Sunday, June 25, 2006

Howard's 2006 Ride the Rockies

419 miles later... and we spent the entire weekend recovering. It wasn't enough. And there's not enough Advil in the world to make us all better.

My best girl now frowns when I'm in her field of vision. And when I suggested today that we go for a 20-mile "victory lap" through town to "get back in the saddle", she wasn't pleased. But we did it anyway -- at least until her back tire decided to blowout about 2 1/2 miles from home. Lacking the proper parts to repair her bike--parts I carried in a pack on my bike for Ride the Rockies, but unloaded when we got home as unnecessary weight--I rode home as fast as I could, got the car, and went back out to rescue her. For my reward she announced that she didn't want to go on the 350-mile Tour de Wyoming in July. We'll see...

Here is a day-by-day description of our particular 2006 Ride the Rockies experiences:

Day 0 and Day 1 - To Cortez & Cortez to Durango:
My dad drove with us to Cortez, Colorado where we checked in and unloaded our bikes and two 40-pound bags at the camp site located on a grass field behind Montezuma-Cortez High School. I had paid for the gas to get us there, and I gave my dad another $100 in cash so he could find his way back home. Off he went. I think he headed north to Montrose for the night.

We had the community dinner offered in downtown Cortez, a very nice and sleepy town, demonstrated by the fact that all downtown businesses closed before 8 pm on a Saturday night, despite 2,000 visitors. Dinner was pretty good until I dropped my tortilla on the ground. Unsure if the five-second rule applied in Cortez, it remained uneaten.

Our first overnight was uneventful, interrupted only by honking and the exuberant shouts of teenagers at midnight, a dramatic helicopter search and police sirens at 12:30 am, a thoughtfully pleasant two-minute fireworks display--perhaps by the same teenagers--over tent city at 1 am, and then my fumbling with the digital watch as I tried to turn on the watch's light to see what the time was. Unknowingly, I advanced the watch's time by two hours, which was discovered in the morning as the sounds of zippers and nearby murmering woke us up at 5:30 am. The watch, however, said it was 7:30 am, and fearing that we had overslept, we rushed to get dressed and get going on our first day of biking. Unfortunately, 5:30 am proved to be the usual wake up time for us each day of the week -- not out of eagerness to get going, but due to the sounds of zippers and nearby murmering, which increased in intensity six-fold every 30 seconds like one of those increasingly insistent clock alarms.

We ate a decent breakfast inside the school cafeteria, packed and loaded our gear on the "middle" luggage truck, and left at 7:30 am for Durango, a very short trip east on Highway 160 of 49 miles. We rode past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and through the sleepy town of Mancos. Are all southwestern Colorado towns sleepy? It would seem so.

The ride was very pretty and moderately paced -- at least for us. But about halfway through the day while going uphill, I wasn't paying attention as my wife decided to pull over to stop, and I ran into her. Not able to release the cleats of my shoes from the pedals in time, down I went. Actually I flopped over sideways, rolled once in soft dirt, and bounced back up on my feet with a flourish. I'm still not sure how I did it, but the first reaction of my audience was oohs and aahs, but then came the "are you alrights?" Of course I was. After all, Howard is a graceful man. But my wife was not. Alright, I mean. She was upset and decided that it was time to quit right then and there. I explained to her how it was my fault and that I was okay and that we should keep on going, which we did. Being quick learners, we both learned to watch our stops around 2,000 other cyclists after that, which proved to be a good lesson to learn early as dozens of other cyclists had much worse collisions during the mass starts and stops at aid stations throughout the rest of the week.

After a wildly fun 1,800-foot descent into Durango, followed by a vicious 300-foot 3-mile climb up a bluff to Fort Lewis College overlooking the town, we finished our first day of Ride the Rockies, put up our tent, and went in search of showers, grub, and beer. McDonald's and Belgium Brewery to the rescue! A pretty nice first day, though my wife might disagree.

Distance: 49.12 miles
Maximum Speed: 42.2 mph
Average Speed: 13.9 mph
Ride Time: 3:31:35
Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Day 2 - Durango to Pagosa Springs:
Durango is a very nice town, much like the place where I grew up only with mountains, trees, and rivers. Oh yeah, and relatively few mosquitoes. Fort Lewis College, as I said, is on a wonderful bluff overlooking the town, and it is very quiet. Except for the womens softball complex that was noisy and lit up until 10 pm (we went to bed at 9 pm). A man we nicknamed "Bobo" camped right next to us and he could probably hear us breath... and other stuff. So we didn't do any other stuff. My wife said she never slept so close to another man who wasn't a relative (or her architect.)

Breakfast in the school cafeteria was the best we had the entire week since the food was buffet-style and all-you-can-eat for the summer students in attendance. I gorged. Howard has a bottomless pit of a stomach, though still mysteriously retains a pleasing profile.

The initial climb out of Durango was tough, but everyone was in a good mood, supportive, and optimistic. After the climb, the payoff via downhill glides were scenic, fun, and through some of the prettiest pastoral landscapes visited during the entire week.

