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.|
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.|
|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.|
|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!|
|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.|
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 :)