Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 1

July 3, 2022 § 2 Comments

I think the way I am going to present this will be day by day. Each day is an adventure in itself with it’s own challenges, accomplishments, interactions, conditions, weather and laughs. It means I have more to write, but then on the other hand it cements each day in my mind, and that is an investment in future me.

I was up at 5am, not having slept all that well, but I already discussed what sleep and rest are to me in my previous post, so it was no surprise. The sky was clear, and the morning light was fantastic. The food truck, that we had observed yesterday getting provisioned, was getting itself going. I felt like with 110 miles ahead of me, I wanted to have something solid in my stomach to set off with, and not just a breakfast bar to be supplemented at the aid stations, so as soon as I noticed people walking away with food, I went over and secured a breakfast burrito without meat, making an exception in my Vegan diet for the egg and there was probably cheese as well. I would be making a lot of exceptions on this trip. I could have prepared better for my situation, but I already elected to make exceptions on this journey.

Ken and I had already agreed that we would set out together on this day, and after the morning prayer by Deacon Marty, we set out. It was cool enough that I was dressed in one of my compression long sleeve layers with my Samaritan Cycling kit over the top. I wore a a thin skull cap for my ears, and some lightweight wool gloves (that I found somewhere in the Catskills last winter) that were perfect for this weather. Ken was already arguing with me regarding where the ride starts, which he insisted was somewhere behind us, while we could all clearly see riders leaving out the parking area, making a right and heading up the road. And that is exactly what we did as well. Freemont tops out at 11,319′ at about 11 miles from the start, where we left at 9400′, so we would gain less than 2000′ over 11 miles, which isn’t really all that bad of a grade of about 5-7%. A big gear climb in my old days, a little gear climb these days.

As we ascended, we popped in and out of the sun, warmer in the sun, cooler in the shade. Fremont is a Continental Divide pass, and we were leaving the Arkansas River drainage and heading into the Blue River drainage, an upper tributary to the Colorado. There was a lot of work going on that looked very much like the building of a giant reservoir, or two or three, but they also could have been associated with the Climax mine at the top of the climb. Molybdenum if you need to know, and I see now that what looked like reservoir construction was actually three very giant tailings ponds. I don’t know anything about them, however my general impression of tailings is bad, but maybe that is Uranium mine tailings I am thinking about.

On the way up, I was over-taken, very quickly I might add, by Tom Schwein who was pushing a big gear and was out of the saddle and rode past me like I was standing still. I came to find out later he was just stretching his legs out trying to get warm. He sat back down, found his rhythm, and keeping my rhythm, I got some images of him before Ken and I rode past him with a “Good morning Tom”.

The first rest area was at the top, which is also where the Climax mine was located. It was a big operation, and all I knew at the time was “Oh, that looks a like a mining operation”, and then I stood by a sign that had “Sexual Innuendo” written all over it, and it really isn’t until I am sitting here writing this that it all makes sense. Ignoring all that, this was the first rest stop of the entire 6 day adventure, so it might be safe to evaluate what was available, because in reality, it wasn’t going to change much. So, yes, there were bananas, and salted snacks, orange quarters, water (of course) and an energy drink (Heed?) as well as packets of powder, fig bars, various shortbread cookies, and later I would find pickle juice as well. At this stop there may have been an operating food truck/service as well, but I don’t really remember. Pictures taken, bladders emptied, stomachs pits filled, fellow Samaritan House riders greeted, Ken and I took off for the descent into the Pacific drainage. Now, I have to apologize to Ken, because I didn’t think Fremont was the Continental divide, and I thought we crossed it at Tennessee, but I was wrong. In Copper Mountain we were already in the Pacific Drainage, and crossing Fremont put us back in the Atlantic, and then Tennessee again put us back squarely in the Pacific. Ha! Take that.

Tennessee was actually a wee bit anti-climax (pun), as we didn’t descend very far off Fremont, before we were ascending again, and again, at the pinnacle of the pass, there was another rest stop which actually required us to ascend up to the ski lifts if we wanted more sustenance. I looked at Ken, and Ken looked at me, and off we set in pursuit of the 3rd rest area. I should note that there was a very attractive young blond woman with long legs who was directing riders up the hill to the ski area rest stop that we chatted up and then decided to push on. This is probably where Andy and I crossed paths without crossing paths.