Then not so good. The countryside became dry and dessicated, and the aid stations were exposed and without shade. The trip from Durango to Pagosa Springs could have been short, steep, and direct via Highway 160, but the tour planners decided on a sort of sin wave of a route where the grade changes were much more gradual, the scenery was scenic, the distances were twice the direct route, and the bottom half of the sin wave was painfully awful and very, very hot. Vans called "SAG wagons" patrol most bike tours like vultures on the prowl for weaklings and dead or dying meat. The SAG wagons on this afternoon were actively circling and plucking up the weaklings and the unprepared. No weaklings we, Howard and Mrs. Howard chugged on, though Advil and shade were in high demand and low supply.

After a long rest at an aid station at the intersection of highways 151 and 160 where bananas were given away as if they were free (they were), and cans of Mountain Dew were sold as though they cost a dollar (they did), Mr. & Mrs. Howard got back on their chrome-alloy horses for the final 20-mile push into Pagosa Springs, where surely good fortune, ample food, cool shade, and warm springs awaited them.

Pagosa Springs was the greatest disappointment of the entire week. Tent city was at the bottom of a dusty trail below the Community Center, which lacked eating facilities and adequate showers. Thus, mobile showers were trucked in and unfortunately located next to tent city. The pumps and compressors made constant noise until the showers were loaded and trucked out at about 10:30 pm.

But the worst came when we decided to eat at the nicest restaurant we could find in town as a reward for the exertion of our 9 1/2-hour ride. Someone recommended Dionigi's Italian Cafe, which turned out to be our worst decision of the entire week. When we and two other couples from Ride the Rockies arrived off the shuttle bus, we were told by the hostess we would have to wait maybe 20 minutes. Forty minutes later, we were at the top of the waiting list, followed by the other two couples. At least we were ahead of them.

Fortunately, the conversation was good and spirits remained optimistic.... until twenty minutes later when the hostess stepped away from the front desk and four women off a new Ride the Rockies shuttle walked straight in and were directly seated by a balding horndog of a manager. Needless to say, the six of us who had waited an hour were not pleased. The hostess said it wasn't her fault, but made no effort to make it right. When my wife asked her what she intended to do, she accused Mrs. Howard of yelling at her. I, who was sitting 10 feet from both of them, could not hear the conversation and was informed of the specifics later. So I'm pretty sure no voices were raised.

They then seated us and one of the other couples. The horndog threw menus at the other couple, but preceeded to ignore us while the third couple left. We never heard from them again.

After 10 minutes without menus or water or a waitress, we also left. I couldn't stand the thought of giving them a cent of my money, and stiffing the waitress her tip made no sense. I've never been to a restaurant where they waive all blame, thus by implication deflecting that blame onto their customers. And then making no effort to make it right. Dionigi's: Worst excuse for a restaurant ever. And Howard is not an exaggerator. Not this time anyway.

The couple that stayed, Jerry and Linda from Lakewood, Colorado, told us afterwards that Dionigi's did not comp them a damned thing. And the food was mediocre to boot. Which made us glad that we walked a few blocks to KFC where the calories were ample and inexpensive, and the servers were gracious, prompt, and eager to help. And the bathrooms were clean.

Thus, we resolved to eat fast food during the remainder of our trip, unless the community meals sounded particularly appealing. Fortunately, they were, despite being typically overpriced and under-caloried.

We finally crawled back into camp and into our sleeping bags at 9:15 pm and tried to go to sleep, despite the noise from the mobile showers. And if you're wondering, we didn't have the chance to soak in the famous hot springs due to a long day on the road and a long evening of abuse and disregard by incompetent hostesses.

Is it fair to blame a whole town for the actions of two miserable idiots? Probably not, but I'm doing it anyway. Thus... Warning: Pagosa Springs sucks. If you must pass through, do so as quickly as you can, but remember to plug your nose as you pass through the western end where Dionigi's is located. That place stinks.

Distance: 87.49 miles
Maximum Speed: 36.7 mph
Average Speed: 13.8 mph
Ride Time: 6:20:17
Total Time: 9 hours 30 minutes

Day 3 - Pagosa Springs to Chama, New Mexico:
The day began with zippers and murmering at 5:30 am, but due to a bout of insomnia, I didn't get to sleep until 12:30 am. I got five hours of sleep. Mrs. Howard, of course, sleeps like a log. And occasionally sounds like the saw that cut it. But you didn't hear that from me.

Breakfast was decent, but they didn't give enough of what I wanted. I swear these community meals are portioned for the little 110-pound girlies and not for us 210-pound manly men who need twice as many calories.

It was great to leave Pagosa Springs, though we didn't escape until 8 am. The road immediately turned southwest where it remained pointed for the next 35 miles, but before we could completely escape Pagosa Springs' evil web, Mrs. Howard had the first and only flat tire of the week. Howard is especially good with his hands, and replaced the punctured tube in under ten minutes. Try doing that sometime!

