Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 3
July 10, 2022 § Leave a comment
Independence Pass. By just its name, it doesn’t sound that daunting. 12, 095′ sounds a little daunting though, and if Ken’s Epic Ride forecast was still accurate, then we would be in for another long descent into a crossing headwind, though if we started early enough, we might actually get a little assistance on our ascent. I was told that this was the harder side, but maybe, similar to the first day’s route, getting the climb out of the way first would make it less of a hardship. First we had to cover 2000′ in 23 miles to get to Aspen, where the first Aid Station would be setup, and then over the next 16 miles gain the extra 4000′, or 250′ per mile to reach the second Aid Station. When I train in Harriman, we are always impressed that no matter how far we ride there, it always works out to 100′ per mile, and those roads are sometimes pretty steep, so 250′ per mile did sound an alarm in my head. As Ken noted as a comment in my last post, the route designers probably should have considered an additional station somewhere during the ascent as it would take a long time to cover those 16 miles.
The talk the night before was again, what time to start, and again 6:30 was being thrown around. In my mind that is just too late for such a long day ahead, and with the forecasted winds in the afternoon, so I set my alarm for 4:45 so I could be on road by 5:30. As noted, neither Ken nor Andy would be there as they were up in Snowmass, and if I was lucky, I might run into one of them at some point. Harken back to Day 1 when I munched on a breakfast burrito before that ride began, and the observation that a Pancake Food Truck was advertised to be available in the morning, I quickly got myself together and lined up for their 5am opening. I was first line! Score! But, they were having trouble with the electricity, and I noticed that they had just lit the griddles. “Hmm. Shouldn’t they have been lit already?” I stood there for about 5 minutes, a few other people lined up behind me when one of the operators told us they wouldn’t be open until 5:30. That was a deal breaker for me. This is a note to future RTR logistics managers. On 110 mile days, there needs to be food available at 5am or earlier. I returned to my RV where everyone was still sound asleep, Jon (Positive) was laid out in a warm sleeping bag outside under the tent, and I entered quietly and got ready to go. I downed an energy breakfast bar (Would rather have had pancakes!), some Ibu, some calcium and a multi-vitamin. Topped off my water, got my shower bag together, grabbed my stuff and exited the RV. Fortunately, someone from the other RV was up already, and was able to get me the key to the locks that secured our bikes for the night, and I separated my bike out, positioned all my lights, turned them all on to flash, said goodbye to the only person that was out there, and off I set on my own.
It was easy getting back to the bike path, and the bike path was actually a very pleasant and easy grade, it was once a railroad track, for 99 percent of the route to Aspen. There some minor points where the path left the original grade, and ascended up to a road and back, but those were few. There were a handful of people out already, and one by one I passed a fair number of them, and was passed by a fair number of others. The Aspens were dramatic at times when I came upon a small grove of them, set against the backdrop of the mountains, and the river, and the higher I got, the more of them I saw.
I left Basalt with only an energy bar in me, and I wasn’t sure what would be at the first rest station, so I threw around the idea that I would hop into Aspen and hit something. That notion didn’t last very long. While there were a few ways off the trail to get downtown, I rode past each one, and finally when the trail ended up merging with the road, getting downtown would have been backtracking, and the aid station was just up ahead. The JFK catering setup was there, and so I lined up for a morning burrito where I asked them to sub in refried beans for the meat. I also asked them to make it so I could hold it, but it didn’t come that way, and so I had to sit down with a fork to get through it. I topped off my water, loaded up on some figs, a couple of Gu packets, and I was back on the road. I almost forgot to mention that I ran into Tim Jackson at this area. He apparently started before me by about 30 minutes, and actually did go into Aspen to get a bit to eat. I watched him ride out while I was chowing down on my burrito.
So, it was with great surprise that a couple of miles at least into the 16 mile climb, who should I see going the other way but Tim Jackson. I almost didn’t see him, but his helmet is very recognizable, and he had a fairly determined look on his face. I wasn’t sure whether to turn around myself and chase him down, but with such a long day ahead, I pressed on. Of course, I had opera playing, and I was listening to a production of Rigoletto performed with Luciano Pavarotti, and Joan Sutherland in the Tenor and Soprano leads. I took my own daughter to see the recent production which premiered last month at the Met and we both loved it. Nothing but quality at the Met, and nothing but great arias for the slopes of Independence Pass.
