Ride The Rockies 2022 – Prelude

July 1, 2022 § 2 Comments

I rode my first Ride the Rockies in 2021 (read all about it here), after years of listening to my friends’ stories about the organization, the food, and the camaraderie of the ride. Though 2021 was in many ways a shit show, the reality is that the riding steals the show, and everything else is just nice to have, so it wasn’t any surprise that when January 25th rolled around, I brought up the registration and signed up for 2022. What was a surprise, to me at least, was that my friend Ken, who also rode his first RTR last year, reached out to me on the 23rd to inform me that he was thinking of registering again. Why was that a surprise to me? Last year, at the end when I asked him if he “Would ride RTR again?” his reply referenced ice cream in a way that said, “When you have had too much ice cream, you find don’t want any more of it.” and if that is cryptic, he was talking about the mountains and the climbs. So, when he told me what he was thinking I asked him if his taste for ice cream had returned, which went way over his head, because Ken doesn’t trouble himself to remember little quips like his ice cream quip.

With my registration complete, I dropped a note to Paul Doherty that I had registered, and that if his invitation of the previous year to join the RV camping group was still open, that I would very much like to give that a go. Paul isn’t much for texting. No more than 10 seconds after I sent the text, my phone starting ringing with the apple software concluding that it “might be Paul Doherty”, and answering we began an exchange that is tough on ears that aren’t “tuned” into the nuances of a good Irish Brogue that is maybe tempered by living in the US for 30 years. It’s not that I don’t hear, it’s that my brain has issues parsing what is said into word bytes that my brain can understand. Now, my hearing loss exacerbates the situation at times, like say, if there is background noise, or if the person speaking speaks at a frequency that is in my loss spectrum. Remember also, that I have had tinnitus since 2000. Basically Paul was simply confirming that I wanted to camp in the RVs with them, and when it came time to put that together he would check in with me again, and we said our “goodbye”s and our “talk to you soon”s and ending the connection.

Now, you may not recall, and perhaps even if you just read my account from last year, Paul rides these events as a member of Team Samaritan House, a Catholic Charities affiliation that raises monies for their mission helping the homeless in the greater Denver metropolitan area. Though it hadn’t been said yet, I was aware that I might have to join the team to get into the RVs. At that time, Paul didn’t say, and I didn’t ask. Not a deal breaker for me. An opportunity to meet some new folks.

Fast forward to April, and I was watching some subscription service on the Telly, when my phone rang with the same “We think this is Paul Doherty” message. I guess that I didn’t create a complete contact for Paul, but Google, or maybe Apple has the “Friend of a Friend” algorithm working well, and because they have access to my Contacts, and my email, and since Paul’s email contain his business contact information, if he were to call me from say, his business phone, that algorithm kicks in and with confidence informs me, the user, “this might be Paul Doherty”. In any case, he wanted to know if I was in for sure, concerning the RVs, and I repeated my commitment to it, and he said “Great! look for an email. Got to go.” and the connection went dead. Fifteen seconds later it rang again, “Might be Paul”, and he said “Oh, I almost forgot. You have to join Team Samaritan and raise $1500. Will that be a problem?” to which I replied that I figured the whole RV adventure included joining TS, and that would be fine with me. I was looking forward to the adventure, blah blah blah, and we bade our goodbyes and that was almost that. There was something about “Look for an email from Tom Schwein”.

The next day, I got an email from Tom with instructions to create my TS web donation page, and that they had just closed the order form for the kits, but I should look at the page and reply what I wanted, and he would make sure that the proper people found out and my order would get placed. I thanked him for the information, and I set up my donation page, and then pinned it to the top of my Facebook profile, and before long I got a couple of donations. If you are reading this, I am still accepting donations. My goal is $1500 and I am a wee bit shy of that, and I do need to up my own self-help amount as well still.

