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!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015 Days 4-7: The Rest of the Story

There is simply no way to describe the feeling of crossing the finish line after riding 466 miles in just over 34 hours of riding over 7 days, while climbing 30,301 feet (the equivalent of riding from sea leavel to the summit of Mt. Everest).
Guess I kind of left everyone hanging after my post on Ride the Rockies Day 3. Between the lack of internet access and time and energy to write, I wasn't able to post for the rest of the week. When I left you we had finished riding from Hotchkiss to Gunnison on Day 3, racking up 223 miles over the first three days (17 hours and 28 minutes of riding) while climbing 16,840 vertical feet, including the relentless climb over Grand Mesa on Day 2.

Climbing Grand Mesa with Woody, who I met on my first RTR 10 years ago.
That night we got pounded by a thunderstorm at the campground at Gunnison Middle School. Fortunately I stayed warm and dry in my new REI Camp Dome 4 and Marmot sleeping bag. Unfortunately I left my sleeping pad in Woody's car and the ground was a little hard. Fortunately, Woody's wife, Lora, was waiting in Crested Butte and I was able to get it from her the next day. :)

Day Four: Gunnison to Crested Butte (27 miles, 1,391 vertical feet)

The next day was short (but all uphill, "recovery" ride to Crested Butte. I decided to get an early start, hammer out the miles and enjoy the day in CB. I rolled in around 10 a.m. (maybe my earliest arrival ever!), got camp set up and headed to the Team Bar2Bar rally point, The Eldo. With the motto "A sunny place for shady people" we knew it was our spot.

Team Bar2Bar at The Eldo (from left): Me, Pam the Pilot, Paul the Pilot and Woody.
We hung out there most of the day, partying it up with other riders and the locals (CB has a great small mountain town vibe) then moved across the street to the Wooden Nickel for dinner. We hit the beer tent for a couple after dinner then headed back to camp to get some rest for the longest day of the ride.

Day Five: Crested Butte to Salida (103 miles, 5,689 vertical feet)

Fortunately the Day 5 ride began with a 17-mile downhill. You can practically "cut your chain" (as Woody likes to say) and coast the whole way back to Gunnison. After a big breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy and french toast) to fuel the long ride ahead (102 miles and 5,689 vertical feet), Woody and I met up with Paul the Pilot for the brisk ride down the valley to Almont, where the long climb up Cottonwood Pass began.

That's Woody on the left, riding in his signature Hawaiian shirt,
and Paul the Pilot on the right.
I love riding Cottonwood Pass. Climbing nearly 4,000 feet in 40 miles, it starts with a moderate 1-2% climb 21 miles along the Taylor River to Taylor Park Reservoir, offering stunning views of the Matchless Mountains reflecting off the lake.

Taylor Park is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Colorado.
The final 14 miles of the climb are on hard-packed dirt road through evergreen forests and white snow-covered peaks to the summit at 12,126 ft. The grade gets a bit steeper, especially towards the top (which is usually the case with mountain passes). I was struggling a bit with residual pain from the long hours in the saddle and had to stop frequently and get off the bike, but I made the most of it and enjoyed the surroundings.

After a quick descent down the pass (which is paved on the East side) into Buena Vista (pronounce B-you-na by the locals) we finished the day with a tough ascent of Mt. Princeton on tired legs. Thanks to this little detour (there is a much easier and ore direct route into town) we arrived in Salida just in time to catch the tail end of happy hour at The Vic.We have started derisively calling these little detours and tough climbs "Chandler Bonus Miles" in recognition of the current ride director's penchant for inflicting unnecessary pain at exactly the wrong times on the ride.

The obligatory "summit sign" pic at the summit of Cottonwood Pass.
By the time we got to the school, set up camp an got cleaned up it was 9:00 p.m. Paul the Pilot called it a night and Woody and I headed out for food and fun. We ran into our friends George and Tegan, a father/daughter team we met several years ago on the ride, and found a nice spot to eat on the patio but due to our late arrival and dinner we missed the beer tent altogether, a more common occurrence these days with all the Chandler Bonus Miles (and my advancing age?). We managed to hit one more spot after running into Julia and Adrian, RTR friends from Salida, who to us to the Rivers Edge. Great spot with a patio overlooking the Arkansas River. We didn't try their food but the beer and ambiance was perfect.

Day Six: Salida to Canon City (65 miles, 2,313 vertical feet)

We found a good campsite location at the school in Salida, within walking distance of the Patio Pancake Place, our traditional post-partying at The Vic recovery meal. Even though there wasn't much of a party this year a good breakfast is critical. Since we were so close, Woody suggested we go to breakfast before packing up camp, which worked beautifully.

Team Bar2Bar mates The Hankster and Jenny Flip Flop
The ride to Canon City follows the canyon down the Arkansas River, mostly descending at 1-2% with occasion flat to 1-2% climbs, but is an easy ride. Well, except for the weekend recreational traffic (note to staff: probably not good to do this ride on a Friday) and the nasty climb up to the South Rim of the Royal Gorge known as "The Wall."