Unfortunately, it meant we fell behind in the Race of Rexes. What does that mean? It's like this: The serious cyclists develop these massive calves and quads, while completely neglecting their upper body. Thus, with their shriveled arms and their beefy legs, they resemble a Tyrannosaurus Rex in body build. And so the nickname for all these type of cyclists of 'Rex'. Howard is not a total Rex since he does 50 hard-earned pushups every morning. Still, his proportions decidedly favor the southern hemisphere, if you know what I mean.

The highlight of the day for me was when I left Mrs. Howard behind at one point and completely let loose for five miles before the final aid station. Blew by everyone over hot, dry, and hilly terrain. Nice to know I still had it. At the aid station, while I waited about five minutes for the Mrs. to catch up, everyone took a good look at me, curious to know who the damned fool was who nearly killed himself in the desert of New Mexico. If you were there, just know that it was I -- Howard the Architect.

I can't begin to tell you how wonderful and gracious and welcoming Chama was to their 2,000 guests. Chama, New Mexico -- a town of only 1,100 and home of the starting point of the Cumbres & Toltec narrow-gauge railroad -- was the smallest town to ever host Ride the Rockies, and they were also the first town ever to host Ride the Rockies riders outside of Colorado. The town was small, sun-baked, and wind-blown, but the people were the best we met the entire week. One Episcopal church even handed out free bottled water and fruit, which was, well, a Godsend. It was all very wonderful, particularly considering our miserable previous evening in Pagosa Springs.

While buying a couple of Mountain Dews, we even met the mayor, who recommended of the three community dinners being offered in Chama the one at the Elk Horn Lodge. He was right, which I suppose is why he is the mayor. It was the best meal we ate yet, and we spent the entire meal talking to a nice couple from Tennessee. The wife drove their own private support vehicle from town to town while the husband did the cycling on a Trek carbon-framed bike. He was a serious cyclist. She was seriously into comfort. A nice match.

If Mrs. Howard decides that cycling is not for her, this might be an option for us in the future.

Distance: 51.06 miles
Maximum Speed: 38.5 mph
Average Speed: 13.5 mph
Ride Time: 3:46:58
Total Time: 6 hours

Day 4 - Chama, New Mexico to Alamosa:
Now for the big hill. While it was sad to leave Chama behind, at least [sarcasm on] the Ride the Rockies planners made it worth our while with a 2,200-foot climb during the first 12 miles heading back to Colorado to the northeast [sarcasm off]. The scenery was certainly spectacular as the route followed the Cumbres & Toltec railway for most of the climb, finishing with a 200-yard cliff climb to the Cumbres Pass and a spectacular overlook of the valley below.

After a short descent, we faced another climb of 500 feet in three miles that took us over La Manga Pass. Two mountain passes with flat-out the most spectacular scenery and vistas of the week in 20 minutes time. Wow. Don't blink. And don't Bogart the oxygen since we're at about 10,250 feet altitude.

I don't mind climbing hills because you always get back what you put in. I call it the payoff, although other cyclists prefer the term, "Payback". Since payback is a bitch, it's always sounded a bit too mercenary to me. So I use payoff instead since it represents a return on investment from the exertion of climbing. Wind, on the other hand, just plain sucks. And blows. I've written about this before in case you're curious to know more on the subject of wind.

All this talk about payoff is leading us somewhere, of course: One can't climb two mountain passes and not expect a screaming descent somewhere on the other end. And that's what we faced -- a drop of over 1,500 feet in only four miles! Wheeeeeeee! The stench of burning brake pads was overwhelming. The blur of Rexes zipping by at 50+ mph was frightening to consider. One person did fall, we heard, and broke a collarbone. I can't imagine that the injuries were limited to that one simple break, but I'd rather not think about it further, thank you.

Once the cliff subsided and the feeling in our white knuckles returned, we set about finishing the remaining 55 miles, most of it slightly downhill (and into a breeze) into Alamosa.

The last few miles of the day were difficult for Mrs. Howard, who is remarkably able to keep focused and resolute and on task for hours on end until the final few miles are reached. Then she lets that focus and resolve slip, resulting in remarkable displays of emotion and pain and.... blame. Kinda like childbirth, which became her favorite metaphor for Ride the Rockies.

In Alamosa, we got to stay at the Alamosa Family Recreation Center, which wasn't equipped with ample showers and eating space for 2,000. So they brought in the mobile shower units, thoughtfully placed in the exact center of tent city. Which again meant the noise of compressors and idling diesel truck engines until 10:30 pm. But the showers were wonderful, so who's complaining?

One final note: We shared a delicious $8 BBQ chicken wrap thing offered by Hub's Grub, one of the vendors for Ride the Rockies, and it turned out that the owner of Hub's Grub lives in Kyle, Texas in the same suburban development as Mrs. Howard's brother. "Hub" didn't recognize the name of the brother, but he was pretty sure his wife would. Small world. And to be reminded of that in Alamosa, Colorado...

