October 2, 2007
From the Archives: Ride the Rockies 2002
AN Epic Tale, some Spam, and a few Llamas.
Ride the Rockies 2002!
DAY ONE – after an epic 14 hour drive thru the night and a sunrise and some fog, and some ear-popping – plus a side jaunt to the Royal Gorge – we arrived in Alamosa. Ride the Rockies, here we are! Aside form setting up the tent, and getting registered, dropping off baggage, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, it was a fairly uneventful night. There was a little park-type fair set up in town, and we spent the latter part of the day relaxing in the grass with a big plate of pasta. We hooked up with Jim Mitchell, and Tom from Louisiana, and Katie Horner (yes, chief meteorologist Katie Horner from KCTV5). We all planned to ride that next morning as a group, and tackle the day all together. After the pasta digested, and the eyes began to get heavy, we returned to the campsite and began our journey of sleep. It was a short one.
The alarm went off at 4:30am, which after the drive and everything else was FAR too early in the morning. We rode, changed into our cycling garb, and packed the tent, etc. To logistics of camping for this kind of event were a little overwhelming for me that first morning, but I was soon getting into a groove. However, my bag was REALLY heavy that first day. After lugging it about 200 yards across the grass and gravel to the luggage trucks, my arms were DONE. I figured that they would come back to life eventually, but my stressed joints would plague me for the next 8 hours.
After a breakfast of eggs, pancakes and coffee, it was time to get going. We checked our bikes out of bike security and met the rest of the group. DAY ONE was starting.
There was no real fanfare for the start itself. It was fairly uneventful as we rolled out of town towards the open highway of Us160 westbound. The first day was 99 miles out to Pagosa Springs on a pretty flat course of road. Everyone thinks Kansas is flat, but in contrast to Kansas, Colorado in this region was indeed FLAT as a board. Absent were the usual rolling hills of Kansas that occasionally break up the pace. Instead were dozen-mile long expanses of utterly flat pavement pointing toward the horizon. It was difficult to control our speed as we made our way out of town. The altitude was a factor, but I felt surprisingly fresh and ready. We were cruising along at nearly 22 mph, and kept reminding ourselves that it WOULD catch up to us eventually. It was a chore to stay below 19 mph, but it was a necessary evil.
We hit the first rest stop after about 13 miles (quick miles) and it was time to stop and clear the pipes and eat a banana. My arms were numb at this point – combination of fatigue from the bag lifting and the altitude affecting blood flow to my extremities. We carried onward. We consequently stopped at each and every aid station throughout the day. In between, the endless dead-flat miles were passed by exchanging jokes and frivolity – and eventually Monty Python skits…constantly. Came to find out that Katie had NEVER seen ‘The Holy Grail’ – crime! We proceeded to quote and act out from each memorable part of that film, ad nauseam. It was endless entertaining, however – “build a bridge out of her!” This is where “Team Spam” was born… “Whaddya mean you don’t like Spam??!”
After the 4th aid station, the day started to get interesting. Time to CLIMB! Wolf Creek pass was on the menu for the afternoon, and it was looming in the foreground. We climbed a challenging little rise at about 60 miles in that woke everyone up a little and spread out the pack. Colorado was reminding us why we came. It was time to see who could climb, and who couldn’t. Cut to aid station 5: the last stop before the climb officially began. We fueled up good, and regrouped. My nerves were high – could I do this? Ominous rock was rising up from everywhere, and I began to doubt my abilities. This was NOT Johnson Drive back home. This was serious – time to work.
We had been climbing a steady rise for about 10 miles already, but no-one noticed. From Aid Station 5, Wolf Creek Pass comprised a 6 mile climb and a gain of 1550 vertical feet. It’s like standing a ¼ mile drag strip on it’s end, tacking on another 250 feet or so, and putting a six-mile long board on top of it - then riding up the board from bottom to top. Yikes. Warbird got up out of the saddle and began to attack the mountain, with Jim in tow. Katie and Tom slipped back a little, and I was in the middle. I selected a comfortable gear, and began to climb. Surprisingly, I was picking off a great number of riders as I made my way up in my tallest gear. I was managing a steady 50 RPM, and my heart was pounding away, looking for oxygen. About four miles up, I was finished. I stopped on the side of the road on a gravel pull-off area and leaned my head down on the handlebars, exhausted. My legs were seemingly okay, but my heart was racing, and I had a headache that indicated I was not getting enough air, despite my labored breathing. After a couple minutes, Katie showed up, suffering the same effects – shortly after that, Tom appeared. As I composed myself, I realized that the view was spectacular. Massive trees, big sky and an avalanche chute nearby – and the snowshed that shielded the road from its onslaught when the winters were heavy. Slowly, cyclists made their way by, all with similar looks of pain and effort heavy on their faces. Even locals from the mountain areas were having trouble with this steep and long climb.