Looking down on the Arkansas River from the Royal Gorge Bridge.
I experienced The Wall on my second RTR in 2006 and knew what was coming. Not sure if that made it better or worse. It didn't help that I had a blowout in my rear tire on the steepest part of the climb and had to stop and change a tube in the heat of the day. Fortunately Woody stopped to help and it was a relatively short process. However, getting started back uphill on The Wall took several tries! The payoff for this ridiculously difficult climb is the ride/walk across the Royal Gorge Bridge. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience I have experienced twice!

The overnight in Canon City was possibly the most pleasant surprise of the week. Arriving at the Royal Gorge Brewery in the heat of the afternoon (topping 100F) we attempted the usual Team Bar2Bar tactic of waiting for it to cool off before heading to set up camp. It soon became clear, however, that the heat would not dissipate. That's when somehow Paul the Pilot pulled the rabbit out of a hat and found a triple double room (yes, three double beds) at a motel within walking distance of the beer tent. The proprietor even picked us up in his truck and drove us to retrieve out luggage, then back to the hotel.

Aptly named, the Parkview Inn Motel overlooks Veteran's Park, the site of the overnight party. And given that it was the last night of the ride we were ready to party until the band stopped playing and the beer stopped flowing. So we did.

Woody wears his Keen cycling sandals everywhere. Even to bed!
Day Seven: Canon City to Westcliffe (48 miles, 4,068 vertical feet)

The final day of Ride the Rockies 2015 was, in terms of vertical feet to miles, the "steepest" day of the tour. Thank goodness for the good night's sleep because the climb out of Canon City through Florence past the Super Max Prison (home to folks like the Unabomber, the Shoebomber, the Oklahoma City bomber and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano) and into the foothills was tough. But the real challenge was yet to come.

 Around mile 25 the grade started to increase and the next 12 miles up Hardscrabble Pass were a grind. Tired legs, heat in the 90s and a two-mile section of 8+ percent grade were about enough to do me in. But there was no stopping here. I mean, people do. Their legs, back, or brain give out. It's tough. The mental games definitely set in.

Slogging along at 4 mph I realized that meant it would take three hours to reach the top. I had told my wife we'd arrive between 12-1 and it was 9:00. At this rate, I'd summit around noon -- if I didn't stop. But I had to stop. Sometimes once every five miles, sometimes every mile. Just to get off the bike. So I pushed harder and got it up to 6 mph. Then it would drop back to four. Then a stop. Sometimes just for a minute or two. In a future post I will talk more about what it takes to tackle an extended climb of 20, 30, even 40 miles climbing 4,000-6,000 vertical feet, like we did on RTR 2015. But it's time to wrap this post up!

Me and Woody at the final Aid Station of RTR 2015, at the top of Hardscrabble Pass.
Once we reached the top of Hardscrabble Pass we had a mostly downhill/flat 10-mile coast into Westcliffe. At this point, however, everything hurt. And the road was rough. Every bump sent a shock to the "five points" -- the places your body connects to the bike. Two feet, two hands and... yeah, no need to belabor the point.

Leslie once again rescued me from the painful experience of riding home on a bus by meeting me in Westcliffe. Love you, Babe :)
But then the The Cliffs came into view, backed by the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Range (at the after party I heard someone describe it as a Hollywood movie backdrop). As we rode through Silver Cliff, then Westcliffe family, friends and locals lined the streets, clanging the traditional cowbells. I found out later the cowbells were provided by the Custer County Cattlewomen (who dug my Team Beef jersey).

The Custer County Cattlewomen provided cowbells
for spectators at the finish line in Westcliffe!
The Cliffs definitely provided a great welcome reception in a setting unequaled on any of my previous eight RTRs. The views, the brews, the band were all fantastic. That is really what I think (oh, by the way, which one's Pink?). Riding across the finish line is always a bittersweet experience.

Moments after crossing the finish line with the Hankster.
The ride is over! The ride is over. Time to say goodbye, or a hesitant "until next year" always wondering if there will be a next year. 

Ride on!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015 Days 2-3: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

The view from the LeValley Ranch hunting lodge was a bit ominous this morning.
I woke this morning to the sound of thunder. How far off I sat and wondered. Actually it was the sound of rain on the roof of the hunting lodge at LeValley Ranch. But most likely this meant our bikes were getting wet in the bike lockup area 7 miles away in Hotchkiss. At least we were warm and dry thanks to the generous invitation from my rancher friend Robbie LeValley to stay at her ranch's hunting lodge, Team BEEF was treated to a Homestead Natural Meats steak dinner, hot showers and beds last night. It was a welcome respite after yesterday's ride!

The Homestead Beef steaks were amazing. Ribeyes, no less. Thanks, Robbie!
Yesterday was tough. As tough as I remember from my first Ride the Rockies 10 years ago (and I'm 10 years older!). The day started with a 30-mile gradual (1-2% grade) climb out of Grand Junction to Mesa, including some nice bike path and a few miles on I-70. But once you get to Mesa, actually just before Mesa, the climb ceased to be gradual. The next 20 miles are all steep (6-8% grade) except for some short stints of relative flat (2-4%) near the top of Grand Mesa. Few climbs I've done in Colorado (and I've done all the major passes and Mt. Evans) are as relentless.

