Ride The Rockies 2021 – Getting Home, A Shit Show
October 31, 2021 § 2 Comments
If you read all of these posts regarding my first participation in The Denver Posts Ride the Rockies event, I laid down some groundwork for this last piece early on by noting that I could have/should have expected what was about to go down, but I didn’t, and it went down. When we last left off I was telling you how I needed to finish the Friday ride with enough time to break down and pack my bike, clean-up, and get to the bus before the 5pm departure. Paul (my new friend) and I were walking over that way at about 4 when we said our goodbyes to each other, and he re-iterated the offer that if I wanted to ride with them next year in the comfort of a motor home, I would be more than welcome. Something, I can assure you, I am seriously considering.
Let’s recap a little bit. No, not that kind of recap. This is my first Ride the Rockies, but when I look at most of the previous events, I see that Durango is pretty much as far from Denver, as a start or end point and in this case both of those, as any ride has ever been. So, in any other year, the risk I signed up for would not have been much of a risk, but this year, I clearly fucked up. I didn’t get into town until late the previous Saturday, leaving me to rush to assemble my bike, setup camp, and get some damn dinner. So here we are on the flipside, and I have now reached the bus at 4PM, and I am ready to roll. The driver was there, we loaded our stuff, and the driver stated that if we were all there early, he could depart early. That would have been great, and I think all of us were all in on that, except for one very very important detail. We weren’t all there. There was one lady, who for some reason took her bike into town for some issue, and so we waited, and we waited for her return. Now, in her defense, she didn’t know we were all ready to go, and the departure time was advertised as 5PM, so I can’t hold it against her. It just would have worked out so much better if she hadn’t gone into town.
Almost on the nose at 5PM she return, and we boarded. Our numbers double and triple checked, and roll away we did. There wasn’t any immediate choice in the return route, as the shortest route lay back in the direction we arrived, on Route 160. On the way in we came in all the way from Interstate 25, on the sides of a giant triangle, though the hypotenuse, in this case isn’t a very straight one. We left at 5PM, Ken and I had a 12:50AM departure out of Denver, so if it took 7 hours to get to the airport we would make it. 8 hours, and leaving at 4 would have been better, but at this point it was still possible, but let me re-iterate. We weren’t driving, and we were on a bus, with other people, so we weren’t in control of our destinies.
For the most part, there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. We left “on time”, and there wasn’t too much traffic, and we passed all the familiar landmarks on our way out of town, the first being, actually getting out of town. Beyond that, soon 550 South, which we shared the road with, turned to the right and headed off to New Mexico, and we continued towards Wolf Creek Pass. By some coincidence we hit the pass at about the same time of day as we did coming in, so from a lighting point of view, all the dead trees didn’t look all that different. After the pass, it was a long descent before we entered into the Western edge of the San Luis Valley, a tremendously beautiful valley bordered on the West by the San Juan Mountains, and on the East by the Sangre de Cristo. This valley is almost large enough to swallow the state of New Jersey, and here our driver made a choice. Instead of continuing East on 160, he turned North East to follow that hypotenuse. Shorter in distance, would it be shorter in time as well? We didn’t know. The issue, maybe was had he continued straight, we would have spent a lot of miles on Interstate Highway, at real highway speeds. The way we were now going tied us into two lane highway, for a much longer time period.
The point where it began to fall apart was when we stopped for food. I don’t even remember where it was, but there weren’t a lot of options, and the only thing open was a Subway, and they were kind of closing up when we pulled up, but agreed to make us food. I don’t remember how many of us there were, but think of it this way, if there were N people, then there were N separate orders, and with the staff level low, as they were closing up, it took a fair amount of time for N orders to get processed when you think of it like this. There was little to no multi-tasking, so 1 order gets placed, and one order moves through the process, until the cashier can take your money, while the sandwich preparer moves back to the starting point to take the next order. So, if it took 5 minutes to make a sub, and there were 10 of us, that would be 50 minutes, and there were more like 16 of us. Add last minute bathrooms, and we maybe wasted a total of an hour there. We didn’t know it quite yet, but that sealed our fate.
