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Ride the Rockies 2002

Background

Doug has a goal to ride through most (all?) of the US states. He learned of the Ride the Rockies bicycle tour organized by the Denver Post. This tour chooses a different route in Colorado each year. It is limited to 2000 bicyclists by a lottery system. Doug learned that up to ten people could pool their applications and nine of us from Salem and Bend applied in one packet: Doug, Mel, Ken, John, Joanne, Alan, Roger, Linda, and I. In March we learned that we had been selected.

The route looked tough, but we were pretty confident that we could handle it with some conditioning. As soon as the weather permitted, Linda and I trained on the local climbs and did the "No Frills Century" out of Redmond. In spite of our conditioning, we all found the Ride the Rockies tour to be the hardest bicycle tour we have experienced.

Itinerary

Ride the Rockies 2002 Route

 

Day Start Stop Mileage Elevation Gain
June 16 Alamosa, CO Pagosa Springs 99 3800
June 17 Pagosa Springs Durango 67 4100
June 18 Durango Silverton 51 6200
June 19 Silverton Montrose 59 2200
June 20 Montrose Gunnison 65 4900
June 21 Gunnison Salida 65 3800
June 22 Salida Alamosa 83 2000
Totals
489 27000

Diary

15 June 2002 (Saturday)
Roger and I arrive at Alamosa, Colorado, in the early afternoon, having spent last night at his friends' home near Montrose and having visited Gunnison, where he attended graduate school in the 60s, and Moffit, where he taught high school in the 50s, on the way. Linda and Alan are already in Alamosa, having driven down from Denver where Linda has visited Marty and Karl and picked Alan up at the airport. The ride registration process goes smoothly, the nine of us collect our tents together under the pink pig, and we park our vehicles in the long term parking. We ride to dinner at Cole Park. An old climbing friend from Oregon, Pete, recognizes us at the park. He has retired and moved to Salida and is also on the ride. Pete is an active Colorado mountain hiker and climber, and enjoys bicycling and whitewater rafting. This is by far the biggest ride most of us have participated in. The ride is limited to 2000 bicyclists. Many will be staying in motels or hotels, many will be camping indoors at local schools, and the rest will join us camping (mostly on school grounds). Pete plans an early start to try to beat the headwinds, so we decide to start early as well.

Alamosa to Pagosa Springs Profile
View towards Pagosa Springs
Doug, Pete, Mel, and the Pink Pig

16 June (Sunday)
Alan, Linda and I break camp, load our gear on the "Early Truck", have breakfast at the school cafeteria, and are on our bikes by 6AM. From Alamosa we head north and west towards Del Norte on pleasant backcountry roads. We hear a lot of "On your left" signals from the many stronger bicyclist passing us by. The "Aid Stations" are frequent and stocked with water and alternate with bananas and sliced oranges. We eventually join highway 160 and enjoy a nice tailwind through Del Norte to South Fork. Here the climbing begins. There is some construction and some heavy, but courteous traffic. Some bicyclists seem inconsiderate of the traffic, riding two abreast or suddenly moving into the lane to pass other cyclists. Fortunately we have a police escort that cautions the motorists and I see no accidents. We arrive in good form to the fifth aid station, but the next six miles to the top of Wolf Creek Pass is unrelentingly steep, and is our first experience at bicycling at this altitude. I am able to summit without stopping by dropping into my lowest "granny" gear, but feel a little light-headed at the summit and am glad the climb is over. Linda's right knee is sore and is swelling. We descend toward Pagosa Springs. We would like to push 50 mph, but the road is rough so we keep our speed down. We see bicyclists repairing flat tires on the descent. The rough spots are well marked by the support crew, but at one particularly bad spot I catch the glimpse of a tire pump in the lane, two water bottles along the side of the road, and then a bicyclist off the road looking over his bicycle's front wheel. I alternate gently braking with each hand to control my speed without overheating the tire rims. We stop at a hairpin turn and view the smoky valley below, then continue on several miles to Pagosa Springs in the smoky air. We hear the "Mission Ridge" forest fire is burning near Durango and may impact tomorow's route. We retrieve our gear and camp with the rest of our group at Pagosa Springs High School. We visit downtown, but it is mostly shut down this late Sunday afternoon.

Pagosa Springs to Durango Profile
Chimney Peak

17 June (Monday)
Roger, Alan, Linda and I get another early start. Yesterday's smoke has settled overnight and the air is much clearer and cool. We have a short climb out of camp, but then enjoy several miles of mostly downhill and a nice view of Chimney Rock before making an easy climb to Yellow Jacket Pass. We descend to Bayfield, where today's route is changed to follow highway 160 to Durango, rather than taking a more northerly route, to avoid interfering with the firefighting efforts. The air is very smoky and bicyclists with respiratory ailments are encouraged to ride shuttle busses into Durando. We continue on in the smoke, heavy traffic, and sometimes narrow shoulder on highway 160. My derailleur needs adjusting at the last aid station and the support crew efficiently takes care of it. The road improves as we drop into Durango and we have a pleasant ride through residential areas with excellent directions by the support crew to arrive at the Durango High School. We are the first of our group to arrive, so we find a nice spot with lush green grass on the football field for our campsite. We shower and enjoy a late lunch at a local restaurant. Linda gets ice for her swollen knee and wraps it in place with an elastic bandage. Tomorrow's route profile is shocking. Yesterday was hard, but I think tomorrow will be very hard. Doug points out the short "vertical" segment between the passes on the profile. Linda thinks she may SAG tomorrow to rest her knee and I am glad she is considering it. We are grateful for the extra hours of rest at camp today before tomorrow's climb.