Distance: 83.22 miles
Maximum Speed: 35.3 mph
Average Speed: 14.8 mph
Ride Time: 5:36:56
Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes

Day 5 - Alamosa to Salida:
Have you ever seen the salt flats in Utah west of Salt Lake City? Totally flat and featureless except for mountain ranges on a distant horizon? Colorado has its own version of that between Alamosa and Salida. Fortunately, Colorado's version has a bit more color and the people are really great.

After a nice breakfast served outside the Rec Center, we loaded our duffel bags on the middle truck [there were three luggage trucks -- early, middle, and late -- and we always made the middle truck.] We headed north. And north. And north. For the first 40 miles the elevation never varied by more than 30 feet. It's true. I've seen the contour maps. So everyone settled into pace lines -- groups of riders with similar abilities and ambitions riding along at similar velocities. Drafting directly behind someone one or two feet in front of your front wheel can reduce wind drag by up to 20%, which is why cyclists organize pace lines of eight, ten, or more riders. The one in front is said to "Pull" the others, and he or she is always gratefully thanked. In well-organized pace lines, the leader stays in front only a minute or two before peeling off and falling to join the rear of the pace line.

Of the groups of paceliners during the 2006 Ride the Rockies, there was Team Angry -- men in their early 30s who clearly pumped iron in addition to pumping pedals, and who rode fast and hard, but stopped frequently and for long periods of time. I can't tell you how many times they passed us... at least until the next aid station, where we would take our break and then leave before they did. Slackers and showboats, every one.

There was Team Integer, composed of technonerds in their twenties who were mostly in good shape, though they kept leaving stragglers behind. I overheard one Team Integer woman say she trained all of 350 miles in preparation for Ride the Rockies. She was one of the stragglers.

Howard trained for 3,500 miles and was a cycling locomotive, and together with Mrs. H we formed Team Fortysomething. Slow uphill due to lack of air, slow downhill due to lack of nerve, but hell-on-wheels on the flats.

At the completion of 40 miles of the straight and narrow -- narrow because the shoulders were scant while the traffic was heavy and noisy -- we came upon the town of Moffat where the Colorado Potato Growers Association was giving away free baked potatoes with all the fixin's. Each bite a little piece of heaven, as far as I was concerned. Because of the length of the ride -- 85 miles -- and because of the exposure to the sun that day, I wore an all-white breathable jersey with no text or graphics on it whatsoever. I called it my sponsor-free jersey, although I once or twice said my sponsor was the Beatles White Album. At the aid station, the potato growers were handing out stickers, and I was so happy to receive a free baked potato [with all the fixin's], that I put the sticker on my shoulder and told the guy that the Colorado Potato Growers Association would be my one and only sponsor of the day. He clearly liked that. I should have asked for cash.

Back on the road, Mrs. Howard began to suffer from the heat and pace of the long ride. So we slowed our pace as the road's elevation finally began to rise bit by bit. At Poncha Pass, 9,000 feet elevation and 1,500 feet above Alamosa, we reached aid station number five.

Each day of Ride the Rockies, there were typically four or five aid stations spaced about 12 to 15 miles apart. The first one of the day had free bananas. The second had orange slices and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches [cost - $2]. Each of the aid stations had water and free Gatorade Endurance, a disgusting concoction of portapotty juices and fake lemon seasoning. The fourth or fifth aid station would have a live disk jockey and sound system with music blaring and T-shirt giveaways between songs. Once the disk jockey gave away a T-shirt to a woman who sang the national anthem. She started on too high a note and then got herself into trouble later on, but still did a great job. Another time, the disk jockey gave away a T-shirt to the person with the largest shoe size [14]. Mrs. H was peeved because she would have won a T-shirt if they had a separate Bigfoot contest for women only. Mrs. H has boats.

Anyway... on the top of Poncha Pass, the disk jockey offered a T-shirt to anyone who could show him a library card, a penny, and a bug -- dead or alive. Howard went to work because he knew that most of the other riders probably didn't bring the entire contents of their wallets with them like he did, and also because he knew that cyclists are an uncultured and unread mob, not prone to library affiliation. Howard dug out his card, pulled out a penny, and then set about finding a bug. Which wasn't easy. But he did it. For his efforts, Howard received a large T-shirt [Howard is an extra large] with a handsome graphic on the back showing a cyclist riding into the mountainous sunset with the words of Doug Bradbury, "The Best Rides Are The Ones Where You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew -- And Live Through It."

As you can tell by now, Howard likes the free stuff.

From Poncha Pass to Salida, we had to drop 2,000 feet in 13 miles, which meant more stench from burning bicycle brake pads and more Rexes screaming by. One couple on a tandem recumbent cycle went flying past us down the middle of the highway's single traffic lane going at least 45 mph. The speed limit of the highway was 45 mph, so I guess they could justify it. However, the volume and proximity of the trucks and traffic to us white-knucked cyclists convinced me that this was the most dangerous stretch of the Ride the Rockies route so far.

