2007 Ride The Rockies
Update: BalticTiger's comments about each day of Ride The Rockies follow Howard's comments. Her comments are better because she uses fewer and better words.
Also: Howard's 2007 Ride The Rockies Video follows this pithy commentary.
The following is a true story. No animals were harmed in the production of this commentary.
Arriving in Frisco, we couldn't find Summit County High School, headquarters for the start of Ride The Rockies and the location of Tent City Day #1. No signage, no clues, just confusion. Cars and SUVs with bicycles atop were weaving everywhere through town so lots of folks were lost like we were. Remembering that the map showed Summit County H.S. on the southern tip of Dillon Reservior, we drove south. But when we got there -- wilderness. Finally, after driving through town again, we headed south again, only this time going further into the wilderness. And there it was. Was this a bad omen for the coming RTR adventure or simply an indication of Howard's lack of intelligence quotient?
We set up our tent in the wind -- the same wind that the weather forecast predicted would NOT be there -- then went to pick up our registration materials. Long lines, as usual. And once again the RTR jerseys sucked. Stupid orange spots were the graphic motif this year. The remaining silver and black color scheme was okay, but uninteresting as cycling jerseys go.
We then grabbed a shuttle and headed into Frisco, but we couldn't find the Community Dinner. BalticTiger finally asked someone (Howard is too much of a typical idiot dude to ask), and was told that a dozen restaurants were offering $10 dinner menu choices for RTR folks. Howard had once again failed the IQ test on the subject of dinner, though he compensated by directing choice insults at Frisco's business community for forcing us to eat at business establishments rather than the traditional RTR Community Dinner.
We went into the MooseJaw Bar & Grill or some such thing and it turned out to be some kind of S&M leather/feather bar for bikers -- of the motorcycle variety. Quick exit.
Finally, we found Peppino's, ordered lasagne, garlic bread, and a drink for $10 each, and then waited and waited and waited. We finally got our garlic bread -- very good... in the way that broiled grasshoppers can taste good if one hasn't eaten in a week -- and then waited some more as we watched Heather The Manager run the joint with total intensity and competence. The lasagne finally arrived, huge and delicious and satisfying.
Back in our tent, we were refueled and ready for Sunday's century ride to Steamboat Springs via the EASY side of Rabbit Ears Pass. While in town searching for dinner, Howard had worried that he'd forgotten his cycling gloves. And when he got back to the tent... he looked through his stuff and, yup, he'd forgotten his cycling gloves!
Oh-for-three on intelligence tests in one day! Oh dear. Seven more days of stupidity to go...
BalticTiger's Comments: We’re on an athletic field at Summit County High School south of Frisco, camped with 2,000 others awaiting the beginning of Ride the Rockies. The tent shakes and one side bends inward, then bounces back, then bends inward again. I hear a thousand tents flapping and snapping in the wind. Then thunder rolls. It’s still light out at 8:25 p.m. but we have to go to sleep to wake up early for our 100-mile ride to Steamboat.
A hundred yards into the day's ride and we were grinding a two-mile-long 8% grade up Swan Mountain. The evening before, standing in the registration materials line, Howard The Smart Ass had pointed at the steep road rising from the front of the school and joked that we would get to climb that in the morning. Turned out it was no joke. We really were climbing it!
Howard was feeling good, riding at BalticTiger's pace and chatterboxing all the way up. Good sign. Then lots of scenic beauty as we descended, rode past Dillon Reservoir and made our way towards Silverthorne where we would pass under Interstate 70 and continue north.
Coming into Silverthorne, we hit a red light and everyone stopped. When it turned green everyone began to move forward... except for one woman, whose head was down, attentive to something else. Howard swerved to avoid her, but then three seconds later heard BalticTiger yell, and then heard the sounds of bike metal on bike metal. BalticTiger had recently purchased clipless pedals and was still learning how to use them. She was looking down at her feet when she hit the woman from behind and went down. Her right knee and elbow were hurting and it looked like her day (and maybe even her week) might be over as soon as it started. But after resting for a couple minutes, determining that nothing was bleeding, rubbing some dirt on it, and taking an ibuprofen (Vitamin I), we continued on.
The next 35 miles to Kremmling were downhill though not uneventful as Howard had a flat tire. Thinking it was a slow leak, he used one of his CO2 cartridges to refill the tire, at which point it decided to become a fast leak due to a hole in the middle of the tire tread. Replacing the tube and repositioning the Slime tire liner between the tube and tire so it covered the hole, Howard used his next and last CO2 cartridge. Uh oh. No more CO2? No hand pump? And nearly 400 miles yet to go? Talk about failing the IQ test in a big way! With no other options, forward they went with Howard worrying with every pedal stroke.