My plan was the same plan I always have. Keep counting to 10 over and over again in sync with the each left or right pedal stroke. One two three four, two two three four and so on over and over. It sounds quite dull, and maybe it is, but it gets the rhythm set in my head, and each ten down, there is another ten lined up, and for an extra diversion when I am well into my 3rd or 4 hundredth iteration and I think about stopping to rest then “let me make it to 5”, and after that making it to 10 is easy. Repeat. Remember, I have Rigoletto playing at the same time, and when I finished Verdi, I started Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Ahead there are always riders to catch, and there are always images to snap as well. My first big goal in the 4000′ was to make it 8 miles before stopping for a breather. That knocks out a huge chunk, and then I settled in for a minute every 2 miles after that.
I must have been climbing fairly well, because who did I catch up to, but Andy Schiller. More likely he just finished taking a small break and that allowed me to catch on. With the wind that was expected on the other side, I think he was pretty glad to see me, and we set about to finish the climb. We were getting to that point in any climb where you break out of the creek/drainage the road usually follows and that landscape begins to open up, and you can see the slope of the road at an elevation that says to you “How do we get way up there?” Of course the answer is very slowly, but in this case the road bends to the left and ascends into a giant bowl before 180ing around and raising the potential energy of all the riders across the sight line of riders still lower down on the slopes. Now we are out above the tree line, sublimating snow lines the road in unique wind carved waves that don’t look all that different from dunes of sand. The road isn’t straight, but it chicanes around the contours allowing you to see further up the road and to know that the job isn’t done just yet. As anticipated the wind continued to aid our efforts as we neared the apex. As advertised, the second Rest Area was at the top, and riders were gathering around the pass sign for their photos and then moving off to top off on fuel and water.
The first thing I noticed up top was I didn’t want to stay too long. What was an aiding breeze on the ascent transitioned into gusty cold at the top. Some of that being the evaporation of ascent sweat, but most of anchored in the fact that it was windy, and we were essentially wet. So, on went the wind jacket, on went the skull cap, on went the gloves, and into the wind we went to get off that mountain. While Andy and I rode together to get to the top, we simply agreed to meet at the next rest area, as he doesn’t descend, and in a sense can’t descend as well as I can by virtue mainly of inertia. I have a lot more of it than Andy does, and while a gust of wind could blow me off the road, my position on the road was a lot more secure than his. For long chicane sections, I let my gravity well do the work, and when the 180s came up I bled off that kinetic energy with my brakes enough to get through. I will admit that in one 180, a gust was so strong that it almost brought me to a standstill, but I soon got going again, and when I descended below the tree line again, then the dangers of side gusts abated, and I simply plowed on. At those speeds I don’t look back, but I do glance to see if I am about to be overtaken by another rider or by a vehicle. There were riders who descended faster than I did, but not many, and there were occasional vehicles, though it depends on my speed, and the road whether I yield my position. If the road is in good shape and there is ample shoulder and I can feel the vehicle behind me, then I will move over and allow them to over take, but if the shoulder is thin, and/or the best road surface is out in the lane, then they have to wait. That is just how it is, but I don’t think following me is problem for most because I am descending 40-45 mph and that is usually fast enough for most people. That speed scares the crap out of a lot of riders, and so they brake down to the high 20’s and that speed is going to annoy any following drivers.
The miles clicked off quickly, and soon I arrived in a small town that had a number of small businesses that served up food, and there were lines out the door, as well as a food truck that was also busy and the Rest Area on the right soon after. I imagine that with the pancake vehicle starting late, and limited “real” food at the first two Rest Areas, riders were starved for fuel and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the riders lined up at these local establishments weren’t yet aware that the Rest Area was just 200 yards down the road. They saw food, and bee-lined straight in.