I wasn't off by much.

When we reached Poncha Springs at the bottom of the descent, Ride the Rockies volunteers directed us past Highway 50/Rainbow Blvd. and over to a series of county roads leading us away from the heavy traffic of the commercial street and towards our day's stop at the Salida High School. At the school, we grabbed our gear from the middle truck, set up the tent in the deep grass of a well-watered lawn, and showered in the crappy high school locker rooms -- you know the kind -- no shower curtains. Fortunately for Howard... well, you know...

Deciding to buy some Gatorade of our own, and in search of McDonalds ice cream cones, we boarded the shuttle. The bus driver dropped the full load of passengers off at the downtown park that was hosting the beer garden and community dinner, but me and the Mrs. stayed on the shuttle bus, sitting up front with the bus driver. Off to find a grocery store and Mickey D's the three of us went.

The bus driver then told us that a rider with Ride the Rockies died not two hours earlier. Shocked and horrified, we let the driver tell us what had happened. A 65-year-old woman and her daughter had come down the mountain as we all did, and the daughter went on ahead to the high school, perhaps to get their luggage. The woman, along with a number of other riders, turned off the Ride The Rockies route into Salida onto Highway 50/Rainbow Blvd. Along the way, she was killed in front of the Wal-Mart in a collision with an RV.

The bus driver, who had been a paramedic and a fireman for decades in Denver, was the first responder on the scene, and when he arrived, the couple in the RV were on their knees weaping over the cyclist, whom they had covered with a blanket. The bus driver, thinking she might still be alive, took a look under the blanket, but it was clear that the woman had died instantly as the very large RV had duel-ly rear wheels and was also towing a car. Afterwards, we realized that the bus driver was surely traumatized and needed to talk about it, and we were glad to be there for the 10 minutes that it took him to tell his story. When we finally found a McDonalds, I gave him a large tip and he dropped us off.

During those 10 minutes, the bus driver told us many details that seemed to differ from the story printed in the newspapers the next day. The newspapers said that the woman was riding in the traffic lane and wasn't riding in the bike lane on Rainbow Blvd. However, Rainbow Blvd. has no bike lanes. The newspapers said that the woman on the bike swerved and caused the accident by hitting the side of the RV first with her handlebars. That may have been true, but we heard a few more details. Whatever. The police investigating the accident decided not to charge the couple in the RV, and the daughter was quoted saying some very gracious words, adding that her mother loved doing Ride the Rockies for the last 11+ years.

It was a horrible tragedy for everyone involved, including our bus driver, and we hope it was resolved with understanding and Solomonesque wisdom. All the participants in the 2006 Ride the Rockies were deeply effected by the tragic news for next 24 hours, and a long moment of silence for the woman and her family was observed at the closing ceremony in Canon City the next day.

Later that evening, we went down to Salida's Riverside Park and the community dinner next to the Arkansas River, where we had some steak, and walked along the river. Salida definitely needs to continue developing the river walk. Right now, it's only a few blocks long, located only along the stretch of river where the kayak racing route runs. The Arkansas River is an amazing amenity for the town, and they should do more to celebrate it than they have.

Distance: 85.39 miles
Maximum Speed: 34.8 mph
Average Speed: 16.5 mph
Ride Time: 5:11:21
Total Time: 7 hours 10 minutes

Day 6 - Salida to Canon City:
The last day. And according to the tour booklets and contour diagrams given out at registration, we have already travelled 352 miles in five days with a long final descent still scheduled to bring us to a hard climb lasting a few miles before crossing over the Arkansas River 1,000 feet below via the Royal Gorge bridge. If only it was that simple.

The day began with an excellent breakfast in the Salida HS cafeteria. As usual, when given the chance, Howard overeats.

We packed up and loaded gear on the middle truck, and then set off for Canon City. Immediately, the increased police presence was obvious. The previous day's tragedy, combined with the complete lack of shoulder space through many of the narrows of the canyons of highway 50, compelled the Colorado Highway Patrol to bring out every available motorcycle and patrol car to keep us safe. There were probably a dozen stretches along the highway where the cyclists were forced by a complete lack of shoulder to ride to the left of the white line in the traffic lane. A few 18-wheeler truckers were completely impatient with the riders, and I was always glad when those idiots were out of my sight.

And yet, with the exception of a number of minor scrapes and a dislocated shoulder as other bicyclists went off the road and tumbled alongside the highway, we all survived.

The neatest moment of Ride the Rockies came in Canon City during the closing ceremony when a dozen motorcycle patrolmen rode past the congregation and over the finish line. Everyone spontaneously stood up and applauded the highway patrolmen for two minutes solid as the director of Ride the Rockies, Paul Balaguer, read the names of the patrolmen. Those guys worked hard and constantly for the entire week to keep us safe. New Mexico highway patrolmen also accompanied us during the days we visited their state, and they deserve recognition too.

But I'm getting ahead of the story, because the hardest moments of Ride the Rockies were still ahead of us.