It was full on dark by the time we left, and with that, whatever the surrounding landscape looked like was indistinguishable from the night sky, and so our only reference was where the blue dot was on our phone’s google map display. A rough calculation said we we would be lucky to make the terminal by 12:30, and for anyone who travels these days, that isn’t enough time. The driver was aware of our need, and really, other than stopping for food, he really did try to “Get us to the Church on time”, so when he dropped us off first at our terminal, Ken gave him a twenty, I would have followed suit, but as I wrote before, I wasn’t carrying any cash, and we grabbed our things and rush inside the terminal. What became apparently very clear immediately was that the American Terminal was done for the night. There really wasn’t even an operable check-in, because technically, our flight was the last flight, and with the deadline passed, they were done. As it so happened there was one person there who I am sure inside her head, she was laughing “What? You have two large items to check and you think you can still make this flight?”. Ha!! No amount of White Privilege was getting us on that flight.
Ken, was taking it pretty hard, his initial assumption being that he just forfeited whatever the cost of the flight was. With no where to sit, we just sat on the scales at baggage check in, and started making calls while the Zamboni of the airline terminals made the geometric minimum of sweeping and then waxing the giant floor space with little impedance from all those queue control stands and tapes.
I got through first, and was able to re-book both of us the next day. My plans for Sunday weren’t completely shot yet. As booked, we would fly to Charlotte some time in the early afternoon, and then after a short lay-over catch a connection to Newark. It wasn’t too late, but if I hustled, I could get my bike re-assembled, and bags packed, and maybe just enough rest that I could simply ride out to Ocean Avenue and meet them, instead of the chore of getting to Carton Brewing by 5ish. That was the plan. The next step was getting a room for the night as I had no intention what so ever of spending the night in the Denver airport. A room with two queens was secured, and an Uber-X (two bike bags and two suit cases) was ordered up, and some time around 1:30 in the am we were taking care of our nightly beauty routines, and we turned in for the night. That is we turned in as much as two early 60+ year olds can turn in.
Our room was just a basic room. There wasn’t anything to admire, and neither of us “slept in”, so took in the standard continental high throw-away trash inducing breakfast that they had to offer, and we killed time before checkout in our own ways. I edited my picture stash, getting rid of duplicates, and Ken did whatever Ken does to kill time. When the time came, we ordered up another Uber-X, this time a lot cheaper, I suppose because of the time of day, and returned to the Denver airport, all of our gear in tow. Once again American took our bike bags at no extra charge over the $25 as an extra bag, thus proving thus far, that our Orucase purchases do in fact result in lower airline fees. I still need to travel more to realize the full savings, which at 100-150 each way shouldn’t take too long. Really, one more trip and the bag is paid for. There is also Bike Flights, but that was $135 when I shipped my bike from Texass to New Jersey.
We found our way to the gate, and with extra time, we settled in to find some grub. Vegan grub for me thank you very much. Denver Airport is pretty food diverse, so that wasn’t an issue, and I managed a non-egg breakfast burrito with beans and tofu. Ken was not under the same restrictions and scoffed at my food choices. The food court was crowded, but we found a table we could sit and observe the goings on around us. Colorado had just lifted many of the restrictions the week before, but fortunately people were still exercising caution. The airports, are under federal guidelines, and so it was mask up all the time, unless you were eating.
With our appetites under control, we found a seat at our gate and waited. There is a funny thing about waiting at a gate for a flight. Usually, and maybe that would be mostly, the plane you depart on, flies in from somewhere else. The crews go through and wipe everything down, the provisions get restocked, the fuel tanks get topped off, and the passengers board. That is how it is supposed to go. As Ken and I sat at our gate, and as our hour of departure neared, we both became aware that there wasn’t a plane at our gate. We were still at the correct gate, but whatever plane was supposed to fly in was late. No problem, we still had plenty of time as our connection buffer in Charlotte was about 90 minutes. Right about the time we realized this, we both got a notification on our phones that our flight was delayed 15 minutes. I dropped a text to my Sunday ride friends, that my flight was just delayed, but everything was still fine with my new plan.
Then it delayed another 10 minutes, then it was 30 minutes more, and the longer we sat there, the closer my plans came to total collapse. There still wasn’t a plane in the gate getting cleaned and re-provisioned, so even if a plane pulled up right that moment, it would still be 30 minutes at least before boarding would begin. The hour was approaching quickly now that we would miss our connecting flight, and then the next notification came across the wire that we were at least an hour out from departure, and that was that. I texted my buddies, that I tried, but my efforts were now fruitless. I was not going to ride the inaugural Augie Carton Carton Brewing to Dogfish Head Brewing cycling longest day challenge, and since it was I who laid out the route for that, they would have to navigate on their own. Nothing I could do about it. Commiseration texts were sent, “We’ll miss you”s were received, “I am sorry”s were relayed, and Ken and I set down to awaiting our flight. Still stuck in Denver.