Then there is the part about getting ready for Ride the Rockies, and that was where my plans for 2022 had already gotten off to a sub-par start. My motivation to get outside in the dark January mornings was impacted by a couple of setbacks, the worst being that I did contract the dreaded Covid after a trip to Boston. Aside from that, I just found it so hard to separate myself from my warm comfortable bed, to don all my winter cycling gear, and then endure the miserable weather that lay outside my townhouse. I didn’t it the year before, but this year was different. My willingness to ride my rollers (in the basement) was also challenged because basically it’s boring as fuck, no matter what I do to change it up. My roller riding wasn’t zero, but it was what it could have been either, and in any case, my tolerance for it is limited to an hour, whereas if I could just get my arse outside, that at least is for two hours.

I did have an “Ace in the Hole” though, and that was I committed to two weeks at the end of February, and into early March to “house sit” for my daughter and son-in-law, relieving a British friend from those responsibilities. Two weeks in San Francisco might just be enough to “Jump Start” my whole Spring campaign.

I arrived and took over from Sam, a person I had only met at their wedding but who I recognized instantly because he was taller than me, and while I was chatting him up I placed my water glass on top of the fridge, a completely normal place for a tall person to set their drink. “Whoa! I have to send that to Corinne. She gave me a good talk-down after I placed a glass up there, that that isn’t a place for a glass, and is she going to be surprised to find that her own Dad finds that it is.” Ha!

With my bike reassembled, I set out for Marin County and I quickly learned why the Strava Heat Map for San Francisco shows this “wiggle” on the way to Gold Gate State Park. It’s officially called “The Wiggle” and the bike lane is engineered to avoid the hills to get the rider to Fell St. which is a fairly straight shot into the park. I found the bridge, got over on the correct side, and managed to work my way around a loop the locals call “Paradise Loop”. Total mileage was just about 50, but it was a good start and I limped through. A week and half later I flew through the loop, hooking up with a local who showed me some other options. The point here is that two weeks in San Francisco had done me a world of good and I was well on my way to being RTR Ready!

That is, until I got back to Jersey. See, while the weather was great and conducive to riding as well as the fact that I altered my work schedule so that I worked Eastern hours, thus leaving me the afternoon to ride, back in Jersey, the weather still sucked, and it was one of those Winters/Early Springs that offer few “ideal” mornings to ride, and so, all that goodness I had achieved in California was ebbing away quickly. I fortunately got in a decent Bear Mountain ride with Greg Campi on my not-properly-geared-for-the-ride Sibex Czar (Portofino was on the bike stand with a soft rear brake), and though I made it, it wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t long before the notion crept into my head that I had made a huge error in judgement. My judgement! Why, oh Porque did I not just stay in San Francisco until Corinne and Will threw me out? That place was perfect! Now I was losing form, and forcing myself to ride the rollers on some mornings just to get the legs moving, but as March turned to April, April sucked just as much and turned into May, and two things here: 1) I still hadn’t done anything about my Portofino brake issue, and 2) The Assault on Mount Mitchel was coming up and I wasn’t ready anymore.

There was an assault at Mount Mitchell, and it wasn’t the mountain that was assaulted. It was me. I missed the time cut at mile 101, and gladly got sagged to the top. 101 miles on my Czar without the right gearing went a long way in getting something back into my legs. The rest of May came together and then Ken sent me a note regarding the Highlands Gran Fondo out of Butler NJ. 100+ miles in NW Jersey might just be the icing this boy needed on his cake, but I had to have my Portofino back in working order so I quickly got down to business with a brake bleed when I realized I had purchased the wrong bleed kit. Ughh. And it was a holiday weekend, and I couldn’t get the bike into Peddler until Tuesday! Crikey!

I was able to call and let them know the bike was coming in and they would squeeze me in. I dropped the bike off in the morning Tuesday, and I had it back on Friday, and fortunately had those gears for the Fondo, because I sure needed them. The Fondo did just what I needed it to do, and by the middle of the following week, I raced around one of my loops with what felt like “Terrific Legs!” and I knew I was finally ready for Ride the Rockies. My flight was on Friday morning, so after a little spin Thursday, I carefully packed my bike into my Orucase, so that it was ready to go. I took the extra precaution, this time, or removing the rotors from the wheels and making sure they were protected, and double and triple checked that I brought all the tools for re-assembly. While working, I took time to get all my “things” together that I would need, with yet another look at the coming weather, and opting for some cool weather gear. There would be a kit awaiting me which included a jacket, so I made sure I had base layers, and a couple of extra kits etc.