Durango to Silverton Profile
Smoke from Mission Ridge Fire
View toward Silverton from Molas Divide

18 June (Tuesday)
Linda decides to SAG today, as her knee is still sore and swollen. I'm glad for her decision. The valley to the north of Durango appears smoky and the rising sun is red. Roger, Alan, and I start early, but we each need to find our own pace for today's long climb and we gradually spread out over the miles. I stop for photos of the smoke clouds to the east. It is a little smoky on the road and there is a slight headwind as we approach Hermosa. The first climb begins just after the aid station north of Hermosa. I quickly drop into my lowest gears and settle in for a long day of climbing. I wave at the buses as they pass, hoping that Linda will see me as she rides by. She spots my wave. The route descends a little after the second aid station and we pass by Purgatory. I enjoy the view of Engineer Mountain. Then the road suddenly narrows and steepens considerably. The vehicular traffic is heavy and slow with the thousands of bicyclists along the narrow, forested road. At one spot I am distracted by a laboring truck aproaching from behind and I wobble onto the sandy shoulder, then decide to be safe and stop to let the truck pass before resuming the climb. Otherwise, I climb without stopping to Cold Bank Pass. I'm tired, but rest, hydrate, and eat a snack before continuing. I enjoy the descent on the other side, but then start the long, sustained climb to Molas Divide on chip seal. It is noon when I arrive at Molas Divide and the sound of the National Anthem played by the ride's DJ. The air is smoky, but the views are tremendous and I feel happy to have the day's climbs done. I hydrate and have lunch while enjoying the view. I spot Alan arriving as I leave. The fun descent is fast at first (I reach 49 mph, Doug says he reached 53 mph), but then slows for rough road and curves lower.

Team Bad Boys at Silverton

It feels wonderful to arrive in Silverton. Linda has claimed a nice campsite for our group at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Area. She has carried over several gear bags and set up our tent. Alan arrives soon afterwards, and while waiting in line for the shower (a 45-minute line) I spot Roger arriving. Linda and I enjoy visiting downtown, just a few blocks from camp. It has been hot in the afternoon, but the sun has descended behind a ridge and it is cooling off quickly. The music ends and "Team Bad Boys" line up their heavily laden bikes to assemble their bar and mix and serve margaritas.

Silverton to Montrose Profile
Climbing to Red Mountain Pass
Canyon above Ouray

19 June (Wednesday)
It is a cold night. Linda and I put on all our bicycle clothes and shake the ice off the tent fly in the early morning, then pack and load our gear on the truck. Breakfast at camp goes a little slow (the breakfast burritos are good, but labor intensive). The morning ride north out of town is very cold, but the air is clear and we break into the warm sunshine at the bottom of the steep climb to Red Moutain Pass. We strip off the extra clothes and begin the climb. The grade is not as steep as on previous climbs. There are spots with no shoulder and near-vertical drop offs on the right, but the support crew and police escort set up one-way vehicular traffic with lead cars and we enjoy the scenic climb without worrying about falling off the road. It is nice to get the day's climb finished so early in the cool morning. Then we begin the long, fun, and exciting descent to Ouray. The road is in good shape. The descent starts with several tight turns, then straightens out before entering a steep, narrow canyon. The vehicular traffic slows in the canyon while trying to get around slower bicyclists. Some faster bicyclists show poor judgement by passing RVs on the left, but I give them plenty of braking space. We pause at a view point, then continue to scenic and quaint Ouray. We find a popular bakery and treat ourselves to our first lattes of the trip. Roger, Doug, Ken, and Pete stop by as well. The descent lessens after Ouray. We have a headwind from Ridgeway Reservoir to Montrose, but the downhill grade makes it easier to fight. We camp at Columbine Middle School, and enjoy a lunch of fresh pie and ice cream at the adjacent Rotary Park. Roger leaves to spend the rest of the day and night with his friends and we expect to see him in the morning for the ride to Gunnison. But Roger stops by late in the evening to report his blood chemistry is out of balance due to his recent medication and the exertion of the ride and that sadly he has to bow out of the rest of the trip.

