A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ride the Rockies Recap: Earth, Wind and Fire!

Waking up this morning in my own bed, with no tent to pack, no porta potty lines and no miles to ride was a big change after six days on Ride the Rockies. RTR is much more than a bike ride, after all, it's a rolling campground! 2,000 riders, countless volunteers, food vendors, SAG vans, bag trucks and porta potties moving from town to town and aid stations every 10-15 miles in between. It's a major ordeal under ideal circumstances, but the circumstances in the Rocky Mountains are rarely ideal, with weather and road conditions often interfering with the best laid plans.

This year's ride had it's fair share of challenges. I think the name of '70s super group Earth, Wind and Fire sums it up pretty well. Treacherous dirt/gravel roads (earth), strong headwinds and the High Park fire were the major challenges for this year's riders, staff and volunteers. But in the end we overcame the challenges and, for me, the good memories far outweigh the bad.

But let's talk about the dirt first. On day three, in the midst of a 50-mile, 6,000 ft. climb from Carbondale to the summit of Independence Pass (12,095 ft.), we encountered a three-mile stretch of dirt/sand bike path more suitable for fat tires than skinny ones. Although I avoided going down (I saw three riders fall during my time on the path), the additional effort it required to ride this stretch (thinking running on the beach) took it's toll later in the day climbing the Pass and the final 20 miles into the overnight stop in Leadville.

But it was the 15-mile stretch of dirt/gravel road on day four, after climbing Fremont (11,318) and Ute passes (not the one near Colorado Springs, this is Ute Pass is on Ute Pass Rd/Co Rd 15 in Arapaho National Forest near Silverthorne), that was the worst. This loose dirt/gravel road is unsuitable for skinny ties and put the cyclists in a no win situation of either gutting it out and risking a fall, walking or SAGing the 15 miles.

Of the three main challenges, earth, wind and fire, the dirt roads were the only one in the control of Chandler Smith, the ride director who took over three years ago. Frankly, I think it was irresponsponsible of him to put us on this road for safety reasons alone. But to put it in the second half of a 93-mile day was cruel and unusual punishment! It also meant another day with hundreds of riders SAGing to the finish (SAG is the acronym for "support and gear" vehicles that will pick up riders and transport them to the next aid staion/finish line). What we affectionately call the "van of shame" became the bus of shame as organizers had to send full size motor coaches out to pick up masses of riders who were unable to finish.

I am proad to say I have never hitched a ride on the van of shame. I adhere to the mantra "Death Before SAG" as do most of the people I ride with on RTR. We aren't the fastest riders (nor by far the slowest) but we finish the ride if at all possible (certain situations like severe illness, injury or mechanical problems would be viable reasons, along with death!). Unfortunatrely, SAGing seems to havev become the norm for a high percentage of riders on RTR due to the increasingly difficult routes planned by Smith, who apparently wants to weed out certain riders. The question is whether his strategy will work or simply result in needing more SAG vans and drivers to pick up riders.

Kudos go to the staff and volunteers, though, who responded to the high volume of SAGers as best they could given the circumstances. High praise, also, for the handling of a last minute route change on the final day of the ride due to the High Park fire. I thought the revised route was perfect for the final day (45 miles, mostly downhill!).

Smoke from the High Point fire was visible as we left Ft. Collins on the way home from the ride, but wasn't an issue on the ride after a last minute route change for day six.
Of course wind is a wildcard that is hard to predict and impossible to manage. It is what is is (read my "Ode to Wind"). And for most of the ride it was a headwind that extended the suffering of already long days. But the fickle wind turned in our favor the last day and gave us a nice boost on the final 20 miles to the finish line at Odell Brewery Company in Fort Collins.

The finish line is always a good memory. That's why I ride. To cross the finish line. To look back and say, I set a goal and I acccomplished it. I set out to train hard so I could ride every mile and enjoy it. And I did! So here's to the great memories. Pictures never really capture it, but here are some of my favorites...
Here's me and Woody (and his daughter) at the start. Woody and I met on RTR in 2005. His wife, Lora, also rides but is pregnant with theire second child so she drove us to the start in Gunnison.
Day one took us from Gunnison to Hotchkiss around Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Not sure why this area is called the "Bay of Chickens" but it was too funny not to stop and get a picture with me in my Team BEEF jersey. Wearing my beef jersey gives me lots of opportunities to spread the word about the importance of high quality protein in training for and finishing a major physical challenge like Ride the Rockies (I burned 28,733 calories in six days and ate seemingly non-stop during the ride).