About five miles before arriving at the Royal Gorge bridge, we were directed off of highway 50 and up a barely paved private road that led to the backside of the privately-owned bridge. This stretch of road was the steepest patch of road -- climbing over 800 feet in two miles, with many portions over 12% grade -- and the grade forced all cyclists off their bicycles to walk up the steepest parts.

Well, nearly everyone walked... except for Howard. You see, he has a Fuji Touring bike that is geared for all extremes, including 12% grades. Technically speaking, the Fuji's smallest front chainring only has 30 teeth, while the largest sprocket in back has 32 teeth. This ratio of less than 1:1 allowed me to continue climbing while all others around me were forced to walk. As far as I know, I'm the only one who rode his bike up the entire stretch of private road without walking once. It wasn't pretty as I was breathing very hard and sweating half to death. If others were also able to do it, at least I was surely the oldest one to do it. [Note: A reader in comments also climbed The Beast without dismounting. Congrats to him. However, he notes that 80% of the riders around him also did so -- a claim vastly at odds with Howard's observations. Perhaps Howard purposefully surrounds himself with inferiors to inflate his own self-image.]

The Royal Gorge bridge crossing was glorious. Mrs. Howard is usually terrified of heights and couldn't bring herself to the railing edges of the bridge. But even she was stunned and delighted by the views and the engineering achievement represented by the bridge.

After eating some lunch and "Gorging" on a couple of ice cream cones at the north end of the bridge, we continued on towards the finish line. Another damned hill to get us back on highway 50 exhausted us once again. Today was supposed to be an easy day, right? Wrong.

Back on highway 50, we finally headed downhill and east towards Canon City. We were directed through housing neighborhoods where families were waiting to applaud and cheer us. Young boys ran out into the streets to give us high fives. Volunteers waived us through stop signs, and after one more turn, we faced the finish line. I slowed and joined hands with Mrs. Howard, raising them as we approached the finish line. The crowd cheered even louder, no doubt encouraged to see a married couple in their 40's crossing the finish line together. And then we were done.

My wife's parents had volunteered to assist the riders at the finish line, and we quickly found them. My father-in-law first looked at me blankly, said congratulations, before actually recognizing me behind my bike helmet and sunglasses. Hugs all around, we loaded our bikes on the bike carriers on their car, and then we set off to get our luggage and take our showers at Canon City's High School.

We had brought $300 cash with us to pay for meals and other necessities, hoping to also use the credit card for a few dinners in restaurants. However, when we rode into Canon City, we hadn't used the credit card once, and we had exactly $1 left, which we used to buy two bottles of water.

The CCHS showers sucked as the shower heads were set too low, leaving me with a very clean belly button. As you know, Howard is a very tall and statuesque man. And all the showers he designs have high shower heads.

Cleaned and packed up, we then headed to the closing ceremony in Rudd Park near the high school and finish line, during which two bicycles were given away -- one a woman's hybrid bike and another a $4,500 Serrotta road bike that was available to be won by men or women. My wife suggested that if a woman won the second bike too--despite the male-to-female ratio of about 3 to 1--that Ride the Rockies would be facing an unruly riot which would have to be subdued by the heroic motorcycle patrolmen!

The rule was that the winner needed to be present to win. And four times they drew names of men and women who weren't there to claim their $4,500 bike. Each time Paul Balaguer read the name of the winner, the crowd would count down from 10 in hopes that nobody would claim the prize. Four times the winner wasn't there to win.

Finally, a massively "supplemented" Bobo in the back of the crowd, a seriously serious cyclist for whom a $4,500 bike represented a letdown, claimed the prize. We all appropriately hated him. And then the 2006 Ride the Rockies bike tour was over.

Distance: 67.17 miles
Maximum Speed: 37.6 mph
Average Speed: 16.2 mph
Ride Time: 4:09:07
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes

Final Stats --

Distance: 423.25 miles
Maximum Speed: 42.2 mph
Average Speed: 14.8 mph
Ride Time: 28 hours 36 minutes 14 seconds
Total Time: 42 hours 55 minutes

Calories Burned: 21,322
Final Note: A 2006 Ride the Rockies jersey is already up for sale on Craigslist... Wow.

Final Final Note: Another RTR rider wrote about his week at this link. And for what it's worth, if you look to the right of the first picture from his Day 5 report, you will see Howard in his sponsor-free white shirt and Mrs. Howard crouched behind her bike. Yes, that's really us.


Blogger Cara Lietuva said...

The fact that the guy didn't donate his jersey to Goodwill or something, but instead decided to sell it, implies that maybe these things are worth some money after all. Hey, maybe all the jerseys I see touting Elephant Rock and the Des Moines Register-sponsored ride across Iowa (and worn as badges of honor by riders) were just bought on Craigslist after all.