From there we descended with cross winds route 24 North (Note that this won’t mark our first acquaintance with 24), which would take us all the way to 6 just west of Vail Pass. Again, from the Triple ByPass, much of this area was familiar to me, except the headwind was very strong. It was somewhere along this early section of 6 that I passed Rick again. We passed him once already on 24, I was on the front, Ken was screaming at me “My Watts!! My Watts!!” (Translation for those not in the know:- What Ken was actually saying was ‘Fucking eh Eric!! I am burning more watts trying to hold your wheel, then I should be burning when it’s my turn on the front!) Fortunately I have hearing issues (already discussed), so I pushed on. Anyway, Ricks MO was to not linger long at rest areas, so after Ken and I hit Rest Area 3, who should I see ahead of us again, but Rick! Rick was by himself, and I think it is safe to say he was riding his own ride. We were only just introduced the day before, and even though I am sure my rear wheel looked very inviting, he let us pass, we said our “Hey!”s, and we continued on.

Details here are sketchy, however I recall a rider who I believe was just out for a training ride. No bike tag on his bike, but he was strong, going our direction, and at some point Ken and I and maybe one or two others formed a group and started pressing into the wind as a group. Sometimes this rider got ahead of us, but I was next in line, and maintaining a steady pace (“Ken says ‘Ha’!) I always bridged back up. He took some breaks and I spent some time dragging everyone along with Ken screaming “Watts!”, but hanging on. When Rest Area 4 came up, we bid adieu to our companion who sped off, and Ken sped off to the nearest Port-o-John. We rested again, refueled, and then re-evaluated. There was only one more stop, and that was just prior to the entrance to Glenwood Canyon. We were getting close, but we would need to push through this wind for another 17-20 miles to get to the next stop. While it is fair to say, that we were, overall losing elevation, that is what made it possible to hammer into the wind, it is still hard as fuck to ride into that kind of a headwind for hours on end. It’s demoralizing.

That was when we hooked up with “The Devil”. Dramatic? Maybe a little. There was a pretty solid woman riding, maybe in her mid to late thirties (What the fuck do I know?), with socks that had the word “Diablo” down the back on each sock. I was intrigued. Diablo. I had seen her a couple of times already, because “Diablo”. So, it wasn’t long after we set out from RA 4 that she and someone she was riding with passed us, and I accelerated, and latched on. Actually the person she was riding with was on the front, and I can’t really speak for him, but it seemed to me like he spent a lot of time on the front, and listen, I can suck wheel with the best of them. In my mind, it’s your responsibility to flick the chicken wing arm and ask people to pull through. If you don’t, well, I’ll ride your wheel for hours. I am happy to do my part, but it is your responsibility to say “your turn”, and this guy sat out there for a long long time in THAT wind. I don’t really get it, because at some point, he pulled off to the right, his head was shaking, and his full body language said, “I’m cooked”, and we all left him for dead like he was going to take us over the edge of a Serac on Mt Everest. “See ya” and Diablo was right there with us. She took a respectable pull on the front, and then slotted in behind the rest of us while I drove on seeking the next person up ahead.

As you might expect, there is always one more person ahead, and we found another good motor that I could trade off with as we pushed for RA 5. The towns we still had to hit included one called Gypsum. Guess what they mine there? Wolcott, Eagle, Gypsum, Dotsero. Each town we passed put us closer to Glenwood Canyon, and RA 5. RA 5 was just shy of the entrance, and Glenwood Springs, our destination was just after, so we pushed on. I pushed on. I think Ken gave up on managing his watts, and simply tucked in, and tried to survive. We pushed through all the towns, until finally the marker for the last RA appeared, and we all filed in with tremendous relief. Only Ken and I knew each other, but we all set our bikes down together, looked at each other, said our “Thanks for the fun”, and then engaged the RA for every ounce of energy we could for the final leg. I forgot to mention that somewhere in that “sprint” we passed Rick yet again. Rick is hard core!

