Sunday, August 24, 2014

crmbt day 7 - woodland park to colorado springs

Saturday, 8-9

From Woodland Park to Colorado Springs is a quick, 20-mile, mostly downhill ride on the ever busier US Highway 24. Even with the last couple climbs in town to get back to the high school, this ride should take no more than a couple hours. Oh, right, we had a little detour planned for 20-miles up, 20-miles back. Pikes Peak, baby!
 I took these pictures the Saturday before the tour started when I drove out to Woodland Park to recon the route that would get us off US24 a little sooner, save us from one small climb, and deliver us to the mother of all climbs. I wanted some shots of where you pay your fee and enter Pikes Peak Toll Road because I knew that when I went through the gates in one week, it would be much earlier, and much, much darker.

A handful of us, including Steve and Paul, left the high school at 5:00am with all of our front and rear lights blazing and blinking. We got off of US24 onto Green Mountain Falls Road and followed it as it changed names a few time over the next few miles. Then a right onto Chipita Park Road for a mile or so. When we came to where I knew we would have to make a sharp right turn and immediately start climbing toward the toll booth, we came upon the surreal sight of dozens of bikes rolling through the dark, their blinking lights announcing their presence.

Peter greeted us as we went through the entrance; our tolls had been paid by CRMBT as part of our registration. And we continued to climb. Those responsible for Pikes Peak had requested riders be through the gates between 5:30 and 6:00am, to give us a chance to spread out and be a good way up the mountain before cars are allowed through starting at 7:30am. And, as we climbed, spread out we did!
 Looking down on US24 as morning broke.
 So many things to watch for.
 Harold and Vida at the day's first aid station just past Crystal Creek Reservoir.

I don't think that there are a lot of cars waiting to go through the gates right at 7:30am. But there are at least a few. We had the mountain to ourselves for over 2 hours. Then at 7:51 we were over halfway to the top when I realized: "We are not alone".  A minivan with Illinois plates rolled by followed by a few other vehicles. There would be stretches of no cars, followed by a group going by us, but the traffic wasn't bad for a Saturday in August.
After the Crystal Creek Reservoir aid station, 7 miles into the climb, we kept climbing, but with some sections where the grade leveled out, or even dropped a little, giving riders a chance to regain some speed and catch their breath. The next aid station would be 7 miles further up, and the final one at the summit. The last 5 miles to the summit was, at least for me, tough. There were a few steep sections where I looked down to see that my speed was down to 2.5 mph! In a couple stretches I thought that I could walk as fast as I was riding, so I did! Just to get out of the saddle, try to catch my breath, and continue to make some progress gave me a little lift, and let me think that I really was going to make it after all.
As we neared the summit we were treated to views that were nothing short of spectacular! For those of us upward-velocity challenged riders there was plenty of encouragement from other riders passing us on the way to the summit, and descending from it. A few words can really help when you're pushing so hard, bumping up against the limits of your abilities. After what seemed like an endless supply of switchbacks, we made it to the unpaved parking lot at 14,100 feet!
 I went to the gift shop/cafe and had tea (the coffee dispenser was empty) and donuts (no, I didn't ask if they were vegan, I just ate them). It's self serve and when I got to the cashier I told her I was paying for 2 donuts, but I'd already eaten one while in line. Deb (above) and David were at a table and called me over to join them. They told me about signing in at the aid station so CRMBT could put the names of all who made it to the summit on their website. Tourists who had driven up looked at us with what could have been awe, or pity. But they didn't exclaim "I can't believe you rode a bike up here" like I've heard on Independence Pass and other summits. If they had Glenn had supplied the appropriate response: "Yeah, it's faster than walking".
The descent wasn't the kind I love. It was beautiful and awesome, but way too steep and curvy to go fast. I had to keep pumping my brakes to keep the speed under control and stay on the road. Once  back below tree-line there were some nice sections where you could get some good speed, and make great time towards the finish line in Colorado Springs.

I stopped at both aid stations again to refill bottles and let my brakes cool. I also stopped and helped change a flat tire, of which I, fortunately, had none all week. Back on US24 we had much more traffic to contend with, but we were still going downhill at a good rate. Back in town I tried to stay on the cleanest part of the shoulder. It wasn't always easy. I was relieved to see Dale, one of the incredible volunteers, to tell us where we needed to turn. The rest of the way to the high school was on much more low-traffic streets, but they still held a couple of climbs to get there. After 160+ miles and 4 summits the last 2 days, those hills were almost my demise.