3:37 PM, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy is sure full of himself! The climb up to the Royal Gorge Bridge was 10% in a few spots; not 12% most of the way as he claims. In addition, he claims to be the only one not to walk. I don't know what ride or what day he rode, but I saw many riders climb it without walking. I estimate 80% of those around me made it without dismounting. In addition, I personally rode up next to one individual who was older (50 years old) and heavier (250 lbs)than this dude. I myself weight 200 and at age 47 climbed the whole thing. So.....get over it!~

7:44 AM, July 03, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Full of myself? Take a look at the photo I chose for myself. Then tell me something I don't know.

I live along Rocky Mountain's foothills (do you?), and I can tell you that deadly pieces of the very first steep hill were indeed at or over 12%, as was a shorter stretch of a later one. 80% of the riders tackled nearly all of the hill, and looked darn good doing it. However, read what I wrote again. I never said that it was "12% most of the way" and never said "I was the only one not to walk" -- just that of the two hundred or so bikers I saw during that stretch of road, I didn't see anyone ride up that first steep hill all the way, though I saw a few tackle the latter hill. And I did the whole thing without standing up on my pedals as most of the stronger road bikers had to do on the 8% and 10% portions.

80% of those around you rode it all without dismounting? Who were you riding with? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? The Superfriends? I guess I missed that pace line.

Finally, congrats for making it all the way without walking--particularly at the age of 47. That was one bitch of a nasty hill to conquer.

12:28 PM, July 03, 2006  
Blogger Shred said...

Oy, the approach to the Gorge was certainly tough, at about 11:00 am at least 50% of the riders were still in/out of the saddle, especially at the first part "12%". I stomped thru it (without a triple I might add)and even stopped to snap a few pics. No worries, your recall may have been fueled by dopamine.....It was not the Motirola, smooth descent to that point, everyone should be fresh.

egoless 47 yrs

9:05 AM, July 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard - nice commentary of your RTR 2006. Thanks for sharing it.
But, you sound as if you would be better off doing one of those 5-star hotel, gourmet lunch, type rides. No sense working that hard if you have to share space with the commoners, eh ?


8:22 PM, July 06, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...


No third ring? Ye Gods man, then how do you squeeze your quads through your bike shorts?

11:57 PM, July 06, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Jah, maybe you're right.

Which is why I'll be headed up to the Tour de Wyoming next week where I hear all the hotels have white-gloved doormen, all the lunches start with arugula & crab appetizers, and all the cyclists are gun totin', second-gen Bushistas.

Strange reading there, Jah. Or maybe you didn't know that architects are just naturally pretentious, despite their concurrent fondness for The Little Guy.

But honestly, I'm not so much condescending as much as a Nattering Nabob of Negativism.

12:50 AM, July 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard: you're commentary was spot-on about pagosa.
i went into that restaurant also, had felt like i was ignored as well.
Chama was a beautiful location, worth returning.
thanks for your insights into this years ride !


2:56 PM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Thanks, Jack. I'm glad to hear that you could get past my wordy and endlessly bragging, dopamine-saturated, egocentricities.

4:32 PM, July 08, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Howard just went to and confirmed that the first serious climb on approach to the Royal Gorge Bridge was indeed a 13% grade for 3/10ths of a mile -- 200' of rise over 1,550' of run. The remaining two miles leveled out at a gracious 7% grade, but not without occasionally painful yet brief moments of 9% and 10% grade.

12:05 AM, July 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great write-up of your RtR experience... it was a great ride this year, great weather, and except for the very unfortunate incident you mentioned, and one that I witnessed on Day 1 (a deer jumped out on the highway and hit a husband and wife on a motorcycle... they survived - the deer did not - but their injuries were not minor, unfortunately), the memories are great as well.

For what it is worth (not much, but just sharing), I did make it up the climb to the Royal Gorge (in a 36/27 and occasionally up to the 36/24, in case you are wondering), and noticed probably a 50/50 split between those walking and riding.

Thanks again for posting your thoughts and experiences, and for sharing your ride stats as well - if interested, I can pass mine along, too.


2:00 PM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...


I would be curious to see your ride stats. Of course it wasn't a Race the Rockies tour and my particular ride stats reflect my best girl's limitations and not my own -- for example, Howard's lactic/anaerobic threshold lies somewhere between Lance's and Floyd's.

I just completed the Tour de Wyoming this week sans Best Girl. Those stats, which I just posted, more accurately reflect my own capabilities. Of course, the Wyoming course was far more challenging in demanding 25,442 feet of vertical climb efforts from its participants.

Where's that damned Advil?

5:35 PM, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed - hope my comment did not come across as taking this ride as a race, as it is definitely a fun event. My wife and my 2 ½ year old son came along as well (in the car, of course), and I met them several aid stations into the ride each day (except one - noted below) and enjoyed the time together.

As for my threshold, I think I'm between Tyler's dog and Basso's dog, or something like that. ;)

The tour of Wyoming sounds pretty good, but Ride the Rockies was my 'hall pass' event for this year - my current riding, and a good portion of my training prior to RtR, is/was with my son and the trailer. :)

Now for the ride stats...