With the knowledge that our connection was missed, we set down to making new arrangements. We wouldn’t be getting into Charlotte until somewhat late, so there weren’t any more flights to Newark. The problem was that all the flights to Newark were later in the day, so we would be stuck in Charlotte most of the day. I think that was when Ken got the idea to change airports, and he found a fairly early flight in the morning, but it was to JFK. I checked with my daughter, and she wasn’t available to pick us up, but Ken’s wife, Christine, was and she agreed to slog out there and retrieve the both of us. So we booked those, and canceled our other flight. At that time I wasn’t really convinced that somewhere along the line I was not getting a refund for my ticket, but the reality is that when the Airline can’t deliver on their side of the non-refundable contract, then the full price is refundable. With those plans now in place, we would settle in and await our flight to Charlotte, where we would decide when we got there whether we would take another hotel. Since we were still booked on American, our baggage “should” follow us.
Eventually our plane arrived; The newly arrived visitors, and maybe Coloradans returning, departed and moved about on their business. The plane was scrubbed down, and re-provisioned; The fuel tanks topped off, and then the boarding began, and we filed in. I was group 3, Ken was group 5. I sat down in my window seat and that was when a little consolation prize was delivered to me. I looked down on the dark carpeted floor and noticed something just under the seat in front of me. I reached down and picked up a pair of wireless Power Beats ear bugs. They looked practically brand new, almost as if their previous owner bought them just before boarding that flight, used them once, took them off and put them on their lap, and then forgot all about them when they deplaned. They fell to the floor, almost like Gollum’s ring, and lay there until I found them. I could have called an attendant over and released them to the custody of American Airlines where they would most likely remain unclaimed, as the previous owner wouldn’t realize their error until the next time they wanted to use them, and then would simply write them off as gone for good, leaving them in American’s care. Or, I could just keep them, and provide them a new home. Take them back to the Shire, in a way. I didn’t actually need them on this flight as I had a pair of noise cancelling over ear headphones to use, so I stuck them in my pocketses.
For the flight to Charlotte, I had downloaded a few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. That, is a very disturbing series that I have become a follower of, but I cannot binge watch it. It is just too disturbing at times, and the storyline doesn’t actually seem all that far-fetched these days, as it did when Margaret Atwood wrote it back in the 80’s. I don’t know how close to the book the series maintains, but we must be venturing into the extended tale as maintained by the screen writers, and maybe with consultation from Ms. Atwood. I had three episodes downloaded, but when the tale gets disturbing, I press the pause button and play a little Ken Ken until I am ready to press play again. I didn’t even make it through two episodes when we landed at Charlotte. It was close to 11 PM local time, and with an early flight, it just didn’t make sense to leave the airport and go through the hassle of re-entering through all that TSA hassle, so we searched the massive Charlotte airport for comfortable chairs to spend the night in. As it so happened, we found some rockers, not all that far from the gate area where our morning flight would depart, and we settled in there. It was near a giant mobile depicting the various ages of air transportation all executing very slow motion circles around a common center. We were in a mall really. If there weren’t planes outside, I would say we were trapped in a mall after closing, and just had to wait it out until morning when someone would come and realize we got locked inside.
At some point Ken disappeared for a long time after first securing his bag with me. You know the routine. Bags that appear un-attended will be destroyed. I drifted in and out of sleep, each time awakened wondering just what happened to Ken. I still had his bag, and knew I would see him again eventually. That eventually was around 4:00, and then I decided to take a walk around as well. Ken mentioned that there were some cushioned seats in a couple of food areas, so I walked around until I finally found one, and a bench that wasn’t occupied, we were not the only ones stuck in the mall over night, and lay down for a softer rest. I don’t think I slept, but I did rest, and as you may know, airports get going kind of early in the morning, so when 5AM clicked by I sensed that the activity level was beginning it’s daily rise. It wasn’t much at first, but it just steadily increased, and then I felt like there was enough going on that I should find my way back to Ken, where he was sitting just where I had left him.
