Carbondale was a wonderful host, with Mount Sopris looming over the headquarters. Weather started out mild and mostly pleasant. Many of the faces I’ve seen in years past returned, like a sort of traveling homecoming.
Renee, Betsy, Liz and, of course, Chandler, the RTR staff, all worked like mad to keep the tour progressing smoothly. It’s amazing the amount of work they do, most of which we, as the riders, never see. They coordinate supplies for the aid stations, make sure venders have places to set up, and get there on time, help keep track of luggage trucks and shuttles to get riders in and out of the HQ and to the food and entertainment. And that’s just for the one week of the ride. Imagine the work involved just to get the rides organized and going.
The first day was relatively short, from Carbondale to Aspen. The 50-mile rout took us through Missouri Heights, a steep little climb on the east side of the valley. Lance Armstrong, the speaker in Aspen that afternoon, stated he hates the climb. I understand. The day, however, was beautiful and the skies remained clear almost to the end of the day. My riding buddy, Donald, and I made the turn into Aspen High School as the wind came up and the rain began.
Donald was one of three guys I rode with last year. The other two had work and training conflicts that did not allow them to make this ride. Donald, from Marin County California, had his wife and mother-in-law along, as well. The new arrangement allowed me to enjoy more of Aspen.
Aspen, tucked into the head of the Roaring Fork Valley and the foot of Independence Pass, was a quirky, artsy ski town many years ago when it attracted the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Edward Abby. Now, while some of the art scene remains, you are much more likely to bump into movie stars, rock stars or even the occasional star athlete. One such athlete put himself squarely in the RTR cross-hairs when the tour settled in: Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong has maintained a home in Aspen, along with girlfriend Anna Hansen and the couple’s children, since the cyclist’s glory days. Armstrong was instrumental in creating the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and advocated for cyclists in Colorado. Now, with the cloud of the doping era hanging over him, Armstrong, in his typical fashion, put himself infant of the crowd without flinching, to face the questions of sometimes adoring, sometimes resentful cycling fans.
Armstrong was calm and inviting. He took all of the slings and arrows, did not argue but even offered an apology for his part in the EPO era. Questions and critiques went on and on, but Armstrong seemed perfectly comfortable, never dodging a question or diverting blame.
The most disheartening thing the one-time world road champion told the crowd had an impact that resinated through much of the following day.
“If the pro peloton were to climb Independence Pass, they would all go over the top together. It’s not really that hard a climb.” Ouch. Another delusion of grandeur smashed.
Independence Pass was the first challenge facing Ride the Rockies on Day Two. From Aspen, the climb rises 4,193 feet over 20 miles. Riders pass waterfalls, aspen stands and, eventually, alpine tundra before topping out. Cruelly, the steepest pitches of the climb seem to be in the last 1.5 miles. But it’s all worth the effort.
The remanents of the cool, wet spring covered the mountain tops in every direction. Lots of riders took the opportunity to photograph themselves with their bikes on the tundra.
“Can you believe there’s still snow in June?”
When riders started down the pass toward Twin Lakes, they were merely a quarter of the way into an 80-mile day. The next twenty miles were a twisty thrill ride for those of us who enjoy descending. Back down through aspens and evergreens, past little shacks, former mine sites and tiny towns into the valley. Overtime we looked around we thought, wow, could this get any prettier? Then we took another curve, made another turn, and it was.
Riders headed north from Twin Lakes toward the highest incorporated town in North America, Leadville. While the tour stopped here for the night four years ago, this time around, riders pushed on to Fremont Pass, past the Climax Mine and down another fast descent into Copper Mountain Resort. The arrival was none too soon, as the weather that had threatened on smartphone apps began to appear in the little ski village.
Rain and cool temperatures descended on the tour late on day two. Many riders had already made their way to tents, gym floors or condos. Though the weather arrived about 12 hours earlier than expected, boosting moral for Day Three: the Copper Loop.
Rider awoke with frost on bikes. The air was cool, but the rain had stopped. After getting coffeed-up, riders immediately began climbing. The second of three nearly-80-mile days came out of Copper, turned right and began climbing back up Fremont Pass. The north side of the pass is relatively steep, with stretches of up to 7.5 percent over the first nine miles. But this is about as bad as it gets for most of the day. Riders then plunge back down the south side of the pass, back to Leadville.