Daughter #1 dropped me off at the Airport, after a mild “What the fuck?” stalled truck at 13A for which we drove onto exit 14, which got me to the terminal on-time. I was set for the Baggage short-cut which was another non-issue as they took my bike bag without complaint (It’s overall dimensions qualify it as “Not Oversized” though I have to drop it onto the Over-Sized handling cart), and I was soon through security and found that I could board directly when I reached my gate. I texted Andy that I was boarding and would see him in Denver. Andy? That would be Andy Schiller from Boston who was also on the team. He wasn’t RVing, but he was a team member, and I would meet him in Denver, and we would work out how to get to Paul’s house when the time came.

The flight was quick, and again, as always desired, went without incident, and soon I was standing with Andy awaiting my bike bag from “Oversized” pickup. “I am the short guy in the black shirt” was his text to me, and I quickly spotted him right next to the service counter. He wasn’t kidding either. I think I stood at least 14 inches over him. His neck sore from looking up, mine from looking down. We debated what to do next. What to do. Paul, is a man that likes to have a plan. As we were both fairly new to Paul, we weren’t that aware that most of Paul’s plans rarely pan out the way they are planned, so while I was initially on the side of “Let’s just Uber to his house, and we’ll meet him there when he comes back with the RV’s”, Andy was leaning towards “Paul asked us to meet him at one of the addresses where the RV was being picked up, which was right outside the airport, so maybe it would be more convenient, blah, blah, blah” and I relented and that is what we did.

However, when we arrived at the gate to the “storage lot”, it was locked, Paul wasn’t there, and wasn’t due there for another 30 minutes at least, and there was no shade anywhere, it was 90 degrees and sunny as fuck, so we bribed the Uber driver to drive us “into a town” anywhere nearby, where we would send Paul a pin where we could be picked up. As it turned out we came upon a park with a pavilion where we chose to hang out with a local family that was setting up for a birthday party. And we began our wait. “Hmmm. I could put my bike together here, or I could wait till we get to Paul’s place” I mused. Andy thought “The sooner you get it done, the better. They’ll pick us up in the RV so there is plenty of room for it”, and so I set about the steps to re-assemble.

Keep in mind, that the bike is almost completely disassembled, and to protect the finish on the frame, it had protective pads wrapped around every component of the frame, so it wasn’t until I remove the downtube pads that Andy exclaimed “Battaglin?!?! I won a Battaglin!” and that was when we both realized that we had actually met on the last day of RTR 2021 when I caught up to Andy on Molas pass after Paul told me “Yeah, Andy has a bike similar to that and he is here”. We didn’t ride far together that day, as I was in a hurry, but we both remember the encounter, and now we kind of settled into a more familiar, though really it shouldn’t have been that much different, friendship.

Two hours go by before we get a call from Paul that he’ll be there soon, and true to his word he was there soon. However, he didn’t have the RV yet, and there was no way to fit Andy, me, my shit, my bike, Andy’s shit as well as Dave and Paul into the vehicle, so we stuff our shit into the vehicle, and retreated to the pavilion while Dave and Paul went to get the one RV and then came back for us, where we proceeded to drive somewhere else to get the other RV. The first was picked up from an RV storage lot and was more commercial in the transaction, however the second RV may have been arranged in a similar fashion, but was picked up from the owner’s home somewhere in the greater Denver area. I don’t recall his name, but he moved here from Poland many moons ago, and works(ed) for United as a mechanic. He and his wife emptied the RV of all the stuff we didn’t need, like linens etc as we all had our own sleeping bags, and soon we were on our way to Paul’s house to meet more of the folks as well as his family.