After regaining some of my humanity, I was ready again – Tom and Katie and I took up our bikes and rejoined the ascent of the masses. The summit and another aid station was only 2 miles away – but that two miles was ALL UP. Crazy. I started to doubt why I was out here in the first place, for the second time that day. After another LONG mile, we stopped again. We took up drink, and took up air as much as we could, and it was time again to climb. ONE MORE MILE. We proceeded – I looked for more gear, and it was not there. I just ground out the last mile, which seemed to take 30 minutes to complete, and then the summit was in sight. Around the last bend to the right was the rest area, with water and plenty of places to sit. We got our picture taken by the sign indicating where we were – on top of the Continental Divide, at 10,600 feet. It was definitely harder to take in a full breath up there. And I was BEAT. After a little r&r, I was ready for the first thrill of the tour – the descent down the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.
SCARY FAST is the only way to describe it. As soon as the road started rolling downward, Warbird, Tom and Jim zoomed up ahead, bombing down the pass – but my top speed ended up being the highest of the day for our little group – 51.5 MPH at one point – I had passed Katie in a flash, and set my sights on the three riders ahead, but their cornering confidence outweighed mine. I was masterful on straight descents, but nervous about tire adhesion and plummeting to my death off of the 500 foot drop-offs on the right shoulder of the road. Plus, the pavement was not the best in the world. Thankfully, over the entire route, all pavement hazards were well marked by a crew that went out before each leg of the ride. There was plenty of warning for slowing down, but at these grades and speeds braking was an exercise in careful patience. Early in the descent, I learned this fact quick – with a quick scare -- attempting to avoid a group of potholes, I grabbed the brakes hard, and realized that I was not scrubbing off much speed – then I heard the squealing and smelled the burnt rubber of my front brake pads --- Pump, pump, pump – never squeeze! – heat builds up SO fast, and you can hear and smell your pads and rims overheating with a medium-pitched humm if you get on them too hard or too long. Scary prospect to hear that sound as you fly up behind a tractor-trailer at 45 MPH at the beginning of a hair-pin switchback. WHOOOOOAAA!!!! You learn to just step hard on the outside pedal, lower yourself, and throw the bike into the turn on pure pucker-power and tire-trust. It was AWESOME. Twenty-four miles, 3000 feet of drop and only FORTY MINUTES later, we were in Pagosa Springs. Fastest 24 miles I’d ever covered – the west side of Wolf Creek was MUCH steeper than the east face – at least we didn’t have to climb THAT part. It was time to set up camp, eat, shower, and get some rest. BAM. Dead tired, I slept the second night much harder than the first night, with images of fast rushing pavement dancing in my head…
Day two --
99 miles down, nearly 400 more to go. After realizing how tired everyone was, and how cold is still is at 4:30am, we all elected to start much later in the day. 8am was the elected start time, which meant we could sleep until about 6:30 -- perfect! We awoke to a COLD morning. Colorado is a touring cyclist's logistical nightmare; to get an early start you have to dress warm - it was almost 40 degrees this morning, and leg warmers, arm warmers, jackets and tights were seen everywhere. However, after the sun comes up over the range, because of the direr, thinner air, the temps skyrocket FAST. In Kansas if the forecast high is 70 degrees, it takes most of the day for it to slowly warm up to that mark, but it's never really any colder than 50 at night on days like that.
In Colorado, if its 40 degrees at dawn, it's 70 by 9am, 75-80 by 10, and 90 by 11am. And it stays hot and dry until the sun goes down again, after which the temps drop like a stone. If you start the ride too early in the day, you will have back pockets full of leg and arm warmers by the time you are finished. Better to suffer a little and be comfortable and unladen for the rest of the ride. It was hard to plan for, sometimes, because the temp also change as you gain altitude, too and the descents off of a high mountain summit can be COLD. Better to carry a little and be prepared. UGH!
Day two offered a little break from the high mountain climbs - a jaunt from Pagosa Springs (home of the Pasta Ogre at Mario's) to Durango, CO. There was a little bit of climbing, but compared to the previous day it was a cake-walk. Yellow Jacket Pass was probably the standout climb of the afternoon, with a peak at over 7700 feet, and a base of 6500 near the Piedra River. A little over 1200 feet in 7 miles. Considerably shallower than Wolf Creek, but just as long. I tackled this one in a much easier gear, and relaxed up the climb, passing a ton of people again to my surprise. Warbird and Jim and Tom and Katie were well up the road, but I was not in the mood to chase. They had been feeling spunky for most of the day and there was some decent pace line action broken up by several hills and rollers. I was getting stronger, and I didn't even know it yet. Five aid stations later, our group was back together again - there was a detour put in place because of the horrible fires that were still burning out of control in the area - we took US160 all the way into Durango, and stayed together as a group for a while over the 'worst' part of the day -- lots of extra traffic on the road -- our more scenic route was closed off -- Loose chip and seal pavement and a bad shoulder are what the intended route would have bypassed as well, but better to put up with this than to ride thru horrible smoke and dodging fire equipment on the roads. After about 6 miles of that action, it was time for some fun. Not exactly sure what took me over, but I started to get happy and feel strong. A few miles earlier, Katie (who rode the Litespeed bike) saw a group of riders pass us on the left fairly quickly - all of them riding Litespeeds, just like her. Inspired, she took off after them and was soon WAY up the road. Shortly after that, Warbird decided to try and reel her back in. He took off up the road, in full chase and was gone in seconds. There we were, Tom, Jim and I, pacing along - but after a time it became apparent that Katie and Warbird were not going to slow down so we could regroup. We could either stay way back here, or chase. CHASE! It was time to see what I was worth.