I finally did make it to the high school to find the showers were ice cold. I washed my hair and thought the rest of the shower could wait until I got to my motel. I found a Qdoba for lunch, checked in at the Radisson Airport, showered and took a 2 hour nap. I was so tired! When I woke, I watched TV for a while and didn't even have the energy to go looking for dinner. I ordered a pizza, and was back in bed shortly after dinner.

When I woke in the middle of the night I got up, made coffee and headed for home. One nap at a rest area, a few stops to walk around the car and do some stretches, and I made it home to my wife and puppies early Sunday afternoon. It was good to get unpacked and wash some bike clothes. It was great that I also had taken Monday off and had one more day to recover from one of the hardest, and most satisfying, things I'd ever done.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

crmbt day 6 - buena vista to woodland park

Friday, 8-8

We had 103 miles and 3 mountain passes in front of us on this penultimate day of the tour. Not quite the elevations we had reached midweek, and not close to what we hoped to reach the next day, but plenty of climbing nonetheless.
 Bill and I rode out together again on a morning that required layers until the sun was higher in the sky. We were climbing almost as soon as we were out of Buena Vista. The traffic was a little heavy while we rode on US285/24. The shoulder was good, but narrow in places. After a semi flew by on my left I decided I was glad I didn't see him before he was by me. I did see some traffic pass by the tandem in front of me, and it sure didn't look like he gave them the state mandated 3 feet.

After the summit of Trout Creek Pass we parted ways with US 285, and US 24 headed northeast, the traffic seeming slightly lighter. At least the sun was fully up, the breezes were light, and after a nice stop at the aid station, we were off for pass number 2.
Part of the morning was spent looking at the horizon, and what was waiting for us on Saturday.
Later we would see clouds gather around Pikes Peak, and later still we would see a little snow near the top. (Note to self: wear everything tomorrow). But that could wait for tomorrow. We had long stretches road with abundant rolling hills, and spectacular views of mountains, lakes, and ranches.
The reason for the seemingly lighter traffic may have been the road construction we encountered that interrupted large chunks of what would have been a pretty amazing descent. In one stretch they let bikes go onto the newly paved section that was still closed to traffic. But, in other places we were on the rough surface where the old blacktop had been removed, and the new surface yet to be laid. Not ideal for a bike, painful for a bike coming off a mountain.Once we survived that, there was still some pretty good downhill as we headed for Florissant.
These last two photos are of Pikes Peak form about 25-30 miles away. I zoomed in to try to show the snow at the top. I was hoping fervently that clouds such as those would not be present the following morning. I saw Thom and Glenn at Florissant when I stopped to take a layer or two off. We had leaned our bikes up against a bar, and the bartender came out and asked if we needed water. She filled my second bottle with ice water! Nice. 
 Shortly after I took these sunny shots, the clouds gathered, and a few raindrops started to fall. Then a little hail started to fall. It was small hail, but still. It made it chilly, but not cold. I spent the next half hour putting on and taking off my jacket, until I reached the aid station where many of us gathered under the canopy to see if the rain would pass. When it seemed to be done, I continued the long climb up to Cripple Creek. (Couldn't get the song out of my head all day). Before the last hairpin turn straightened out and took us into town, the rain had come and gone again. I was ready for a break. The arrows that CRMBT had put up took a beating in the wind and rain and I had to stop and unfold one to be sure I was on the right street.

 I saw some bikes in front of a cafe and stopped to grab a bite. Glenn and Rick and a couple others were having a sandwich and coffee. I ordered a garden burger and coffee. While I was eating they were talking about a local in a pickup truck going out of town as we were coming in. They said he had his arm out the window with a middle finger salute to the cyclists. They asked if I had seen him. I told them I had noticed him, but I thought he was waving, so I waved back. 

After lunch the rain was gone and the sun was making a return, but I still had some climbing to do, to get out of town!
 There were some great views looking back down into Cripple Creek. It looked better leaving than going in. When we reached the summit the sign read Tenderfoot Pass. By that point my foot wasn't the only tender thing on my body, but my spirits were high.
 We were now in the foothills of Pikes Peak, still 10-15 miles away, but never far from it. You can see the road carved into the side of the mountain. And again, those pesky clouds. But by this time it was mid-afternoon when you can expect rain, or snow, at that kind of altitude.
We pulled into Woodland Park with 103 miles on our bikes and our bodies. I needed to eat, shower, and get organized. And, obviously, needed to get to bed early. Tomorrow was going to be a big day! And an early day. I set my alarm for 4:00am and called it a long, satisfying day.