Wednesday, March 4, 2009
In August, Bruce and I met in Colby, KS and after throwing my bike in his van, headed for Colorado for our first time riding in the mountains. We stopped in Limon Friday night and went through Colorado Springs to visit the Colorado Cyclist store. They informed us that their showroom was light on bikes because many of them were at Copper Mountain for the Copper Triangle ride and celebration. We thought it sounded like a fun, but difficult ride. By the end of the week, we would have ridden the entire route of the Triangle.
As we drove over Monarch Pass on Saturday, it seemed difficult for the van to make it to the top. I wondered how, or even if, I would be able to do it on a bike. We checked in, had dinner, and slept in cool mountain air in Gunnison before starting out on Sunday. The first day was along the Blue Mesa reservoir, into the Black Canyon, and over Hermit's Summit. Climbing something like 6000' of rollers and a reasonable summit was a nice tune-up for what was to come. We had a nice ride into Hotchkiss to camp out at the high school.
On Monday we climbed out of Hotchkiss and mining country to some more alpine scenery around McClure Pass. Peaking at 8755' we then coasted in to Glenwood Springs, the last several miles on a bike path. We couldn't find an open restaurant close to the school, but there was a grocery store across the street, so we had sandwiches and pie for dinner. We turned in early to get an early start on the "queen stage" of the tour that was waiting for us the next morning.
We rode the 40 miles from Glenwood Springs to Aspen on the bike path, gaining 2000' with the slightest of inclines. Peter, the tour director, had warned us that even though it would be tempting to ride hard to Aspen, because you can, to save something for apres Aspen. Good advice! Just out of Aspen I broke a spoke as I started to climb. I was able to make it a couple miles to the aid station, where Johnny from Wheat Ridge Cyclery replaced my spoke. As I started to layer up for the rest of the climb I said something to a girl handing out snacks about having what I need for the climb. She said "you just need a strong will". I figured that a strong will equates with stubbornness, so I'd be fine.
Independence Pass was the hardest ride I had ever done. It's long and steep, and 12,095 feet in the air! After waiting out the worst of the rain on the side of the road with a guy from Florida, and a girl from Atlanta, and choosing to believe the guy when he said the thunder sounded loud because of the mountains, and it didn't mean lightning would strike me at any minute. Near the top I flirted with how slow you can go without falling over. I didn't find out, but it's slower than 3.7 mph. I made it to the top, re-fueled, took pictures, and put the rest of my gear on for the ride down. Down is good, except for the hairpin turns that I took a little too fast, saying a prayer of thanks that there was no car in the outside lane. Before reaching Twin Lakes, it started to rain again. The grade isn't steep, but you climb all the way to Leadville, which sits at over 10,000'. I just kept pedaling (it seemed like a good idea) and chatted a little with Mishca from Russia until we saw the high school. Bruce had hauled my bags to the field, but hadn't set up my tent. If he had I would have nominated him for sainthood. His loss. A hot shower and mexican food let me sleep like a log.
Outside of Leadville there was a Paris-Roubaix section, which is tour-speak for riding on gravel. A few miles of road construction awaited us when I stopped to take pictures of the mountains in the distance. Over 10,000 ' and there's peaks on the horizon! Anyway, I got stopped by the road crew while Bruce rode on, and before I was off the gravel, had a flat. With a new tube I rode by myself over Tennessee Pass and Battle Mountain Summit. Absolutely spectacular scenery, and, going from south to north, the descents reward you more than you paid on the climbs. I caught up with Bruce again at the next aid station. We spent some time riding around Vail before setting out on the last climb of the day. Vail Pass is not a bad climb, but it was enough late in the day. The first part of the climb is on a closed road that used to be the auto route over the pass. We enjoyed reading names like Hinault and Armstrong written on the road. Near the top the route goes onto the bike path. Some up and down on the path takes you to Copper Mountain. The only bad part was Bruce breaking his rear derailleur and SAGing in. After Copper Mountain it was back on the bike path coasting all the way to Frisco, for a welcome rest day.
After a day off, we rode back to Copper Mountain, up over Fremont Pass, and back through Leadville. Then it was basically downhill all the way to Salida. Easy riding most of the way with the Collegiate range on your right. The next morning it was up and over Monarch Pass. By now I knew that it would be a challenge, but one that I could handle. I met a guy at the summit who was riding with his buddy from LA to NY, carrying everything they needed in panniers and a bob trailer. Again, after the summit it was mostly a downhill, fast ride to Gunnison. A shower, BBQ lunch, and a good cigar kept me happy while I waited for Bruce. It turned out that he had suffered through 4 flats in the last 30 miles, but kept on going.
When all was said and done, we had a great time, and were intent on making it back in 2009. Colorado is a beautiful state, and I can't think of a better way to see it than up close and slow, from the seat of your bike. Can't wait to get back.