I shifted into the big ring, and began to spin faster and gain ground. After a while, I caught Katie and Warbird on the outskirts of Durango. We were soon in town, and stopped at a traffic light. Jim and Tom caught up, and we were a group again -- but something got a hold of me at that traffic light. When it turned green, I took off like a shot, and began to eat up more road, still in pursuit mode. I was not concerned if the train was behind me or not - it was my turn to pull. In a Jekyll and Hyde kind of manner I hammered HARD like a man possessed. Little did I know that behind me, Tom had dropped, Katie had dropped, then Jim fell off the pace - a few riders that we had passed on our way managed to link onto the back of the line - only Warbird was left from the original group, and he would admit later that he struggled to stay there. Usually my let-up is fairly predictable - and Warbird can jump ahead - but today I did not let up - I hammered on, for MILES, up the side of the ridge that leads into the other side of Durango itself, and even though I didn't look back to see who was there until we were almost done, I was trying desperately to finally crank the Warbird -- and I got CLOSE, per his account. He was whipped after the assault! He, at one point, shouted up ahead and asked 'who ARE you, man - cause you certainly aren't Keith!" A handful of 'awesome pull's and other pats on the back came one at a time from other members of the fast line as I finally relinquished the front and drifted down in speed for the final 2 miles into the camp. It was an awesome feeling, and afterwards I felt fresh and primed. WOW, What a ride. Chalk one up for Keith -- And despite the climbing and slow start to the day, I managed a 17.2 MPH average speed for 67 miles. Not bad. It seemed like forever until the remainder of the group started coming in, as we sat under the shade of a tree next to the Durango High School building. That afternoon, sitting on the side of a hill, watching the smoke rise from the forest fires and generally just slacking off and enjoying cool water and sandwiches, we met Lincoln --- Warbird and I had bumped into him on Day one, and here he was again, just lounging around, too. We made plans to meet up tomorrow AM and have him join the group ---
Day Three --
This was the day I feared the most -- along with nearly everyone else that came along for RTR 2002 -- My brilliant ride the afternoon before was washed over by anxiousness and trepidation about this day, the 51 miles and 6700 feet of climbing that lay ahead. We started out, and for the first 13 miles there was just some relaxed spinning on the way out of town, and some extra pulling from Lincoln - the 30-year old Denver-ite that we'd met the afternoon before. COOL guy, with his own internet business and website for home improvements and woodworking -- good stuff. He rode a Trek 2200, similar to Warbird's. The two of them hit it off famously - actually all of us did. Met for breakfast, got all the stuff into the luggage trucks and we mounted the bikes for the adventure ahead. Thirteen hectic miles later, and full bottle refills at the first aid station, the climbs were beginning. Warbird and Lincoln charged ahead instantly, as soon as the road pitched up, and Jim and Tom were not too far behind. Katie and I agreed not to chase and held back -- we knew from the ride book what lay ahead -- the next 13 miles were ALL uphill, a steady climb of about 2000 feet and another aid station at the end of that, before the REAL climbing would start. The first climbing section was tackled in relatively short order, and we all regrouped at Aid #2. Jim was there, announcing that Warbird and Lincoln had left just a few moments earlier, but I had to stop and refuel, as tempting as a chase down was. Then Tom and Katie showed up (?) -- turned out Katie stopped when she was Tom off the side of the road, and I just blindly rode past - too focused on the task at hand apparently - Jim's steed suffered a flat tire at that aid station, and held us up a little bit, but we didn't want to leave him deserted -- but then there was the tour director, Paul, with a bullhorn, announcing that the wind had shifted and thick smoke was working its way up the hill. Time to MOVE. We could about that same time start to smell it. I mounted up, and began climbing again. Katie and Tom were behind me, and we all cranked out the pace easily and steadily for a while -- then another bug got me: After a couple short rests mid-climb, I started to get my spirits up a little -- I turned up the pace, and left Katie and Tom behind me - I was looking to close a little gap between myself and the Warbird/Lincoln show up the road. It would not come to pass, but I would get closer than I had planner on. I was starting to feel remarkably GOOD on this hard day. After six miles of steady climbing up Coal Bank Pass, I made some ground, held off Tom and Katie and Jim, and made it to the aid station at the top within 10 minutes of Warbird and Lincoln's arrivals! It was an awesome feeling, and after a few minutes and being in the right place at the right time, there was a camera in my face. Whuh? The RTR folks had contracted out a film crew to document the tour, and here I was getting interviewed at the top of an 11,000 foot climb - cool. All at once, I started to realize that this was the high point of a journey that had begun in 1997 in the living room of my apartment. In my 245 lb. state, I stood in the middle of the living room with my electric guitar slung over my shoulder, and realized I couldn't see the strings -- the guitar was to far out in front of me because it was resting atop my stomach - which was a little large. I had decided that very next day to start Weight Watchers, and I started the long journey. I went from my McDonalds three-times-a-day habit, to about 155 lbs. in eight months. After that, I started to ride, slowly - starting with mountain bikes rides on the local trails, five, and then 12 miles at a time. I built muscle, burned fat. I became vegetarian. I started riding more and more, eventually for transportation to and from work. I got a road bike in 1998, and broke the 25 mile mark for the first time that fall. Then the 50 mile mark. Then 100, on my first MS150 ride in 2000. After that, a solo century, with only one stop at 70 miles. With each ride, I put more and more miles between what I HAD BEEN, and closer and closer to what I would become. The bike was salvation. And that day, nearly 5 years after my wedding and my 245 lbs. (I'm 5'7" - not a healthy weight) I had ridden 203 miles in three days time, and was getting interviewed for a Ride The Rockies documentary immediately after finishing a near 4,000 foot climb over 24 miles, ending at almost 11,000 feet. I HAD ARRIVED.