Glenwood Canyon. Until this trip I had never ever even heard of this place, and yet, it was one of the most amazing places I have been through period. Walking, riding, driving, flying, busing, training, shipping. Yes, it’s a genuine canyon. No, not like the Grand Canyon, but yes, like the Grand Canyon. No in size and age, Yes in what is going on there. The Colorado River has cut its way through this gorge, and in there shares space with Route 70 2 or 3 lanes in each direction, a bike path, and an Amtrak railway. At times the gorge is so narrow, that 70E sits atop 70W, and at one point they gave up and simply drilled into the mountain to carry both segments for a mile or two. At that point, Ken and I were riding along, the roar of the Colorado rapids in our ears, just the river, and the bike path, and to our left behind the rock face, somewhere in there, 70 E and W and the railroad were hidden by super-mega tons of mountain. It was very cool.

Anyway, after RA 5, the frontage road ended, and the bike path emerged, and it was this path that took us into the canyon. It is difficult to describe just what the eye nerves were sending to the brain to process. With the path sandwiched between the Colorado River, which was pretty much rapids from the entrance until it’s egress 18 miles later, the roar of the water on our left, and the noise of Rt 70 on our right were in constant competition. I almost couldn’t hear my freewheel, and I certainly couldn’t hear Ken if he ever tried to say anything. Against all that beauty and sound, you really couldn’t relax, as the bike path was littered in numerous stretches with a fine silt that indicated the river had been up there, and though we could have ridden the canyon at a more relaxed pace, at that point in the ride, you can see yourself off the bike at the end, and closing the distance from where you are to where you need to be keeps the pace high, and it’s the pace that adds to the stress, as there are many blind corners as the path winds around bends, and then swings back and forth underneath 70. Anyone going the other direction has the benefit of a tail wind, so they could be booking along. Fortunately the number of cyclists traveling against our grain were few. There were also sections of the path that had a barrier between the path and the river, while there were long stretches with no barrier and just a bunch of huge boulders off the path and then the river. So, you definitely don’t want to lose control in a wind gust and end up off the path on that side.

Eighteen miles of canyon is a lot of canyon. Of course that is nothing compared to The Grand Canyon, but it is still very impressive, and emerging out the other end, everything opens up as quickly as it closed in entering. I looked around, and surmised that my pace through the canyon was faster than Ken wanted to ride it, and it should be noted that Ken has no depth perception, so the whole 18 miles might have seemed even more of a “don’t fuck up here” stretch of the route. I didn’t see any branches off the path, so when the path suddenly began to climb away from the river at 10%, I was thinking I must have missed a turn, and my legs were burning from the effort. I was close to stopping just to look at RideWithGps to make sure when I saw a turn up ahead and there was a course marshal standing there. I was still on course! I was really feeling the heat at that moment, and right there on the side of the road was a copse of Cottonwoods throwing down some very inviting shade, and as it so happened, a cyclist was taking in that shade when I pulled up. “Opera Man!” he exclaimed and recalled the last day of RTR 2021 when I was climbing Red Mountain with opera playing on my Buckshot. He remembered the bike, and therefore the opera. We chatted until Ken showed up with a face that said “Who put the hill in at the end of the ride?”.

We departed together and finished the final miles into downtown Glenwood Springs, where the path brought us in and took us past “The Springs” of Glenwood Springs, and the odor of Sulpher assaulted our nostrils pretty severely. “I hope the whole town doesn’t smell like this!”, and fortunately once past the springs, the smell abated. We were guided onto a pedestrian bridge over 70 again where there was a sign that met us with instructions “Cyclists, use elevator” and looking around the only other choice was the staircase, and with tired legs and cycling cleats we entered the elevator. I lined up to exit the opposite door, while Ken thought the door we entered would be our egress route and turned his bike around, but there were only two floors, and why would there be two doors unless the exit was the opposite of the entrance? So when the door in front of me opened, Ken had to turn his bike around again conceding that I was right.

Right there was the end of the ride table, cowbells ringing, “Congratulations!” were shouted at us above the surrounding noise, and we were given instructions regarding where our newly acquired “Free Beer” tickets could be redeemed, as well as where the camping and bag trucks were, and what was the shuttle situation was. We decided that we would look for the RVs, Ken could get his shower bag, we would clean ourselves up, and walk into town for lunch. “Go to the end of this road, take a left and …” was all I remembered her saying, but after that left, I could tell that where we needed to be was up in an open area that sat about 30 feet higher on our right, so we just had to find the next right, and we would be fine, and that is where everything was. I spotted our RVs and rode up where I found Bob, Marty and John sitting there under the awning and they all seemed surprised to see me. It was 2:45 and apparently I was the first one in. We dumped our bikes, Ken went off to find his bag, and I sat down with the boys after grabbing a cold IPA from the cooler to rest a little before doing anything else. I provided the boys with valuable intel about how strong the winds were, and when they could be expecting some of the others. Rick and Rachel would probably be the next in at some point, but where everyone else was, I hadn’t a clue.