I wasn’t entirely sure of our overall plans prior to all this, but Andy had forwarded me an “Itinerary” that Paul (remember what I said already about planning) had typed up, and though I was trying to see if I had any time to pay a visit to see a Youth Group, now adult, friend Rachael S, I realized that much was being done to make me feel welcome, and I told Rachael “Not this trip”, and I enjoyed the Doherty hospitality that was being ladled out. “Would you like some more?” “I would thank you”. Now, being a guest, I wasn’t going to make any waves. That I had been eating Vegan for almost two years, I didn’t come prepared to eat Vegan that evening, and I wasn’t going to mention that to my hosts, so if I had to eat meat, I was going to eat some meat. At least it was chicken, and it smelled wonderful. The salads weren’t Vegan, but I didn’t care, as I loaded up on those mostly but I did enjoy a piece of chicken as well. The beer was Vegan!

Here I met Beth Ann (Paul’s wife), Molly (daughter), Liam (Son), Po (Poric – Paul’s super cool brother-in-law) and then some of the other riders/team members. There was Tom Schwein (Captain) and his wife, Deacon Marty was there as was Tim Jackson and his wife, and to be honest, my memory is fading here. Andy was there and maybe the other two drivers (3 RVs total). We were fed and sated everyone eventually found their way out. The “Itinerary” indicated and early rise, to load the RVs, so we didn’t want to stay up “too late”. I think Andy slept in one of the RVs, but I thought it was too warm, so I pulled out my bag and pad, and setup to sleep on the back porch. “Really?” Beth Anne asked. “You don’t want to sleep in the RV or on the sofa?”. I assured her I would “Be fine, really”, and I was used to this kind of thing.

The truth is I most “rest” at night and occasionally I get “sleep”. It just isn’t what used to be called “A good night’s sleep”. Now it’s more like a good night’s rest. I do sleep at times, and some of those times I even make it into the dream world, but the mater of the fact is, I have to get up 3 and 4 times a night to relieve myself, and frankly that just wakes you up. So, I rested that night and was up at dawn after I heard Liam leave for a swim meet (I think he is a coach), I packed up my stuff, and went inside to find coffee was brewing and RV departure day was getting it’s start. All the provisioning was going to occur there at Paul’s place, and everyone that was going was meeting us there and were going to park their vehicles off the street in Paul’s very roomy driveway. This is where I met Rick and Kristi (and their Havimalt – Havanese Maltese), John, Dave, Tommy and his brother Dan Dea, Jeremy, Susan, Rachel, and all the folks from dinner the night before. It was a huge gathering and we mounted the bike racks, and loaded up the bikes, brought on all baggage, 10 48 packs of water, a lot beer (It is Denver, so Coors light), and snacks.

Tommy Dae’s transport for the ride was a green 1969 Cadillac Coup De Ville convertible with a Christmas tree wrapped around the antenna. His brother Dan plans to drive to each of the end towns, and when Tom gets in, then transport Tom to his invited place of residence for the night. See Tommy Dea knows a lot of people, and when RTR announces their route, Tommy goes through each town and gets in touch with whoever he knows there and announces “I’ll be staying with you that night”, and that is how Tommy Dae provisions his sleeping quarters for the trip.

With everything tightly strapped on, and all the stuff loaded, we took a few parting selfies, boarded the RVs and pulled out. It would take about 2 hours to get to Copper Mountain. I remember Copper Mountain from The Triple Bypass I rode way back in 2003, when I was younger, and still riding my Landshark. Copper Mountain was on the way to the last pass of that ride, Vail Pass, where I was a completely overcooked noodle by that point in the ride with my thighs burning from lactic acid in my lowest possible gear. I honestly only remember the name Copper Mountain, and nothing about what it looks like, though I do remember all the Aspen and the bike path. Another memory from that trip was the Dinosaur road that I just happened to route a training ride through, and I recognized that after 19 years as we drove past it.

Other than the sound that an RV makes as it sucks in $6 a gallon gas as it fights it’s own gravity well, the trip went by covered by chatter in the RV. I was in an RV with our driver Bob, John, Mike, and I think Dave was riding with us, but was going to tent camp. John had just gotten back from a business trip in Dublin, and was using an app called Time Shift to aid in the big time shift that his body needed to adjust to. Dave was from my neck of the woods near Philadelphia. Bob was local and glad to be helping out, and Mike was also local to the front range. I think Andy was in one of the other RV’s, and his task when we got there was to go find his bike and assemble it. He didn’t have it with him when we sat in the park :). We had only one stop to make, Walmart, where people were advised to purchase those nice baby wipes for use in the Port-o-Johns where the TP was thin, and if it was going to be like last year, possibly non-existent.