All the fears, all the emotion had come to a head. Up here, I was about as far away as I could be from that 245 lb. sloth back in that apartment in Lenexa, KS. I was happy, proud; -- I was finally allowing myself to be proud of ME. It was intense.
...but there was still more riding to do: after a 1500 foot descent, and another 3,000 foot climb to the top of Molas Divide, the climbing was officially over (for that day). We relaxed, regrouped, and had a little lunch on the top of the Divide, and then enjoyed a fast descent into Silverton, topping 50.4 MPH on the way down... it was a TON of fun. But in the mayhem, we had become separated from Katie and Tom. The evening would be spent without two members of Team Spam -- but where we had lost the two, we had gained Lincoln -- Team Spam member for LIFE. Truly and awesome rider, with NO fear. We later met up with Jim and the gang at Jim's hotel for the evening, and let the feet relax in a hot tub.. A good end to a tough day in the mountains.
DAY FOUR --- A cool start to the day, and a 2,000 foot climb to the top of Red Mountain Pass right off the bat! Another Colorado morning was on tap -- we had camped at about 9,300 feet overnight in Silverton and the morning was VERY Cold. Actual temp was around 31º, and Lincoln's jeans short that he had hung outside his tent to dry were frozen stiff with frost. Very hard to get out of the sleeping bag that morning! But, as things go up there, as soon as the sun came up, it was instantly 50º. I could get used to this! Then it was 65, then 80 -- yup - 80º by the time we departed. NUTS. After breakfast was over, we had repacked the leg and arm warmers we had been wearing and rode out in our normal summertime garb. The highway patrol had closed the narrow roads of Red Mountain Pass JUST FOR US, to avoid problems on the climb -- and they weren't kidding -- these roads were NARROW, no shoulders. There was no guard rail to be found, and the pavement was pretty rough. After 11 miles of climbing we were over the top, ready for the descent, which was a lot of fun as always. I negotiated corners like a champion, and got very comfortable hanging it out on the turns and hammering down the faster straight-aways as the massive pack of riders weaved down the back side of the mountain -- the scenery was INTENSE - they don't call it the Red Mountain for nothing -- but you have to pay close attention to changes in the road. This was another one of those days where my lack of climbing ability was noticeable -- the group was WAY up the road from me, but I was not too concerned. As a little reward to myself, I had plans to stop at the hot springs at Orvis, outside of Ridgway, CO. - Only 1.8th mile off the route on highway 550, which on all day long anyways -- a nice diversion. I gladly paid the ten bucks, and stripped down to enjoy a nice, open-air, clothing optional (scary, I know) soak in the hot springs. Everyone was just hanging out (literally) and soaking up some rays in the afternoon sun. I managed to get away without a sunburn - amazingly - after about an hour of soaking in the warm, mineral-rich waters. It was interesting with all the other people around, but it was really no big deal -- just nice and natural. It was definitely worth the trip, and I felt weeks of tension just melt... awesome. Hundreds of miles melted out of my legs, and I was refreshed again.