The fine Kremmling folk were having a good ol' foot stompin' knee slappin' religious revival in the center of town, where 2,000 Rockies Riders were converging. All the usual songs. Testimonials of spiritual discovery and faith. Evangelicalism at its most old fashioned and traditional manner. We sat far far away.
At Aid Station #5, near the Highway 14/Walden turn-off and at mile 72 for the day, BalticTiger was feeling tired and was weary about climbing Rabbit Ears Pass, a 5-mile 1,200' climb. Howard was feeling good, so he hammered into a headwind to the summit, easily passing over 300 people up the 5 and 6% grades at 8 to 9 mph. Only one guy passed Howard during the next 40 minutes -- a young'un.
At the Continental Divide (elev. 9,426'), Howard sat around watching others take pictures, but got bored because he was still feeling good. So he turned around and rode back down about 1 1/2 miles to find BalticTiger. Oh the looks he got!
They rode up together... until a rabbit blew past Howard and he just had to chase -- accelerating to 15 mph before slowing to 11 mph. Catching him, Howard chose not to pass, sucking wheel (and thin oxygen) instead. At the summit, Howard only had to wait about five minutes before BalticTiger made it to the top too. Photos taken, we continued on.
Working through five miles of rolling hills and headwinds at the top of the mountain range with Howard pulling, we came to the eight-mile 7% descent to Steamboat Springs. Strong headwinds kept Howard from achieving his full potential, but he still flew down at 45 mph, again passing everyone in sight. Waiting 15 minutes at the bottom for BalticTiger, we rode into town.
Luggage bags, tent set up, long shower line for men, no shower line for women, talked to two guys -- one who used to live in Steamboat Springs and worked as a consultant on a power plant west of Steamboat, the other from California. Good shower -- always a highlight of the day for Howard because he loves his showers. We then took the shuttle to town and the Tap House Grille where we ate NY Strip Steaks and shrimp (surf & turf special) and played trivia. Howard won the first, BalticTiger the second. Hard to believe, I know.
We then took the shuttle to -- gasp! -- Wal-Mart to buy more CO2 cartridges for cheap. Howard bought a lot of them to insure that he wouldn't need them again the rest of the week. It worked. No more flats! We had one flat last year and one again this year. Lucky!
However, the gloveless backs of Howard's hands were now horribly sunburnt. Stupid.
BalticTiger's Comments: We’re up way before the sun, but it’s rising as we ride up Swan Road and around Lake Dillon. Stunningly beautiful peaks, like scenery from a movie. It’s a smooth ride all the way to Kremmling.
In Kremmling, the whole town turns out for our lunch stop. Tents with the usual food vendors that follow the Ride, plus local vendors, plus craft vendors. What do they think, we’re going to strap what we buy onto our bikes?
Rabbit Ears pass is windy and the climbing goes at a near-walking pace. For me. My husband gets bored and rides ahead easily over the pass, then coasts back down to look for me and accompanies me to the top for the obligatory photo together at the pass sign. Then a downhill flight on the west side, with the winds trying hard to push us into the side of the mountain. We pedal past lush hay fields and into Steamboat to the high school.
At one point after the community dinner in Craig's City Park, one woman driving a huge Chrysler offered a ride "anywhere you want to go" to the growing crowd of cyclists waiting for a shuttle back to Moffat County High School. Four people piled in and off they went. Our friend, StatChem, asked Howard if that would make his blog writeup, and while Howard scoffed, doggone if it didn't!
Back to the beginning in Steamboat... as we slept in... until 6:30. We decided to meet StatChem for breakfast at 7:30, a very late start by RTR standards. We packed everything up -- too much in fact -- loaded the bags in the early truck, and then stood in the long line for breakfast. StatChem then joined up. Everyone coming from the serving area had biscuits and gravy on their trays! This was unusual because we were in Colorado, not Oklahoma. Very quickly the rumor swept through the line that the cafeteria was out of everything except for biscuits and gravy! When it was our turn at the front of the line, even the gravy had run out. So people could either take a couple of biscuits or wait for new gravy. We waited. When the woman brought it out, it was clearly just flour in milk and not even thickened yet, so BalticTiger suggested that we grab some hot water and mix it with the instant oatmeal she had packed away. One cup of coffee, one cup of hot water, and $2 later, we ate hot oatmeal. The cashier told us that they had been told by RTR to plan on feeding 500-600, though they had prepared for 1,000. RTR has 2,000 riders and was expecting most of them to eat down in town. Fortunately, BalticTiger saved breakfast with her resourcefulness!