Andy followed me in not terribly long after, and we took a little more time here than up on the pass. Enough time for Jeremy, and Kevin to pull in, so now we were four. The road had settled into a general SE direction, and the wind speed was increasing steadily throughout the descent. At some point we would merge right and head mostly South with a head crossing wind, so having four would be better than two and when we were ready to ride we set out. I may not remember what happened next too clearly, but I think I moved into the front position, and set tempo with the other three following. I only bring this up because I don’t think we made even two full rotations. We may not have even made one rotation because when Andy hit the front, he accelerated. Now I was on his wheel which meant Kevin, and Jeremy were behind me, and when Andy pulled off, it wasn’t until I pulled off some time later that I realized we lost Kevin and Jeremy. So, I said “something” and we slowed a little bit to wait, but I think we were still moving pretty fast and Andy noted “They’re way back”, which was secret code for “Let’s get moving”.
It might be a good point to break out here and inform the reader that unlike my contemporaries, I don’t ride with any feedback from a bike computer. I never have any idea how fast (or slow) I am going, how far into, or how far left to go in the day’s ride. I don’t even know what time of day it is. I am recording the ride, but that is on my phone, and those apps don’t take over the screen and keep it active (battery), so I am in the dark, unless I specifically look, so when I am on the front, I choose a tempo that I can maintain for some clicks, but I will need some time in a draft to recover before I can do that again. Look below for the picture of Andy and me, and one observation that should stand out is there is not much draft behind Andy, however there was enough. We settled into a pattern for the rest of the ride, that altered depending on the slope of the road. Generally, I would drive the pace for 2 or 3 miles, and then I would slide behind Andy for a minute or two and then push again after I recovered. The fact of this day was Andy was going to benefit from my draft way more than I from his, so unless there was a long rise in the road, I would just power over those, and if it got too long, then I slipped in behind Andy and let him take us to the crest where then my gravity well would aid us both when the road dipped down again. On this day the road was generally dipping, so we booked along.
We pulled into Aid Station #4 where the “Smoothie Ladies were, and I bee-lined straight there for the mixed Strawberry/Mango Protein shake that became my “one-a-day” smoothie. The ladies provided some chairs for their customers, and I settled in for some recovery. Kevin and Jeremy soon rode in and conceded that they weren’t going to hold our wheels on this day. Jeremy didn’t actually have much further to go as he had room in Buena Vista (the next town) where the dreaded 285 merges in, but Kevin told us to just ride, and he’ll get to Salida when he gets there.
We set out again, and rode together until Jeremy dropped off in town, and we said our farewells to Kevin and we were off again. The headwind wasn’t a straight on headwind, but there were times when the road angled a little more into it than out of it. There were always rabbits in the road ahead of us. A rabbit is another rider or riders who aren’t going as fast as us, that we can use as our carrot-on-the-stick to stay motivated. Once you pass one, there is always another rabbit out there. You need everything you can get to stay motivated to keep pushing into that wind. The scenery is one distraction, and now we were in a huge valley that stretched to the West to the base of “The Collegiates“, a set of mountains named for some Ivy league colleges. They appear to be long dormant volcanos as the valley pushes right up to the base, and then it is 6 or 7K of pure ascent to the top. Those must be some of the 14ers that involve the most suffering to climb.
There was one more aid station before Salida (Sahl – eye – dah), and it was just shy of a the last real bump in the route. That bump came into view early, as we were in a giant valley, so many miles had to be ridden just to get there, and the road actually turned more into the wind before the base. Andy and continued our collaboration, but I was beginning to fatigue more and more often. Such that some of the rabbits caught and passed us again whenever the slope changed from losing potential to gaining potential energy. When we went back to a losing slope we would overtake, and when it gained, we were overtaken. That played out all the way to the Aid station where we didn’t linger too long. Watered up, maybe some pickle juice if they still had it, maybe half a banana, but now we just wanted to finish this day. The wind is relentless, and the longer we stay out in it, the worse off we would be.