When Ken returned, I finished my beer, grabbed my shower bag, and before heading off to the shower trucks, we hit the massage tent instead and got ourselves each an appointment at 3:30 for an hour. Then we hit the showers. As it was early in the afternoon, there wasn’t a line, and we both got a stall right away. The trucks are equipped with a forward “dis-robing” area where the curtain is subject to physical forces of the breeze entering through the open door, and though I don’t expect that anyone sits outside the truck looking for voyeur opportunities, the fact is that voyeur opportunities there are! Each stall has a dispenser of body wash, and that is good enough for me. The trick to these shower trucks is to turn on the hot full blast and then as you feel the water get warmer taper the temperature by adding in cold, and then leave it alone. Personally, I like to wet down first, but I don’t like leaving the water running while I am body washing, so I turn the water off until I need to rinse. My eyes were burning from the dissolved salt that had crusted during the ride, and I had to flush my eyes for 30 seconds to get that salt out. Before I was finished, I grabbed my jersey, and shorts and gave them a good solid rinse. Certainly a benefit of “Hot and Dry” like Colorado is, is you can hang your “washed kit” out and it will thoroughly dry out, and though it was really just rinsed, it is rinsed enough for another day’s usage.

After our massages, Ken and I walked into town and found a seat at a place near the end of the ride that had outdoor seating. They had one thing on the menu that while it wasn’t Vegan, at least it was Vegetarian. That and a few beers and I was starting to feel whole again. There were other riders scattered about, and an older couple sat down next to us after they finished. “That Wind!” was the topic of everyone’s day 1 summary story, and “Did you imagine Glenwood Canyon would be that beautiful?”. No, but I think now that I know, I think anytime you hear the words “Canyon” and “Colorado River”, I think that is a recipe for beauty.

Ken was getting tired and wanted to get to his hotel and check in and relax. We walked back to the RV’s, Ken grabbed his bike, and managed to ride it to find his hotel. By this point a few others had wandered in and gotten cleaned up. They had ordered a bunch of pizzas and were eating them already when I wandered in and declined the pizza offers. “I’m stuffed”. Not everyone was in yet, but I listened to how Tom, Po, Paul and someone else had teamed up and took their share of turns breaking the wind for the others and as the clock ticked by, the miles fell, and finally rolled into town hungry and exhausted. As I said, there were people still out there, and though they kept trying to get me to eat the pizza, I kept declining, and I am glad I did, because as each of the stragglers rolled in, their faces lit up when they spotted those now-cold pizza slices, and they wolfed down what they could. I am not sure who the last in were, but I think Tommy Dea, Jon, Dave and Mike might have all rolled in together around 6:30 and if they wanted a shower they had to hustle, as they were going to shut that operation down soon.

Day 1 was coming to a close, and my closing thoughts for the day were that I probably shouldn’t plan to eat all my dinner meals with Ken. I was invited to join this group, and I should probably make more of an effort to spend some quality down time with them. They did a lot of things together, and by wandering off with Ken to get dinner, I did something separate, so I decided that night I was going to make time to set with these folks more than just heading out for the ride and before going to bed. They were already talking about a BBQ the next night at the RVs, and so I told them I would eat with them on the morrow. I wasn’t going to bring up my Vegan diet, I would just eat what I see and be done with it. There were also plans developing to swim in the Springs before riding to Basalt, however those talks didn’t account for the RTR organization shutting down the only Rest Area on the morrow’s ride, and if we were going to ride, then we’d better be on the road with enough time to take advantage of that Rest Stop.

That was where we left it. I wouldn’t have to get up early and push to get out. I could relax, and when a group was ready to head out, we would leave. No one stayed out once the sun retired, and that is just what we did.

A Story

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