After StatChem packed and loaded his stuff, off we three went for Craig. First aid station -- we each ate two Hub Grub sausage breakfast tacos. Second aid station -- pasta bowl, orange pop, an ice cream bar for Howard, plus two PB&Js for the road. The breakfast grievances were history. Until now when resurfaced by this writing.
Back on the road, a sign read "Craig - 17 miles", so Howard proposed that the person in front nail the speedometer at 17 mph, and that we should take turns pulling every couple of miles. That lasted about two miles. Then the highway shoulder disappeared.
One highway patrolman was out in the middle of the highway stopping traffic so that groups of cyclists could ride in the traffic lane without dying. In a gap between cyclists, he let two vehicles through. But as our group of cyclists approached the sudden and total loss of shoulder, the patrolman seemed to be waving us through, but a semi decided to go too, running a half-dozen bicyclists off the road and into the rocks and weeds -- Howard and StatChem included.
Howard's never been so close to a moving 18-wheeler in all his life and hopes to never again get so close.
StatChem pulled for the last couple of miles as we approached Craig... until we came to a long downhill that Howard couldn't resist. Checking his rear-view mirror, Howard dropped his chain onto the big ring, stood up on his pedals, and raced down the hill. At the bottom, he turned around to take a look... and StatChem was on his rear wheel! Way to go, StatChem!
Riding through Craig, searching for Moffat County High School, two boys on bikes gave Howard the 'high-five'. And then the long hill climb to the high school began. Who knew Craig has highlands with great views of the town below? And who knew they would place the high school on this high ground? 10% grades and a lot of hammering fun later, Howard pulled up to the high school, found a great camping spot, put his bike on it, found BalticTiger and went with her for the bags, set up our tent, and then showered in the high school. No waiting and plenty of hot H2O!
Resting afterwards, I met a couple from Austin, TX -- Mark and Jen -- who were fun to talk to and very enthusiastic about cycling. Mark said he is the team leader of a club that rides the annual MS150 from Houston to Austin every April, and he invited Howard and BalticTiger to join them next year. We will do exactly that!
Finding StatChem, we went to a great dinner at the City Park. They offered three dinner options -- pork & lamb with fixin's, spaghetti & pasta, or BBQ chicken. We chose the pork & lamb, baked beans, and Chinese ramen salad. Excellent! StatChem had the spaghetti dinner and loved it too, though he didn't get free dessert with his dinner. Howard had a lemon bar, two chocolate chip cookies, and a very large brownie that was spectacular.
Back at the high school, Howard and BalticTiger decided to wake up at 5:15, leave by 6:30, and ride a pretty quick pace. Saying goodnight to StatChem, Howard took a couple of cool photos of tent city at sunset and then we went to bed.
BalticTiger's Comments: Forty miles to Craig is an easy pedal—you’d think. But in places the road narrows as it curves around bluffs, and in one spot, we have to ride in front of a line of semi trucks and dump trucks and things get a little hairy. A friend of ours and another guy end up in the sand where the shoulder should be. I keep pedaling, hoping there’s enough room for me and the dump truck and the traffic going the other way.
Finally, as winds whip up heat and the sun broils, we reach Craig. Where’s the high school? Not anywhere near the main street, it turns out. Tired and hot, we’re directed up residential streets that traverse straight up ten-percent grade hills. Finally, the high school appears.
We pitch our tent with the thousands of others on the athletic fields, then I settle down after a shower in the high school and read my book in the tent. A roaring sound catches my attention and I look through the door just in time to see a tent complete with poles and floor fly by. It bounces onto a small yellow tent near me, then flies up again and bounces further away onto another tent. I hear people shouting and they start to gather. Several men try to rearrange the now destroyed tent and pile what was inside on top of it to prevent it from flying any further. The owner of the yellow tent checks her tent and discovers three rips.
I had heard urban legends of campers who left babies in tents with floors but didn’t stake the tents and the tents flew away. Now I believe them.
BalticTiger's Comments: In spite of our ear plugs, we awake a little sooner than the 5:15 a.m. time we’d set on our cell phone alarm. The culprit: Ride the Rockies staff and a huge speaker on a pickup truck perched above the hill where our tents sit. Blasting from the speaker: “Who Let the Dogs Out” -- not my choice of wakeup music, but it certainly has an effect on people.