Dressed and back out on the road, with little or no hope of catching the group of Spammers up ahead -- MILES up ahead - I elected to relax a bit and enjoy spinning away the miles. I was fully relaxed, and just enjoyed the rest o f the afternoon. However, the springs had effectively rinsed away all of the protection my chamois Butt'r had provided from the onset of the ride...it was not a big deal NOW, but it would be later on. Aid station three -- no Spam. Aid station four - no spam. Oh well -- fifteen miles to Montrose, CO., flat and breezy. Flat? Flat? >pling!< fffft, ffft, fffft, ffft, ffftt, ... UGH!!! I managed to pick up a shipping staple on the road, and it had worked its way thru the tire and made shorter work of the tube underneath. I removed the wheel, patched the holes, and re-aired the tire. Ready to go. However, the magnet for the computer was now out of alignment and banging against the sensor on the rear stay. Stop, fix, and ride ... only 2 miles from the finish for the day ... stoplight...light turns green...stand on the pedals to accelerate -- WHuuhsshh?? Rear wheel rubbing the Frame??? The skewer had been clogged with dirt and dust, and was not fully engaging the dropouts in the back -- each time I'd try to get on the pedals hard, the rear wheel would come forward and hit the frame on one side. ARGH!!!! A few more fix attempts later, I was rolling - carefully - and then I was in town. Met the group - time to relax again...Saw the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River on a bus tour -- AWESOME sights! Tour bus driver dropped us off at a killer Mexican place and we dined on burritos and beer and margaritas -- afterwards we hit the campsite, snacked on dried fruit, told stories and jokes --- (remember: nickel, dime, quarter, dollar) --- slept really good that night. 60 miles in -- awww, who cares about stats today?
DAY FIVE --- THIS was a tough day! By far the toughest of all the RTR days. The note on the ride-guidebook read like this: NOTE: Early morning headwinds likely Start time of 8:00am or later recommended.
Yikes - They weren't kidding, either. We hit the road at 8:30am, and it was BRUTAL -- 30-40 MPH CONSTANT headwinds awaited us as we made our way east to Gunnison. Plus, there was a fair amount of climbing involved. Cerro Summit was fairly shallow, but with the wind it might as well have been twice as steep. We took turns pulling the front of our slow pace line thru the wind and climbing and hit the first aid station at ten miles. Water, rest. More climbing left -- we hit the summit and stopped again - even though it was not an official stop, tons of people stopped there. Then the descent and another aid station. The group had managed to leave me behind, on the descent of all places, where I got stupid and laid down some 30+ mph sprints and tapped out all my reserves. I looked over the second aid station for Spam, and there was none. I rode onward. Rode on, climbed Blue Mesa Summit, and descended into the Blue Mesa Lake area, and aid station three ---there they were! Surely they would not have passed two aid stations in a row, and I was right thankfully. Managed to sit for a few and try to ignore the ever growing saddle-sore issues that were slowly developing on my posterior.
Soon, after some photos were taken in front of the lake, we were off again - hoping to stay together was a pipe dream. Tom, Warbird and Lincoln were having an awesome day and charged off the front again, dusting the rest of the group. Then, the pack was halved again after the Blue Mesa Lake Bridge #2 - awesome sights; it was like riding into a post card or something....un REAL. After the bridge, Katie and Jim were taking off from the front, and joined forces with two other riders. I was alone in the breeze again. Time to work. After Katie and Jim had gained about a mile on me, I began my bridge-up work -- time to catch some Spam. Unfortunately, the winds were not cooperating, and when I finally caught them, I was too whipped to stay attached to the back of the line. Tom, Warbird and Lincoln were WAY up front at this point, but I could try to stay with Katie and Jim --- but the speed was just too high, and I popped HARD. So much for THAT effort. Tom had been experiencing some front tire issues (losing air between stops) so it was understandable that he wanted to minimize ride time until he could get the problem solved -- he was running tubulars and wanted to avoid any ON road tire issues, if possible. Eventually, we would all meet up again at aid station 4, and regroup - but I was primed and ready now, a late bloomer I guess, after having pursued for so long I was fully warmed up and ready - so when the gates opened up again, and Team Spam rolled out, I took off from the front -- it was my turn again, like day two all over! But like so many breakaways in the big stage races, I jumped too early. With ten miles to go, I was not going to be able to hold the pace I had chosen for the full distance, and the wind was not letting up much. My other clue that spelled doom was the fact that NO one in the Spam machine pace line decided to chase individually -- Not even Warbird. He resisted and held back. I caught a fast tandem-driven pace line, and changed ahead at 32 mph ON THE FLAT, and started fueling myself with SE for the 9 miles remaining...not bad -- working, turning the pedals over, staying low in the wind. Eight miles....still no sign of a pursuer. Could I pull this off and gain back some 'GC'? Speeds at around 27 mph, alone again -- pace line of tandems too strong to hold onto. Seven miles out... still no chasers. 6 miles....speeds around 23-25 mph...Wind whipping. Getting tired...Drink more... 5 miles....getting whipped....surely they would suck me back up soon...but no chasers coming...a few fast pace lines pass, and attempts to join them are short lived. Somewhere behind me, a rider jumps to catch an escapee.... Four miles.... speeds around 27 mph again, but the grade is generally uphill with headwind. This effort won't last and somewhere behind me a pursuer is coming, and another man jumps off the front to catch HIM ----- three miles out...speed 25 mph.... LINCOLN!!! ON THE LEFT!!!! 35 MPH PLUS “Jump on and feel the G's, man!!!" But I don't have the energy-- I jump slightly, but he is GONE up the road in a flash of spinning legs and fervor... 2 miles out.... WARBIRD!!!! Complete with accompanying Doppler-effect on his voice pitch, a shout of "LEFT!!!" flies past me in a rush of legs and pure power at nearly *40 MPH*!!! Lincoln's minutes of the front are numbered -- THE WARBIRD IS COMING, and he's from KANSAS, BABY!!! There was no latching onto this chase -- I was finished, as I watched Warbird obliterate the remains of Lincoln's lead a half-mile ahead --- it was a frenzy of crank-bending top-gear power as they fought it out and disappeared up the road to the line in Gunnison -- and a short distance behind me, a pace line was gaining, but I actually managed to hold them off until the end.