Riders skirt the north edge of Leadville, while headed west. The views of the states highest peaks made the content headwind a bit more bearable.
Riders toiled on through the wind-blown scrub brush, past the ranches to Tennessee Pass, the Camp Hale Memorial and the lovely and famous Red Cliff Bridge, where many cyclists, including myself, took the opportunity to stop and take a shot.
From there, We climbed Battle Mountain and plunged down through Minturn. We soon found the bicycle path that links Eagle and Summit counties. This brought rider through Vail and up the infamous Vail Pass path. The path had been used many times over the years to test fitness. The Coors Classic, Teva Outdoor Games and several times for the USA Pro Challenge. The Pro Challenge liked to use it as a mountain time trial, sending riders up one at a time. Beyond a certain point, this seemed only logical, as the path gets pretty narrow in the steepest sections.
The climb take riders about 9 miles through beautiful scenery up nearly 2,000 feet. The old Shrine Pass Road no longer allows cars, which is great as riders try to focus on not blowing up through the steeper sections. The road takes riders to the bike path, which can be tricky. While taken as a whole, the climb averages 4 percent, once on the path, rider dive under I-70, then face a 300 foot section at 8 percent. If you’re not looking for it, you will be walking this stretch.
The trees and peaks are the main attraction throughout the climb, with both sides of the valley slowly closing in as riders grind out this category 2 ascent. After another short, sharp section, riders come to a false flat, signaling the end of the real climbing. Riders wheel past a small lake and on to the parking lot of the pass.
Th east side of Vail Pass is only about five miles of asphalt bike trail, with twists, turns, wooden bridges and amazing scenery. The trail is built between the east-bound and west-bound sections of I-70. It can be tricky if you don’t watch your speed, as many riders soon found out.
The fast descent brought riders back to Copper Mountain resort for entertainment and the resort’s many eateries.
All along the way, Chandler, Renee, Liz and Betsy organized great entertainment, venders and aid stations. Many local venders, as well as many tour favorites, like the Flipping’ Flapjacks, Revolution Smoothies and Allen Lim’s Scratch Labs food truck.
Day Four was a re-ride of much of the route used four years ago. Rider headed east from Copper, down the I-70 trail to Frisco and the Lake Dillon Dam, then north out of Silverthorn to Ute Pass.
The route along Colorado Hwy 9 was a gentle descent until the base of the day’s only sustained climb. Ute Pass is about 5.2 miles at 5 percent grade, or a cat 2 climb. The summit offers views of the mountains to the west.
After the descent down the east side, the ride spent the next several miles on dirt roads that, this time around, were just packed dirt. In 2012, the road was a scary-deep gravel. The packed dirt was a pleasant surprise.
The dirt ended east of Kremmling, on US40. The highway took us through Byers Canyon, to a rest stop in Hot Sulfur Springs, and into Granby; a town the RTR has passed through or stopped in two other times in the last five tours. Riders headed north from there, along US34 toward the day’s end in Grand Lake. Riders, or I should say, my buddy Donald and I, wished for the end as the road began to roll with short, steep climbs and the temperature climbed to it’s warmest so far in this tour. But Grand Lake is idillic and friendly, making for a quick recovery and an eagerness to experience the isolated mountain town.
Day Five was marked on my calendar from the day the route was announced, back in February. The classic ascent of Trail Ridge Road from the West Gate is only about 22 miles at about 4 percent, but it is through some of the most spectacular landscape in the state. We started in sage brush meadows for about 9.5 miles, to the first aid station. From there, the road climbs for 17 miles at 4 percent, which counts as “HC,” or Beyond Category. This would have been challenging enough. When riders got past Milner Pass and above the treeline, the epic battle of will began.
As riders came over the highest continuous highway in North America, they faced horrible crosswinds, some clocked at 50 miles per hour. Over the 11-miles from the Gore Range Overlook to Rainbow Curve, no trees, no brush, nothing shelter the cyclists from the winds. While riders got a bit of a break from the howling winds after getting back down into the trees, the winds pushed riders all the way into Estes Park, where the town was awaiting their arrival.
