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!



  1. Enjoyed reading about your ride, especially since it is now over! Love, mom

    1. Thanks, Mom! I know you stress out during the ride. Just remember the only bad bike accident I've had was about a mile from home!

  2. Congrats Daren! Incredible ... you should be proud.


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