After the day's ride ended, everyone was completely wiped-out. We showered, pitched tents and proceeded to look for food. We took a bus partway into town and hit a pizza joint about 5 blocks from the campsite. GOOOOOD food - got a BBQ pizza with mushroom and black olives -- it was great. We walked back to the school /campsite and decided to play some cards in the gym/cafeteria until about 10pm -- Egyptian Rat-screw (PC term) was the game, and it was brutal - but FUN. However, I was a little too tired to participate fully, my sleeping bag was calling. Time to sleep, and hopefully let my backside heal a little bit. Sores worsening. 65 miles down.
DAY SIX ----- A big climb lay ahead, but we were all feeling pretty good. But first, 33 miles of flat and steadily climbing roads waited. Pace line time -- today I managed to stay in the hunt, and took my turns at the front pulling. Unfortunately, Katie sat this day out due to some pain issues. It was a pretty good day, and al little windy but not at all like 24 hours before. We all stayed together, and hit the second aid station -- next stop, Monarch Pass Summit at 11,312 feet above sea level. Ten miles of solid 6% grade lay ahead. We all took our time; even Warbird was starting to feel the culmination of the previous days and was staying conservative. After all, we had put nearly 375 miles behind us already with this and one more day to go. Saddle sores, fatigue, sunburn were all taking their tolls on the riders. Lots of people sagged today, but not us. We conquered Monarch Pass in short order -- what I had estimated would take two hours to climb, Warbird had done in an hour and fifteen, and me in an hour and forty...not too shabby for some boys from Kansas, eh? Pictures were taken at the top for the record books, and it was time for the descent. 23 miles of it!!! Unfortunately, our old friend headwind was waiting in the other side of the summit. Was not as bad as previous days, but it took the fun out of an otherwise FAST mountain. It was more of a crosswind, really, but it didn’t make things bad enough for us to avoid trying for high-speed marks. My personal goal was to break the speed limit on a federal highway -- and this was the last chance this tour that I would get at it. Time to PUSH! This was also Lincoln's goal for the past couple days, so we were both frustrated cyclists, looking for big holes in traffic so we could stretch our legs. I still held the honors in our group for top speed from a couple days earlier with my 50.4 MPH run down a previous mountain, but this one was steeper and straighter. After some disappointingly slow encounters with lingering traffic on the downhill side, there was FINALLY some free road, save for a pesky and unpredictable 18-wheeler. I drafted, and hit the brakes, and swerved out into the wind to get around him -- gravel kicked up by the tires cracked the face of my Polar HRM in the process -- it was rough doing behind this truck, but he was eating up the shoulder, so I could not get around him that way. Hmmmmm..... running out of descent....and I sure wasn't about to climb back up for another run at it. I peeked again around him on the left -- rolling along in the slipstream at almost 50 mph -- I checked the road -- no oncoming traffic, and a dashed line -- we were in a passing zone, alright. Suddenly the road's downhill grade increased -- I was already in top gear - time to HIT IT HARD AND MAKE IT COUNT. I accelerated as hard as I could with the gear I had left -- at nearly 130 RPM already, I spun as hard and as fast as I could, trying to put power to the ground - I sucked up as much of the truck's draft as I could and then swung out into the lane, over the center line and HAMMERED every last ounce of power I could muster into the drive train of my ultra-stable Trek steel frame, and I SAILED SLOWLY PAST THE TRUCK -- I looked down carefully --- 53 MPH......53.4......53.7.....54!!!......54.2.............54.2........................and I sailed over to the right to complete my pass, fighting the massive crosswind and buffeting coming off the front of the Peterbilt. Victory was MINE! I let out a howl that was lost to the deafening wind noise rushing around my head in the 50-plus MPH power ride. As the descent flattened slightly, the truck driver behind me let out a double honk of the air horns and lifted a hearty thumbs-up from the cab window .. AWESOME ... respect, baby! Having the momentum, he passed me by again on the left and began to disappear up the road as the pavement leveled out underneath us. Beaten by a bicycle on a mountain downhill --- hopefully I gave him as good a story as he gave me that day.
Beaming, I sailed the rest of the way in Salida on a steel-tubed-cloud....
Meanwhile, up the mountain a bit, was Warbird -- on the side of the road --PULLED OVER by a state trooper on a motorbike! Insane! If he'd have gotten the ticket, he would have framed it - but not today. Just a warning for passing on the right, and an 'on your way' --- Still, to get pulled over while on a bicycle is RARE, and Warbird will remember that for decades, as will the rest of us. In fact, I had seen him on the way down --- ZOOOOOM! Whaaaaa?????? WARBIRD ?!!! Pulled over??? What the???? ...no time to think! Curve coming! Focus! Hard to take time dissecting side-of-the-road going's-on when you're bombing down a pass at 45 mph+!