Caught this action shot of Woody riding in his typical attire, Hawaiian short and riding sandals.
After riding around Blue Mesa we climbed to the rim of this canyon before crossing McClure Pass on the way to Hotchkiss. I think this is part of the Black Canyon but am not sure.
Climbing McClure Pass I spotted this old "Enjoy Colorado Beef Everyday" sign on a ranchers fence. I ate beef every day on the ride to repair my muscles and refuel my body for the next day.
Meeting up with old friends like the guys from Team Bob is one of my favorite parts of Ride the Rockies. I met Bob (front row, at left, in the white jersey) on my first ride in 2005. At the end of the ride he paid me one of the highest compliments, saying I was "The only Republican he has ever liked!"

The Redstone General Store was an unplanned aid station towards the end of the first day. Riders stopped and enjoyed ice cream and other treats before riding the final miles to Hotchkiss.

Aid stations all along the route provide food, water, Gatorade, porta potties and bike repair tents. The logistics of the ride are staggering and the staff and volunteers do a tremendous job providing the support riders need to finish.

Day three was the hardest day of the ride, taking us from Carbondale to Leadville, climbing the first 50 miles from 6,181 ft. to 12,095 at the top of Independence Pass. But the tough part was the final 20 miles into Leadville after descending the pass. A steep, nasty climb by Twin Lakes and a poorly maintained road the jarred your bike every 10 feet made this a miserable finish to a tough day. More than 700 riders, more than 1/3 of the total, were unable to finish and had to catrch a ride on the van of shame. Not me!
Paul the Pilot from Tean Bar2Bar (he flies for United) jumped behind the griddle to help the guy from Hub Grub through the breakfast rush at the first aid staion on the morning of day three. Paul rode with his son, Till, on a tandem. His daughter, Lea, rode solo for the first time after several years with him on the tandem.

The day five ride through Rocky Mountain National Park over Trail Ridge Road into Estes Park was my favorite part of the ride. I rode solo up the eastern side from Estes to the Alpine Visitor's Center back in 2004 while on vacation with my family. After experiencing the amazing feeling of riding above timberline I caught the big and signed up for Ride the Rockies the following year.

Reaching the pinnacle of Trail Ridge Road (12,183 ft.) was the highest point of the ride, literally and figuratively!
Team Bar2Bar and Team Bob often combine campgrounds. Our spot in Estes Park was centrally located in between the shower trucks, baggage trucks and breakfast pavillion. As an added bonus I found a private bathroom at a nearby park. No lines, no porta potty!
Woody rides a touring bike with a saddle pack carrying everything from a solar powered charger to beer and ice for the campground. Here he hauls refreshments to the fairgrounds in Estes Park on our final night of the ride.
Riding with Woody was a pleasure this year. He's a lot of fun to hang out with and knows how to do RTR the right way, riding every mile and enjoying every minute. Woody's father-in-law Jack is one of the founding members of Team Bar2Bar.
Antonio "Hank" Martin and Paul "the Pilot" Mattson are two good guys. Look for Paul in the cockpit on your next United flight to Europe or India and Hank the next time you flag down a rickshaw (pedicab) in downtown Louisville, Colorado!

Reaching the finish line is always a bittersweet moment. The ride is over. Goal accomplished. But the goodbyes are inevitable. Here Woody and I say "see ya next year" to Steve and Paul from Team Bob.
My lovely wife Leslie is very supportive of my cycling, running and triathlon hobby even though she has no desire to swim, bike or run! Joining us in Ft. Collins for the after party she transported Woody and I home from our week on the ride before we even showered. Now that's love!

So there you have it. Ride the Rockies 2012 is history. Just another fading memory. I have some pictures and great stories, but they can never capture the experience like living it -- every mile, every conversation, every ache and pain (physical and mental). If you haven't challenged yourself lately, do it now. Set a goal, train hard, and persevere until you reach the finish line.

Now I just have to answer the question that comes to mind after every accomplished goal. What's next? Suggestions welcome :)

Ride on!



  1. Daren, I enjoyed reading your chronicle of events, along with your analysis. I am proud of your gut and determination! Mom

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and support, mom. I know you worry about me during the ride and I appreciate your concern. But consider this, iun my six RTRs I have ridden more than 2,500 miles and crossed numerous mountain passes without incident. On the other hand, the one serious bike accident I had happened about a mile from home. Guess it's similar to car accidents. Maybe it has something to do with letting down your guard when you are in familiar territory. I guarantee my guard is up when riding down mountain passes with steep dropoffs!

  2. Daren, Great seeing you again on the ride. I agree with your comments about the "road" after twin lakes - irresponsible on the part of the organizers. Didn't know that many had sagged in.. WOW...anyway, take care. See you next year.


    1. Mark, great to see you, even though it was for such a short time. Our paths just didn't seem to cross. Funny how you see the same people over and over throughout the ride and never see some people at all. All seems to depend on wther you are a camper/hoteler and early or late riser (I'm a camper/late riser!). Are you planning to ride again next year?


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