With Christine meeting us with coffee and bagels, we didn’t see any need to secure a first breakfast, so we found our gate, where our flight was listed without any qualifications, and it looked like we would really be going home now. There was a plane at the gate, and that was our plane. The process of boarding went quickly, Group 3 again for me, Group 5 again for Ken, and before long we were in the air, and though tire, I started another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, which I did not complete, because of all my pauses and Ken Kens.
The next big issue we ran into, was at JFK baggage claim. Both Ken’s checked suitcase, and my checked duffle rode the conveyor to our baggage claim area, and I found my bike bag at the JFK over-sized baggage claim. However, Ken’s bike didn’t. I am trying to remember just how I have described Ken over the course of these posts, but if I did I would have described him as a worrywart, and Ken set down to some hardcore worrying about his bike. Where is it? Did it make to JFK? Is it lost here somewhere? Is it still in Denver? Charlotte? There were no answers yet, other than we actually knew it wasn’t in Denver, because we had tracking numbers and you can actually track your luggage, somewhat these days. You know, in case you are worrywart. I think his tracking gave out in Charlotte, and JFK was pretty sure it wasn’t at JFK. It was possible, that his bike bag, actually made the flight to Newark, since I didn’t say this earlier, but he had been re-booked on some other flight first before we decided to try switching airport destinations, so they checked with the Newark folks and voila, that is where his bike was. No problem, we would just drive there on the way home, and retrieve it.
Christine was on time, and true to her word, she arrived with coffee and bagels. Of course that coffee was brewed in NJ, and the bagels were toasted in NJ, but they were there, and they were ours, and we were hungry, and we didn’t really care. Thank you Christine! With her at the wheel, and most of our stuff packed away in her parent’s mini-van, we departed. If the traffic gods were good gods, the Belt Parkway would be moving without incident and there would be no accidents, and therefore no backups. Luckily this was the case. Up and over the Verrazano upper deck, and onto the Staten Island Expressway. It took years of construction, but the SIE isn’t as much a pain in the ass as it had been for years.
There wasn’t even all that much traffic at Newark, and we dropped Ken off in front, and he returned shortly thereafter with his bike, and a smile. We stuffed in the back, and less than an hour later we were parked in front of my open garage door unloading my things. Hugs were exchanged, goodbyes were said, “Let’s do this again” were uttered, and off they drove. I dragged my things inside, and checked my phone for any texts to see how the Augie crew was doing. They had a beautiful day for the ride, though I believe they didn’t have favorable winds. That would just make the beers at the end of the day, that much more enjoyable. I unpacked a few things, but basically, I shut the garage door, took a shower, and plopped myself in a fall-asleep position on my sofa, and turned on the TV for some decent eyelid weighing down You Tube content, and I soon fell asleep. It was almost 11AM.
What did I learn?
- I might be done with American Airlines,
- It takes a long time to drive between Denver and Durango
- Don’t plan too much with one bike. Plan on two bikes.
- Ride the Rockies is a fantastic ride that could have been, and apparently has been, better executed. I will ride it again.
- Ken equates mountains with ice cream, Hagen Daz specifically. “You know why Hagen Daz is only sold in pints? Because a half, or an entire gallon is too much ice cream. I am glad I rode the Rockies, but I think maybe that was too much ice cream.”
- No matter how fat I am, I can still reach the summit.
- I had a great time, in spite of all the challenges. Adversity makes us stronger.
Correction: Ken has straightened me out. Rather than re-write the wrong parts I will simply note what Ken has said. It was I who was on the phone in Denver and had committed to the later flight to Newark the next day when Ken negotiated our change to JFK, so it was my bike that went to Newark, and I actually knew that because of the baggage tracking on the app. So at JFK I knew my bike wasn’t there, so as soon as my clothing bag came off the conveyer, I was ready to go, and while Ken was “working” with the baggage claim people to locate his lost bike at JFK, I stood out in the pick-up zone with Christine (a former work colleague of mine at two companies) and we laughed through a lot of scenarios and stories told while we waited patiently for Ken to come out with his bike AND trying not to get moved along by security. We were out there waaaaay longer than we should have been allowed to be out there, and we did eventually get pushed out, and let me say this. JFK is not an easy airport to execute the old go-around, but we managed it once, and that was all that was needed before Ken emerged from Baggage Claim Hell with his bike. It was I who went into Terminal A Newark, and found my bike ready for me to claim. Correction complete!