The second half will post tomorrow.
Saturday, February 6, was the day of the Ride the Rockies Route Announcement Party. For the second time in five years, Ride the Rockies will traverse the highest paved highway pass road in North America, Trail Ridge Road. I’m excited because, of course, the “Big Road” is in my back yard, almost literally. It’s a relatively short route, at 403 miles over six days, but it’s also going to be beautiful!
The route will closely resemble the one I first rode, five years ago. This one begins in beautiful Carbondale on Sunday, June 12. Day one rolls from Carbondale to the famous ski town of Aspen. Chandler and the crew are easing us into the race as the two towns are only 50 miles apart. Mile for mile, however, it is a stunning ride.
The ride rolls down the Roaring Fork River along a trail that runs from Glenwood Springs to Aspen past the Maroon Bells. Of course, one would need to take a side trip to get the beautiful view.
Day two, Monday, June 13, might be the Queen Stage, beginning in Aspen, riders nearly immediately start the 85-mile day climbing. And this is not just any climb. This is 19 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing. It averages somewhere in the neighborhood of 5%. The last three miles are the worst at around 7% to the top of Independence Pass. After that, it’s a fast dive down to Twin Lakes.
From the lakes, riders take a left and head to the highest incorporated town in North America, Leadville, at 10,152 feet. This year, the ride passes through on to Fremont Pass, 12 miles averaging 1.5%, maxing out at 7% and 11,318 feet. Riders bomb down the north side of the pass into Copper Mountain Resort.
For the past two RTRs, the ride has taken an extra day in one of the towns. Two years ago, we stayed an extra day in Steamboat Springs. Last year, we rode from Grand Junction, through the Colorado National Monument and back. This season, Day 3, June 14, the route takes an extra day in Copper Mountain Resort to tackle the Copper Triangle. The 78-mile route takes riders back over Fremont Pass, past Leadville, over Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass, over the Red Cliff Bridge, through Minturn and Vail and finally over Vail Pass before returning to Copper.
On Day 4, June 15, riders descend a snaking bike trail from Copper to Frisco, past Dillon Lake, through Silverthorn and north to Ute Pass. Four years ago, Chandler and the gang took riders over gravel roads into Kremmling. The route is now part of RTR lore. This time around, riders will see some of those same roads, eventually taking riders into the remote resort town of Grand Lake. This is tied with Day Two as the longest-milage day at 85 miles.
This takes us to Day 5, June 16, and the whole reason that I can’t possibly miss this ride. It’s a short day at only 49 miles, but it’s over the famous Trail Ridge Road; more than 20 miles of climbing at around 4.5% to over 12,100 feet above sea level. The climb takes riders from the shore of Grand Lake, through arid pine meadows, through aspen stands, past the habitat of moose, elk and big horn sheep, eventually out onto the alpine tundra. Riders enjoy views of the Never Summer Range, the Continental Divide, Forest Canyon, Rock Cut, as well as the Alpine Visitor Center, Rainbow Curve and the fast, winding descent into my town, Estes Park.
Home of the world-famous, and slightly creepy Stanley Hotel, Estes Park made a big deal out of hosting the 2012 RTR. My town had a big party with local musicians and great food. My town knows how to entertain.
As luck would have it, the ride comes through Estes Park on a Thursday, which is Farmers’ Market Day, so be sure to swing by Bond Park as you arrive to get some refueling goodies.
Come see our town, our fun and my favorite bike shop, the Via Bicycle Cafe! Come get coffee, pie, BBQ, all great in Estes Park. Yes, I’m biased, but I love this town and you will, too.
Riders enjoy Friday, June 17, Day 6’s mostly-downhill ride out Devils Gulch and the Switchbacks, through Glen Haven, through local rider-favorite Masonville, around Horsetooth Reservoir and finally, into Fort Collins.
The six-day ride will reward any rider fit enough to make the journey, with vistas, new friends and great stories. I love this ride and would urge any rider to register the lottery before February 28. The organizers, Chandler Smith, Renee Wheelock, Liz Brown and an army (that’s no exaggeration) of volunteers, work hard to put on a great ride and I have never been disappointed. It will be the most challenging, most enjoyable week of your riding season.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going training!