Day 1:
Max Speed (mph) 42.0
Avg Speed (mph) 16.7
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 2:48:38
Distance (mi) 47.15
Elevation Gain (ft) 3,390
Elevation Loss (ft) (2,760)

Motivation went out the window after witnessing the accident. :( But they received good care, so I felt better about that.

Day 2:
Max Speed (mph) 41.7
Avg Speed (mph) 17.5
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 4:50:20
Distance (mi) 83.81
Elevation Gain (ft) 3,990
Elevation Loss (ft) (3,380)

Great ride - cut a little short as it was getting close to nap time (not for me, for my son ;) ).

Day 3:
Max Speed (mph) 39.1
Avg Speed (mph) 15.8
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 3:09:55
Distance (mi) 50.21
Elevation Gain (ft) 3,210
Elevation Loss (ft) (2,500)

My wife - with the food - drove right past me (she 'claims' she never saw me ;) ). Can you say 'bonk'?

Day 4:
Max Speed (mph) 43.9
Avg Speed (mph) 17.0
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 4:01:05
Distance (mi) 68.34
Elevation Gain (ft) 2,870
Elevation Loss (ft) (3,010)

Loved the climbs! Cut this ride short as well, so my son could get his nap in and some playtime together before we met up with some friends for dinner.

Day 5:
Max Speed (mph) 40.7
Avg Speed (mph) 19.5
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 4:11:32
Distance (mi) 82.11
Elevation Gain (ft) 1,650
Elevation Loss (ft) (2,080)

Had some fun in pacelines up until Potato Time, then solo'ed the rest of the way. Best day, by far, as I got to watch my son dance to the music at the aid station at the top of Poncha Pass. :)

Day 6:
Max Speed (mph) 44.1
Avg Speed (mph) 19.3
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 3:29:58
Distance (mi) 67.67
Elevation Gain (ft) 1,770
Elevation Loss (ft) (3,290)

2nd time over the Royal Gorge - still love it. The finish line smile and jumping hug from my son topped it off. :)

Max Speed (mph) 44.1
Avg Speed (mph) 17.7
Ride Time (h:mm:ss) 22:31:28
Distance (mi) 399.29
Elevation Gain (ft) 16,880
Elevation Loss (ft) (17,020)

Hope I get another 'hall pass' next year!


1:21 PM, July 25, 2006  
Blogger Takin'pictures said...

Thanks, Howard. Got to this blog by accident and I am enyoying it. Interesting and amusing and I'm learning something about riding too. Glad I found you and I shall return.

6:11 PM, July 25, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Thank you Ed. I do what I can to make the world a better place. I see by your multiple blogs that you do too.

7:09 PM, July 25, 2006  
Anonymous Biking Bis said...

Great post, Howard. I'm wondering how I can swing this in '07.
Curiously, when my friend and I bicycled cross-country in '84, Bikecentennial maps routed us in a circuitous route through this area. We rode through Canon City to Salida, then over Monarch Pass to Gunnison, then to Silverton and by train to Durango. Then we headed east through Pagosa Springs, south to Chromo, Chama, over to Pagosa Springs to Antonito then to points south.
I see that heading due south from Salida to Antonito would have been much more direct, but we would have missed all those mountain passes!
If you're interested, check out Colorado at TransAmerican Tour 1984.

8:37 AM, October 31, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Wow, a real loopty-loop route there. But I'll bet you saw more Colorado scenery than many Coloradans ever do!

I'll check out your 1984 tour website closely.

Thanks for the visit!

1:00 PM, October 31, 2006  
Blogger andylibby said...

Howard, My wife and I returned to Colorado and drove the 2006 RTR route as part of our fall vacation. We used a printout of your daily comments and route maps as as our guide as we have moved and my official RTR flipchart is packed away somewhere. By the way, I was 52 last year when I rode RTR and I climbed Royal Gorge with effort but no real problem. I missed 2007, but plan to make all future RTR. Hope to see you there. Also, I LOVE classical music and virtually all opera, but I find Lakme's Flower Duet somewhat annoying.

8:09 AM, October 24, 2007  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Heh, Lakme's Flower Duet is something of a chick thing, that's for sure. I first heard it while watching the chick-flick I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and loved it. For some reason -- perhaps higher-than-normal estrogen levels -- I've loved that song.

Glad to hear that this post is still being read. RTR 2006 was a great ride. We did RTR 2007 too, but next year, we'll be doing the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Fewer people and better aid stations, we hear.

12:22 PM, December 21, 2007  
Blogger HersheySoldier said...

A very nice account Howard it's interesting to read, it gave me a good insight since I want to participate in RtR 2010

4:35 AM, April 17, 2009  
Blogger Jim Funk said...

Howard, Twam Angry (believe it or not...all about your age) will be on RtR this year (2016). Stop and introduce yourself if you are on the ride and if you see us. We'll explain our ride strategy and approach over a beer.


3:04 PM, June 09, 2016  
Blogger Jim Funk said...

Make that "Team"

3:04 PM, June 09, 2016  

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