We pulled in and found a place to park all three RVs, and believe it or not, but there were a number of other RVs there as well. I don’t really like to give Walmart my money, so I went in search of some grub as I was hungry, and it was lunchtime, and in so doing I walked past a beer store that I noted for my return from grub trip. I found a Mexican place that made me a vegan burrito to take away, and then I stopped for a few six packs of some IPAs so I wouldn’t have to drink Coors Lite unless I wanted to, and worked my way back to the RVs so I was ready to go when they were ready to go. I was operating under the plan to “Not be the issue” whenever an issue arose. I was the “new” guy.

With everyone back, we set out for the final few miles and pulled into a huge brown dirt parking lot where it was about 85 degrees, hot, and apparently where the camping was setup, which included the RVs. There was no shade anywhere, and if I was in one of those tents, I would have had to find someplace else to hang out until the sun went down, but I was in an RV, so we parked, extended the awnings, set out chairs, got down to some serious relaxing before we decided to board a shuttle bound for Ride HQ. Ride HQ is where all the Sponsors/Vendors tents are set up; It’s also where packet pick up is if you didn’t have that mailed to your home already. Ride HQ was setup at the base of a still melting super half pipe creation and up against the business sector of the mountain. I don’t know that this is a town, but maybe think of it as a Strip Mall with a lot of residential rentals. The mountain tries to support a year round crowd, and that crowd needs places to eat, and quaff a few Colorado craft brewed beers.

To be honest, Ride HQ wasn’t all that exciting, however it was entertaining to watch Tommy Dae move through all the tents seeing all the people he knew and knew him. “Everybody loves Tommy Dae” was a phrase I heard many times by the end of my time in Colorado. In any case, even watching that had it’s limits, and soon we were seated on a patio ordering from a beer list that listed a lot more options than they were actually pouring, but we all found something to our tastes and we sat there until it was time to retreat back to the RVs. The Knights of Columbus were serving up a dinner for us after 5 O’clock Mass, and people wanted to get back to the RV’s to get ready. I think I might have remembered the times wrong, or I simply napped through Mass, but when I awoke, it was 5:30 and there was no one around and after walking over to the chapel, I found that Mass had just finished, and everyone was moving into the dining area.

The question I got asked most over the course of the week went something like this “You’re from Jersey? How on earth did you end up with this cast of character actors?” and I would explain how I met Paul the year before, yada, yada, and then some more yada. “We’re happy to have you!” and they always meant it.

The first ride was on the morrow, and that ride was THE topic of discussion at dinner, as it was 110 miles in length. In fact in the first 3 days, two of the rides were 110 miles. That’s a lot of miles. My friend Ken had used a new app he found “Epic Ride” which links a route with weather forecast and when you add details like average speed, it gives you an idea of what the specifics will be all along the route at the times you should be there, and it said that we would be facing one hell of a head wind for the last 60 miles, so there was anxiety surrounding that detail. The organizers can’t do anything about the weather, but when it came to route selection, I think the ran with the logic argument that Freemont Pass was in the first 11 miles, and at Copper Mountain we are already at 9600′, so really it isn’t a bad climb. The next pass, Tennessee Pass, is lower and the approach isn’t bad from the Atlantic drainage side, and after that it would be generally down hill for the next 70+ miles, so 110 on the first day should be within everyone’s reach, and that is what people were talking about at dinner.

After dinner we walked back to the RVs and everyone set about making sure everything they wanted to be ready for the next morning was ready, and by 9PM everyone had retired. Ride the Rockies 2022 was getting off to a terrific start. I made a LOT of new friends already, well maybe new acquaintances; It might take the full bonding experience of the ride before they became “friends”, but it was a beginning.

A Story

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