We hit Salida, and the present members of Team Spam rejoined on a curb at "D" street and 9th... where the camera crew caught up to us and interviewed us as a team (sans Katie, unfortunately) -- we talked, sang the praises of RTR, and explained the Team Spam thing, and even went s far as to sing the Spam Song from Monty Python fame! After a little rest, it was time for ice cream -- and the chalk markings on the road pointed us in the right direction -- someone was very creative with their entrepreneurial skills! To 1st and "G" streets we ended up, to a little ice cream shoppe that was built into the remains of a little gas station -- pretty cool! We sat and had ice cream in the afternoon sun, and took in the breeze and slightly cooler temps, chatted it up - admired Warbird's perfect chain-ring tattoo on his leg - which was so distinct and perfect that he considered not washing it off. It was a perfect day, and the ice cream was perfect, too --- it takes pretty good ice cream to get me back on the bike, on saddle sores and tired legs, and this ice cream was AWESOME. Unfortunately, the Hunter's Union Grill on "G" street ruined it with a two hour wait AFTER we had been seated to get our food, after getting rained on (thank goodness for some rain for Colorado, though) -- after all that, the substandard food was free. Good. After that we decided to hit a bar in town -- blotto there -- se we went back to the campsite and played some cards again. Another card-playing session never hurts....
DAY SEVEN -- THE LONGEST DAY.
Warbird and I already knew exactly how this day was going to go -- for we had already driven this leg of the ride on the way into town a week earlier, and it looked BAD. Constant headwinds HOT. DRY. FLAT. DESERT. No shade, no relief, and no break. A quick 13 miles climb to the top of Poncha Pass seemed easy enough consider what we'd already been through that week, but my backside was REALLY starting to revolt against the barrage of punishment that I had placed upon it. Actually, my saddle helped -- turned out the ProLink I had invested in a few months earlier was not the best choice, for brevets or otherwise, because this pain was similar to the 400K problems I'd had back in early May. I thought that a few adjustments had fixed the issue, but the back of the saddle proved to be just too wide for me. Plus, to make matters worse, my knees were starting to feel the effects of in-the-saddle grinding climbs day after day after day. Pain, big-time -- seems that 50 RPM up a mountain is not something I can or should keep up for a solid week. Poncha Pass was over with soon enough, but the damage was done, and there was nearly 70 miles of flat nothingness still to pedal across. It was cold up on Poncha, too. As we climbed the pass, I could feel the temps dropping as we gained altitude, unlike on any other pass we had climbed -- it was the headwinds whipping cold air over the top of the mountain, and the newly arrived front that brought the rain the previous evening was making itself cozy up there. There were rumors of altitude snow, but it never culminated in anything solid. Thankfully, I had brought along my rain jacket, and for the first time of the tour I needed it. But, not one to stop on the way up a climb, I preceded to pull a pro-peloton move by putting on the jacket while climbing. A little tricky going no-handed, uphill, into a gusty wind, but I managed to stay upright -- I also managed to impress a couple riders by passing them on the way up the climb in the process! Cool! Upon reaching the top, we were all together again --- I had again been dropped off the pace. Not a strong climber, by any stretch, but not one to give up, either. It was 35º at the top of the pass, with blowing mist, and I was the only one in the group to have brought a jacket along. One by one, we rode off and rolled onto the descent, screaming at the cold as we gained speed by the grace of gravity: Warbird: "Arghhhhhhh!!!!!!" Katie: "AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!" Tom, Jim, Lincoln: "YAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!" ---- me, with jacket, ZIPPP!!! "Ahhhhh...." in reilef. He,he. Call ME unprepared, will ya?!
We stormed down the descent, into the cold and choppy headwind, and tried to enjoy it - but it was dicey at best, crosswinds tossing riders left and right across the lanes, with little of the rider's correction making it to the pavement they straddled. The clouds prevent a lot of warm-up, but the loss in altitude was starting to help - but at the temps increased, so did the winds. It was shaping up to be a VERY rough day. Warbird, Jim, Katie, Tom and Lincoln were, again, well up the road, in a nice cozy paceline, but I could not bridge up. I worked at my own pace to try and catch up, but the summary of my day would be that of a lone rider, trekking across the open desert, alone. I work well like this, though -- or at least I've learned to. Head down. White line. RIDE.
