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!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ride the Rockies 2017 Day 1: Wolf Creek Pass (C.W. McCall Got It All Wrong)

I am writing this morning from Durango, Colorado. It's Day Three of Ride the Rockies 2017. Last we checked in Jonny Rocker and I were in Salida getting ready to ride to the start in Alamosa, an idea that sounded good on paper but, in reality, was painful.

After a short climb over Poncha Pass out of Salida we dropped into the San Luis Valley to settle in for the cruise down the valley into Alamosa. That's when we encountered The Wind. Even coming down the pass was work as we headed straight into gusty winds blowing up the valley. On the flat, straight 50-mile stretch on Hwy 17 to Alamosa we struggled to maintain 15 mph, often dropping below 10 mph during a big gust.
At our lunch stop in Hooper, Colorado. Sandwiches at a gas station!

Team Beef does not chicken out when faced with adversity!
We made the best of a bad situation, stopping at a little roadside general store and café in Willow Spring for a piece of homemade cherry pie and bough buns, meat and cheese at the gas station in Hooper. By the time we arrived in Alamosa for the start of the next day -- a 92-mile ride across the valley and over Wolf Creek Pass -- we were wiped out and wondering if we had made a big mistake.
Rejuvenating at San Luis Valley Brewing Co.

Relaxing back at camp.

Woody rolled in from the bar just in time for sunset!

After a few beers and some good food (I had the steak quesadilla -- yum!) at San Luis Valley Brewing Co. things were looking up. A number of fellow riders came up to us and asked about Team Beef. Turns out all of the buses (and many cars) transporting riders to the start passed us along our route. Team Beef got a lot of free publicity (making it worth our while in my book!). 
Jonny Rocker leads the way out of Alamosa.

Woody heads up the pass, Hawaiian shirt flapping in the wind.
 On the official first day of riding (Sunday) we headed northwest toward Monte Vista on Hwy 50 across the San Luis Valley. The wind cooperated for the first 40-miles but turned against us at Del Norte and intensified at South Fork as we headed up Wolf Creek Pass.

Beginning a tough climb like Wolf Creek Pass at mile 50 is tough on the legs. Climbing into a headwind is a mental challenge. There were times I thought about chucking the beef bike in the south fork of the Rio Grande River and giving up. The devil on my shoulder can be very convincing!
Team Beef/Bar2Bar at the Summit of Wolf Creek Pass (way up on the Great Divide).
But Team Beef/Bar2Bar does not quit (Death Before SAG!). As we headed up the pass I queued up C.W. McCall's famous ditty about Wolf Creek Pass on my iPhone (Bluetoothed to my Ivation bike speaker). As I listened to the song I began to question whether McCall had ever driven this stretch of road before he wrote it.

Watch this video then come back for the rest of the story!

McCall says he and Earl were "hauling chickens on a flat bed outta Wiggins" and had "spent all night on the uphill side of 37 miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass (which is way up on the Great Divide)." First of all, Wiggins, Colorado, is northeast of Denver, 300 mile away. I'm also not sure why it took them all night to drive 37 miles, but I'll let that slide because he got the "37 miles of hell" part right!

But here is where it gets sketchy. As McCall describes careening down the western side of the pass towards Pagoda Springs with no brakes, he mentions counting phone poles as they whizzed by. Problem is there are no phone poles on this stretch of road. He then describes hitting a tunnel that "took that top row of chickens off slicker than scum off a Louisiana swamp." Problem is there is no tunnel on the western side of the pass!

But the biggest issue I have with McCall's narrative is that he and Earl were unable to stop the truck before ending up crashing into the feed store in downtown Pagosa Springs. The reality is you cannot coast from the summit to downtown Pagosa. Even though we often say "it's all downhill from here" when we sit atop the big climb of the day, the fact is it rarely is. I counted at least for hills we had to climb after the descent that would have easily stopped their truck.

So, yes, this is what I think about when climbing and descending mountain passes. Anything to take my mind off the pain! Ride the Rockies is an endurance event. There is a lot of pain to endure. As Jonny Rocker and I suit up for Day Three there is much moaning and groaning. But today is a short 38-mile loop back to Durango so no packing up our gear today and we should have plenty of time to recover for tomorrow's epic ride over three passes!

Ride on!


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