Montrose to Gunnison Profile
Blue Mesa

20 June (Thursday)
We are warned not to leave early because of the morning winds coming down from Cerro Summit, but it is deceptively calm at camp and Linda and I are eager to get started about 6:30AM. The day's profile does not look so intimidating, but the total reported elevation gain is the second most of the trip. As soon as the route joins highway 50 the headwind starts and blows all the way to the top of Cerro Summit. At one point the steep grade and strong headwind combine to make my pedaling the hardest of the tour. We enjoy the descent to Pleasant Valley in spite of the headwind and then begin the next climb to Blue Mesa Summit in headwind and road construction with some narrow shoulders. The headwind and climbs are taking a toll on Linda's knees. We have just one more climb after a quick descent through a narrow canyon and then enjoy a long downhill to Sapinero along the Blue Mesa Reservoir. We discover that Alan is riding a van since the first aid station -- he is suffering from a stomach ailment and the wind and climbing was too much this morning. The headwind has diminished considerably as we ride along the reservoir. Linda is running out of energy as we approach the last aid station and is staggering a bit when we arrive. A very helpful food vendor offers her a place to rest and gives her some watermelon which revives her energy and appetite. After a quick lunch we are revived and enjoy the ride along the Gunnison River into Gunnison to our camp at the Gunnison Community School. Alan has found our group a nice campside along the edge of a grassy field with a view to the west. Mel also SAGed today, and Doug and Ken arrive later, having waited until 9AM before starting but discovered that the headwind still had not died down even then. John and Joanne are riding a tandem, and the steep climbs have not allowed them to take best advantage of their bike. It is quite smoky in Gunnison and we hear that a new fire is burning to the south. Linda and I have a quick supper at Jorgensen Park and return to camp for a good rest. Linda has iced up her right knee again.

Gunnison to Salida Profile
Highest Point of the Ride
View from Monarch Pass

21 June (Friday)
Linda, Alan, and I stop at a coffee shop in Gunnison before leaving town in the morning and enjoy our second lattes of the ride. Roger and I had stopped there on the drive through the previous weekend and we miss Roger. There is a slight headwind as we ride east on highway 50 but it is very scenic and we enjoy the ride. Linda's knees are sore and I am relieved that Linda decides to save them for our future bike rides this summer. She finds room in a nearly full van at the aid station at Sargents for the ride up to Monarch Pass. Alan is still a little queasy with his stomach ailment, but decides to give Monarch Pass a try. I hydrate and enjoy several sliced oranges and a snack bar, then leave for the climb. Fortunately, the grade is not too steep and I find a comfortable pace for the scenic climb in my lowest gears. The sun is hot and I need to stop at one point to wipe the perspiration from my eyes and sunglasses, but otherwise I enjoy the long pull to the summit. This is our highest pass of the tour, slightly higher than the summit of Mt Hood, the highest peak in our home state of Oregon. It is also the last big climb of the tour. I visit with Doug, Mel, and Ken at the summit, but leave for the descent before seeing Alan. I enjoy a fast descent on good pavement and easy turns, but am spooked in one narrow canyon when a crosswind hammers my bike. The descent continues all the way into Salida. Linda has again found a nice campsite for our group, and has collected our bags and set up our tent. Eventually everyone arrives and after showering and resting most of us share the community pasta dinner at the school. The servings are generous, but Alan's ailment is at its worst and he is unable to eat. The weather pattern is changing, with thunderstorms building in the mountains around us and a strong wind coming from the south. Linda and Alan decide to ride the bus tomorrow to avoid the long, boring ride and headwind to Alamosa and to get a head start back to Denver. It thunderstorms in the early evening and showers in camp.

Salida to Alamosa Profile
Toward Alamosa

22 June (Saturday)
In spite of the showers overnight, the tent is dry in the morning when we break camp. Linda and Alan wait for a bus and I say goodbye to Linda, expecting to see her next at home. The climb to Poncha Pass essentially begins right out of camp as we retrace our route back to Poncha Springs, then turn onto highway 285 south. The headwind gets strong but the grade is variable with only one stretch near the summit noticably steep. I make the fist aid station a quick stop and descend towards Villa Grove. The headwind is relatively mild as I enter Villa Grove. I wave at a bus as I approach the aid station, then the bus stops there for a bicyclist wanting to get on, and Alan steps off to greet me. I get to see Linda one more time before the bus continues on to Alamosa. I ride hard to Moffat, fighting a strengthening headwind, but overdo it and suddenly begin to falter as I arrive in Moffat. I leave Moffat at a much slower pace and only gradually and slightly pick up my pace as I ride to Hooper. Each leg of the day's ride seems to have a stronger headwind and my speed decreases. I see many SAG vans loaded with bicycles pass by. Finally, about five miles out of Alamosa I hop on the end of a pace line that slowly passes me and I am able to cruise into Alamosa and across the finish line. Linda and Alan have left for Denver, but she left me a nice note. I collect my gear and load my truck, take a quick shower, and start home. I take the shortcut to Gunnison over North Cochetopa Pass from Saguache and enjoy the beautiful scenery along Cochtopa Creek on the other side. Then I have to quickly stop for at least nine Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep on the road. Continuing on, I pick up Roger in Montrose and we head for home.

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