Dinner at the ranch was the perfect way to recover from the Day Two ride. From left: Woody, Flip Flop Jenny, The Banister and Paul the Pilot 1
But the really tough part of the day came after a fast 20 mile descent into Cederedge, Colorado. The final 20 miles of our 95-mile day rolled through some beautiful cattle country but included a couple of nasty climbs on tired, stiff legs. At this point in the ride, everything hurts -- feet, back, shoulders, hands and ... well, you can probably guess. I think the ride director has sadist tendencies and likes to inflict punishment on others. :)

Today's ride wasn't much easier. Well, the ride was not as tough but the combination of rain and cold at the start, a nasty headwind riding up the valley, tired legs and other physical issues (see above), it was hard. One of the toughest days I've had on a bike. But it's done and tomorrow is a short 30-mile ride to Crested Butte. Planning to get there before noon and allow plenty of time to relax and rejuvenate for the longest day of the ride on Thursday.

Overlooking Morrow Point Lake. Beautiful views today but much pain to experience them!
Got here to Gunnison and enjoyed a couple of Black Butte Porters and a Guacamole Burger with bacon and pepper jack cheese at the Gunnisack Cowboy Bistro Restaurant and Bar. Got to the campground just in time to set up my tent before a rain/hailstorm swept through. Think I'm going to stay right here inside my new tent, warm and dry, for the rest of the night.

Good night, sleep tight and ride on!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015 Day One: Just Two American Citizens Exercising Our Right


Day One of Ride the Rockies 2015 began with waking up in a tent city. Not that unusual expect we were at the Bluegrass Festival in Palisade, not Colorado Mesa University, where the ride starts. After enjoying a few too many Dirty Hippies the night before we decided to forego the mandate from the ride director to be at the entrance to the Colorado National Monument by 9:00 a.m. and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We figured if they tried to stop us from going we'd just pay the entrance fee and ride as "just two American citizens exercising our right to visit our national monument!"

When we finally hit the road at 9:45 a.m. and found our way onto the course we were definitely DFL. We hit the park entrance around 10:15 and the ranger let us through with our Ride the Rockies wrist bands (foregoing the $5 fee for cyclists). We caught another rider shortly after Aid Station 1 and eventually overtook a dozen or so more before the first Team Bar2Bar Aid Station in Fruita -- the Suds Brothers Brewery.

Riding the Monument is an experience. The views are amazing but there are places where one wrong move could send you off a 1,000 Ft. cliff. It made my knees week to even look at times. Eyes on the road!

Team Bar2Bar, from left: Woody, Hankster, Beefman, Flip Flop Jenny, Pam the Pilot and Paul the Pilot.
After a Red Monkey Butt Amber at Suds Brothers we rolled the final 15 miles back into Grand Junction and met up with the rest of Team Bar2Bar at the Kannah Creek Brewery. Liquid carbon-loading is an important part of the recovery process on Ride the Rockies! We rounded out the night with dinner at the Rockside Brewery and a beer at the O'Dells Beer Tent listening to a local band.

Today's ride is a brutal 94-mile excursion featuring more than 7,000 feet of climbing over Grand Mesa, ending in Hotchkiss. But the reward will be worth it as we enjoying our home-grilled steaks at my friend Robbie LaValley's ranch near Hotchkiss!

Ride on!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Ride the Rockies 2015 starts tomorrow! Wait. What? How did that happen?

Once again this year I expect to ride a majority of the miles alongside my buddy Woody, who I met on my first RTR in 2005. Woody's wife, Lora, is the daughter of one of the founding members of Team Bar2Bar!
Every year its the same thing, only every year seems to pick up speed. In early February you register for Ride the Rockies and wait an excruciatingly long month to find out if you get in. Then the notification comes but it still seems like a long time until June. Then it snows in April and May and you don't ride as much as you had planned and suddenly it's June and the ride is just days away.
Then the haunting questions set in:
  • Did I train hard enough?
  • Will my body hold up for another weeklong ride in the Rockies?
  • How will I keep my iPhone, Garmin 810 and new Ivation Bike Beakon charged all week?
  • Where did I put my tent?
One of the best parts of RTR is meeting back up with friends from previous years like The Hankster and Flip Flop Jenny (so named because she rides the entire route in dime store flip flops).
I think I have the answer to the last two but won't know about the first two until the ride gets underway. Day Two should be a pretty good indicator -- 96 miles and 7,631 feet of elevation gain climbing from 5,000 feet in Grand Junction to 11,000 feet at the summit (6,000 feet in 20 miles!). We did this climb on my first Ride the Rockies in 2005 and it is rough. More than 500 of the 2,000 riders were unable to complete the climb and had to SAG to the top. One of the major reasons was heat and it looks like it's going to be another hot one this year with temps in the 90s on Monday.

But that's what makes Ride the Rockies epic: long days, big climbs, screaming downhills, and cold beer waiting at the finish line. I can't wait!

This will be the first post-retirement for Paul the (former) Pilot who retired from United Airlines shortly after last year's ride.
Stay tuned to the BEEFMAN blog for updates and lots of pics throughout the week.

Ride on!