Right out of the Aid Station, the last climb (so I thought) began, and I let Andy lead that whole section, setting a pace I could follow, but not fast enough that our “rabbits” caught us again. It wasn’t steep, and the road had turned away from the wind, and road cuts acted a bit as protection, so it wasn’t that bad. At the top, you could see ahead to Salida (off to the left) as well as the road (285) continuing on to the next geographical bumps on its way South to New Mexico. Now, here is where I told myself something that turned out to be a lie. We could see the road descend for the next 4-5 miles (or more) before it began a general ascent towards the next set of foothills at that end of the valley. I reasoned that we were done climbing, and that at the bottom of the descent we would cross the access road that would take us into Salida. We actually went past an exit which read “Salida”, but I didn’t know at the time just how sadistic the route planners were. Why they didn’t take us in that way, I do not know, but their sadism led them to keep us on 285 South where I soon realized (only because Andy pointed it out) that there were riders ahead of us climbing the other side of bottom, so there was no exit road down there. We had to go uphill again! Ugh! It wasn’t 200 yards, or even 500 yards, it was more like a mile before we came upon some state troopers making safe passage for us across the Northbound lanes. What goes up must go down again, and so, we did have a nice long descent on an arrow-straight road heading towards Salida. I think we were coming in via Salida’s industrial past1 as it wasn’t necessarily the most scenic. Actually, it felt somewhat like Salida told the route planners “Don’t come in the front door please. Use the back door”, and that was how the day ended. At every point in the last miles I kept looking ahead to see some indication the end was near, and yet, the end was never there. We turned onto a bike path that still was pretty long, and cut through some neighborhoods before finally dumping us onto the main drag just on the South side of town, and soon the tents of HQ appeared and Andy and found a place to dump our bikes. First thing I did again was to take my shoes off! I was so done with those. The next thing I did was to figure out where the beer tickets were being handed out, because I wanted my free beer, and I wanted it right then. Ticket in hand, I picked up a delicious IPA, and then saddled up to a food truck and ordered something I could eat. I found Andy seated at a table with some other Team Samaritan riders, and we fist bumped our mutual appreciation for the help we gave each other to knock this day out.
We sat there awhile. I went and purchased an additional beer, and Andy also ordered some food truck food. Kevin rode in and found us and began his recuperation. At some point we began to talk about dinner that evening. Tommy Dea had a retired business partner who lived in Salida who had invited the entire team over for dinner, so while we didn’t know where that was, we did know that we would all be there later. Andy, and I think Kevin as well, had hotel rooms, and I was in the RVs, and until we knew where we were going, and what time we were to be there, we couldn’t really plan anything. We agreed that whoever found anything out would let the others know. I had a massage scheduled at 4:30, and not seeing the massage tent at HQ reasoned it was where ever the camping was, which is where both the shower truck, and the RVs were located.
With sufficient rest, food and fluids we said our goodbyes for now, and I put my shoes back on to go find the RVs. I was instructed to head North on the main drag and that I would need to zig-zag 1 block West and then I would see the camping setup on a set of city ballpark fields. The RVs weren’t hard to spot, and I pulled in, again surprising the drivers as they weren’t expecting anyone for a couple more hours. They had the canopies open, the chairs out, and they were sitting there with a driver from another team vehicle. I can’t now remember his name, but my RV crew had a much more inviting amount of shade, and his riders hadn’t come in yet, so he was hanging out with Deacon Marty, John, and Bob. I had plenty of time to shower and get my massage, so I leaned my bike up against the RV and retrieved one of my IPAs from the cooler, and sat down for a little chit chat. I relayed my concern for Tim Jackson (Remember he was riding the wrong direction on the upside to Independence Pass), and how brutal the wind was coming down the last 60-70 miles, but that Andy and I had worked well together to knock it out. The immediate word I got concerning dinner was that it was probably around 7, we didn’t have an address yet, and there would be a “shuttle” to get us over there and back. That “shuttle” was one 1969 Cadillac Coup de Ville convertible.