I hit the aid station at the bottom of the descent, and Team Spam was together again. We elected to try and keep the group together this time - the paceline had a couple new members - cool -- less work for each individual that way! A little descent left, and we rode as a rag-tag group with me at the back looking forward. However, our new paceline pals were not what you would call 'seasoned' riders - was this their first paceline? Today was not the time to learn, either. We passed a smaller paceline, and they hook onto the back of ours -- we continued, but the work of the pulling was switching back and forth between Jim, Tom, Katie, Warbird and Lincoln. I could not get up there, because I was getting cut off from the front by the new members in front of me -- they would not advance up the line to take their pull, but would instead tap their brakes each time another rider would pass in front of them after having come off the front. The accordion effect was starting to get bad. We reached teh turn onto CO-17 from US285, and the line just fell apart, the rider in front of me slamming on his brakes for no apparent reason, causing a near-pileup. Pain ensued, and the guy in front of me, plus his friend in front of him, we basically just weaving back and forth along the road - causing more panic - up ahead, I could see the main part of our group was starting to create a gap, and I knew it would be over son --- we regrouped slightly, but the constant speed corrections and re-accelerations needed to stay in contact were taking their toll on everyone - especially me. If the gap opened, he would accelerate, but too much, and then he'd have to hit the brakes to avoid hitting a wheel, causing me to hit mine, and so on behind me -- standing into the wind or soft-pedaling was not enough -- this guy was flat out erratic. After about 7 to 8 episodes like this, I began to get really frustrated. Warbird began to get word of the mayhem behind him from the front members, and decided that in order to set things right, it was time to bring the pace up. If you could not hold pace, you should not be in the line, and so it was. The pace started to come up, the gap grew, but as I swung out to try and get around my inexperienced counterpart, the headwind proved to be the nail in the coffin. I was DONE. I pulled out to the right, frustrated, and motioned for the remaining riders behind me to advance up the line. I dropped off the back, and never had the strength to rejoin again. I had no choice but to let them go, or I would never have the strength to finish. My reserves were getting thin, and the day was still long. It was time to tackle this thing brevet-style.
18 miles later, aid station 3 was in sight at Moffat. I rolled in, looking for Team Spam, and found the, -- but by this time, I could barely get off the bike. My saddle sores were getting ridiculous, despite repeated applications of handfuls of Chamois Butt'r and neosporin. Blisters, bleeding, chafing - it was getting bad. Plus, my knees were starting to get worse, grinding into the headwind --- Thank good ness there was no more climbing on the tour, because I was reaching my limit -- however, I wanted to finish - BADLY. The 300K, I fell short with hardships. the 400K - sleep deprivation, fatigue - no finish. this time, I was going to finish if I had to drive back to Kansas sitting on an inflatable donut. At the rest stop, Warbird took me aside and asked how I was doing, and that I might consider taking a ride in to the finish. I thought about it for a second, and decided to carry on. We all mounted up -- me never really having gotten off the bike in the first place -- and rolled out again. soon, the Spam paceline was forming up, and I was off the back quick, in solo mode again. White line fever -- head down. WORK.
Seventeen more miles, and another aid station -- and the knee problems were becoming LEG problems -- the pain spread to my hamstrings room the constant spinning into the relentless wind.. UGH. More chamois cream, and about 5 minutes of relief -- my backside was enfuego. (El gato es enfuego, too, by the way) The next aid station was only 7 miles away -- time to take this ride one chunk at a time. Warbird nearly pleaded with me to stop riding at one point -- he watched me pull, head down, into the next stop where he was waiting for me again. "DUUUE, stop riding!" But I was dead-set at that point. FINISH.
At the last rest stop, there was 14 miles to go -- and after a bathroom break and more chamois cream, I walked back to my bike - and gave a long stare at one of the sag vehicles, parked in the shade -- waiting.... and I threw my leg over the top tube and rolled out again.
Pedal - pedal - pedal ---- stand, coast -- pedal, pedal, pedal --- stand, coast -- give the butt some air --- stretch the knees, pedal, pedal pedal....the last few miles seemed to take FOREVER, but I knew time was on my side. With each stroke, I got closer. Each minute was a portion of a mile passed under my tires. And finally, the route turned west, out of the wind --- UGH!!!! FINALLY!!!!! I managed to get the chain onto the big ring and started to make some tracks. A few short more miles, and I would be there --- eventually, onto a long residential straight-away, and in the distance was a giant "RIDE THE ROCKIES - FINISH" banner hanging over the road. I almost had to fight back a tear, my heart welled up with accomplishment that I could not have gotten from the seat of that sag wagon --- I made it. I even found the energy to raise my pace, and my arms at the finish line. I coasted across the line with a smile on my face, and arms to the heavens - my own personal battle complete. And then I had to get off the bike. UAAGGHGGTT!!!!
There was Warbird, my witness to my official finish - a handshake, then a hug from the master -- who had probably been waiting for an hour or me to arrive at that point. A true friend, lending witness to my triumph over the days hardships. The tour was over, and I had finished under my own power. The threshold knocked a little higher, the resolve a little stronger -- and 501.64 miles of Colorado magic, baby!
... now all we had to do was drive home. In a Civic with no A/C. Great!
The muffler fell off halfway back, too --- but this is a cycling journal. My car is another story!
We did actually spot some Llamas off the side of the road on the drive back, which sent us into another Monty Python tirade -- we're not sure if they were Mexican or Venezuelan llamas, but it was kinda cool. They weren't dancing, though.
RTR 2002 ---- I laughed, I cried. I rode the Rockies, baby. See ya next time.