Sunday, August 18, 2013

I spent a week on the road one day

That's what Tuesday on CRMBT felt like. This was the day that called for 88 miles and about 10,000 feet of climbing. The option to add 28 miles and almost 4000 feet of climbing by going up Mt Evans was dismissed as a pipe dream by all but the strongest of riders. My friend Stefan was among them, coming through 116 miles and all that climbing relatively unscathed.
I, on the other hand, was scathed. There are a lot of younger, stronger riders than myself on this tour. And there are a few older, and some not as strong on the bike. In the past I felt like I could stop for lots of pictures, ride hard in between, and end up somewhere in the middle of the pack. Maybe the back of the middle, but still. This year felt a little harder, and this day felt the hardest of all.

The morning started by climbing out of Golden. Literally across the street from the high school you're climbing at a 3-4% grade just to get out of town. Then you cross Highway 6 and you're climbing Lookout Mountain. The temperatures were mild and it was a beautiful morning as we climbed to better and better views of the valley behind us.
Through the early morning fog you could even see the Denver skyline in the distance.
I started out riding with Steve, Paul, and Cheri from Pittsburgh, but even though I felt pretty good, when we hit the switchbacks I could tell I wouldn't be able to match their pace on a day like this one. So I was alone when I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and stopped for a couple pictures of this family enjoying the morning.
It's always fun to be able to look back and see how far you've come when you're climbing through switchbacks. So far this was a pretty good day.
 One thing I didn't like about climbing Lookout Mountain was that I didn't get to descend Lookout Mountain. After climbing out of the valley, the road wanders for a while past Buffalo Bill's grave, and eventually deposits you on Highway 40, which soon merges with I-70, and you're riding on the shoulder of the Interstate. We exited and got on the Evergreen Parkway, which sounds nice, but on a bike it's not a huge step up from the Interstate. I didn't care for that whole stretch, but sometimes to get from point A to point B, you do what you gotta do.

After a short while that just seemed longer, we turn onto Squaw Pass Road. The first "aid station" of the day was on the edge of this bucolic meadow. I think it was placed there to lure you into a false sense of security and make you forget that you still have another 15 miles or so of climbing just to get through the first third of the day!
There are not a lot of views on the way up, but it really is a pretty climb as you wind your way through the  trees. Road construction put us on Old Squaw Pass Road for part of the trip, and there were a couple places where we waited our turn while traffic from the other direction occupied a one-way stretch of road. Nobody seemed to mind the forced rest.
 Another meadow on the way to the top. And finally, some views of the surrounding area.
 Eventually we get to descend a little and are rewarded with another aid station right across from Echo Lake.
At this point, I was happy to have made it this far and excited to have a real descent awaiting me as we rolled 14 miles down into Idaho Springs. I shot some video with my GoPro camera mounted on the handlebars, but I seem to have misplaced one of my cards, so I don't know how that turned out. But it was a fun, fast descent that straightened out the last several miles but still let me roll into town near the speed limit.

I stopped at a convenience store and got a snack to supplement what I had with me, and sat and relaxed for a few minutes before riding on. We left Idaho Springs on Highway 40, which would take us all the way to the end in Winter Park/Fraser. First it meandered back and forth, north and south of I-70, but at least we weren't on I-70. After 10 miles we rolled through Empire and continued climbing towards Berthoud Pass. It was only 2-3% for 7 or 8 miles as we approached the switchbacks on the south side, but it was a miserable slog nonetheless.

By this point my legs were cramping, my head hurt, and my butt hurt. I was thinking that maybe I've done enough of these Colorado bike tours. I was feeling every one of my years on this earth. When it started to rain lightly I stopped and donned my rain jacket. I stopped again another mile or so down the road. I wanted to get out of my saddle. I wanted my legs to stop cramping. I wanted this day to be done. When Peter, the tour director pulled up and asked me what I thought, I told him I thought I was about done. I loaded my bike on his rack and he gave me a lift through the switchbacks to the summit. If he hadn't, I may still be there.

I didn't take pictures at the top, feeling I hadn't earned it. Berthoud Pass is one I've climbed from the other side. That was riding from Winter Park about 11 miles away. And that was the only climb I did that day. Facing it from the other side, 70 miles and a ton of climbing into the day proved too much for me that day. I guess part of doing a tour like this is enjoying the suffering. But that day, by that point, I wasn't having any fun.

I'll add this to my list of regrets. And before I go back again I'll ride a little farther, a little faster. I'll try to reach the place where I think I don't have anything left in my legs, and face a hill and make myself find a little bit more.


  1. Jeff,

    If I'd been offered a ride at the aid station before Berthoud Pass I might have taken it the way I felt. Somehow I got back on my bike and made the climb - the rain and cooler temps helped. Thanks for your blog - it helped me decide to do the tour for the 1st time in 2012.

    Don (the recumbent guy)

  2. Jeff,

    I had that moment where I didn't think I could go on at the aid station in Empire. I was having nutritional issues (to put it politely), so I sent my riding partner ahead. I spent about 20 minutes stuffing my face with the food at the aid station and visiting the restroom. All the while I was thinking how much I would regret taking the sag wagon. Plus, I'm an impatient person, so I didn't want to sit there waiting. So I summoned the courage and jumped back on the bike. I had planned on riding as far as my legs would go, and then catch the sag wagon there. Soon enough I was at the top of Berthoud pass! All because I was too impatient to wait and too hard-headed to give up.

    The strange part was, I did this tour five years ago (where I met my riding partner), and the exact same thing happened on day 3, Glenwood Springs to Leadville via Independence Pass. Sent my riding buddies ahead at the bottom of the hill with the intent to sag it. But then I rode it! Of course the uphill into Leadville was more painful than the downhill into Winter Park. Amazing how Peter and gang can recreate the exact feelings during two different tours...

    Kirsten (the sock lady)

  3. Don- Good to hear from you. I'm glad you like the blog.

    Kirsten- I remember suffering up Independence that year too, and riding into Leadville, slightly uphill, cold and wet. Good times.

  4. I've gotta admit this day was my least favorite as well. I pretty much started tailback and felt like I was playing catch-up all day. Compounded with the busy roads and it just wasn't much fun...even going up Berthoud was way more traffic than I expected.