Showered, I made my appointment for my massage, and by chance Felix was available. Last year, a power failure made it impossible to transact payment, and I didn’t write down Felix’s information correctly, so it took emails after I got home before I successfully got through to Felix, and made good on my payment, and he remembered that, and was happy to transact another massage for me today. I asked him to mainly focus on the legs, but I needed help all over, and Felix delivered in spades. There was still no sign of Ken. He had a massage scheduled as well at 4:30, but he didn’t make that. Though I didn’t see him, I did hear from him, and he was exhausted, and getting cleaned up to go out and eat. I informed Ken that he would be welcome at the dinner, but he felt like he’d be intruding and so he took care of himself.
Back at the RVs a few others had rolled in, mainly the Po, Paul, Rick and Tom foursome, and we awaited the arrival of Tim, Tommy and John. I was still in H2O replacement mode so I even drank a Coors Light or two while we waited. Until Tommy came in we had no idea what the plans were. By this time it was 5:45 and we didn’t have to wait too long before Tommy Dea and Johnny rode in. They rode together and of course topic #1 was “That Wind!”. Coors Lights in hand they were quickly back among the living and after they cleaned up, the dinner plans came together. An address was given, I supplied it to Andy, or someone did, and Tommy would shuttle us over in his car when he was ready. He had shuttled some folks over already when Tim Jackson finally rolled in, and got himself cleaned up pretty quickly. I found out later that the reason he was going the other direction was an “Urge” hit him, and he remembered passing something about a mile back that was a lot closer than the top, and so he elected that course of action. It cost him some time and effort but he was fine.
Bruce, was Tommy’s retired business partner. They had a drilling business and drilled water wells all over Colorado, which is maybe one reason Tommy always has a place to stay where ever the RTR route takes him. On this day it was Bruce’s place, and he had a lovely home nestled in town with old woodwork inside, and a nice back deck, with a beautifully landscaped yard. Serene. Out in back was the biggest BBQ Egg I had ever seen. I didn’t even know they made them that big. My brother-in-law, Doug, has one, and it seemed large, but nothing compared to this one. Bruce’s son was a chef, and had a place in town, and was cooking for us. Ribs. Actually, I think it was 20 pounds of ribs (or more!) seasoned with 3 different rubs. He was in full control of them as well, and they looked great. I didn’t arrive with an alternative, and I wasn’t going to get the calories I needed from the salad, so I had to take a vacation from my Vegan diet, and if you are going to take a vacation, then I think ribs is just the right vacation. They were awesome, and I had quite a few, which could possible be an issue for me later, but at the moment I enjoyed them. Andy had ridden his bike over (I don’t know if I could have gotten on my bike again) and it was parked in the backyard, and was loading up with replacement energy as well. Everything was consumed except for maybe a few ribs at the end. We took some group photos, and then it was time to say “goodbye”s and “thank you”s to our hosts. Tomorrow was another big day with two passes, and almost 80 miles to Breckenridge, and we needed our rest. Tommy shuttled us back to the RVs and everyone pretty much set about getting ready for the next day. I did alert Ken and Andy what time we were setting out in the morning, and that I was going to try and ride with the Paul, Po, and Rick group, and that was how we left it.
I laid out my things for the next morning, even putting my shower bag together. I opened the windows, and it cooled off pretty quickly, and now it was just Bob and me in the RV. Bob told me that he dropped our three positives off in Glenwood Springs where they rented a car to drive back to Denver. At that point I felt “okay”, and I think that is another reason Ken didn’t come to take advantage of the dinner offer and he wanted to keep distance between himself and the Covid, and that included me. I was in the RV with these guys, so I wasn’t feeling good about my chances. So far I was okay, and with three days down, I felt that my integration into Team Samaritan Cycling was going great. If I hadn’t scheduled that massage, I might not have been so selfish and been able to help more than just Andy get through this day, but hindsight is always 20-20! I would work harder to make sure I played better the rest of the ride, and with that I retired for the night.
1 Upon examination of a map I see that we passed through an adjacent town called “Smeltertown”. Hmmm. I wonder what that means? Yet another reinforcement of the observation that the name of something means some thing. River Road, Anything Hill Road, Valley Road, Swamp Lane etc.