A thousand-plus campers get up all at once. Instead of the usual arrangement where some people are packing up while others are waiting for PortaPotties or for food, it seems we all have the same idea: go to the cafeteria and wait for food. After waiting in a line that snakes around and around the lobby of the Moffat County High school atrium, we finally get our food, eat and get packed up. Time? 6:45. No savings at all.
The staff, however, wanted to make sure everyone got an early start to get through a particularly rough area near the end before 4:30 when commuters make traffic heavy. The rough area is, well, rough: downhill, narrow, with road damage, loaded with semis and construction traffic, and with a hot headwind. I follow a tanker truck nearly all the way down to Rifle, and it follows a line of dump trucks and semis. I’m going fast enough that I could pass the tanker, but then I’d be sandwiched between tanker and dump truck—not a good situation at all. And so to Rifle. The middle school is where it should be, in the middle of town. Yay!
BalticTiger's Comments: The next day is a lovely ride, up back roads through farmland to Harvey Gap and a lake and state park. Harvey Gap literally is a gap between hills--a hard short climb. We follow the lake for a bit then turn and cut through more hills and pop into a beautiful, green valley which I pretend is a valley in France or Italy as we glide through it. We’re riding toward a major forest fire, but can smell only a faint scent of smoke.
Near the end of our ride, we pedal on the shoulder of I-70. In front of me, my husband pulls out his camera from his pocket and starts videoing—we’re on a busy interstate for God’s sake, with gravel and rumble strips and the sharp guardrail and cyclists trying to pass us. Talk about stressful. The smoke is billowing from the hills near us and we pass a staging area where the Denver news station vans are parked for those 5 p.m. headshots of reporters standing with smoke pouring above them. But all things must pass, and soon we reach Glenwood Springs.
Luckily, we had chosen this day as a hotel day and didn’t have to camp, which was good because the school grounds are small and people are camping anywhere they can find a patch of green. Although our room at the Hot Springs Lodge is not ready until 4 p.m., and the staff at the hotel are harried and rude, we find some pleasure in the hot spring pool and a long-deserved rest in the shade.
BalticTiger's Comments: We find out that the hotel crowd leaves later and travels at a more leisurely pace. We’re not used to that and it feels like we’re the last ones on the Ride. Mount Sopris sparkles as we approach Carbondale and even though the ride is an easy one, I can’t seem to generate much speed.
Between Carbondale and Basalt, we are directed onto a “rails-to-trails” conversion—a railroad line that has been converted to paved asphalt trail. Talk about smooth and lovely! We glide along a river, with no one but bicyclists on the trail and no need to watch out for traffic. I can actually look at the scenery for once. Still, I’m exhausted and can’t seem to get up much speed.
At Basalt High school, where our aid station is, I sit in the back of a food vendor’s camper pickup, trying to make myself eat pasta salad and drink. The heat has grown strong and there’s not a cloud anywhere.
We find another tough climb near the hamlet of Woody Creek and a few cyclists actually walk up it. For many, that’s a big no-no—better to stay on the bike, even if you’re going 4 miles per hour as I am. I make it up and of course, my husband takes a picture of me trying to suck air at the top, sweat pouring down my face. Thanks, dear.
But soon we approach habitation and I ask a woman, what town is this? Aspen, of course, she says. It doesn’t look like the Aspen I recall visiting as a kid. This Aspen is like a suburb plopped down in a mountain valley. Another bike path takes us through meadows to the high school.
In spite of a microburst that topples the community dinner dining tent minutes after we leave it for fear of that happening, all is well.
BalticTiger's Comments: Again, the morning is split by music blaring from speakers. But this time it’s mellow jazz, which is more like a gentle misting than a thrown bucket of cold water. Lines for food are long, again, because of the mass awakening. I wait in the “hot” line for food only to be told that the coffee I so desperately need is in the “cold” line. I put my tray on my table and go wait in the “cold” line only to find that the coffee is being refilled and will take some time, and meanwhile my “hot” food is no longer that. All I want is a simple hot drink and some hot food. I go back to my now cold eggs and feel sorry for myself
But Independence Pass awaits—steep, lovely, cold—and we must cross over it by 4:30 they tell us. Well, we know we’ll get over it way before then; still, it makes one feel tense knowing there’s a deadline.
Our climb begins pretty quickly out of Aspen, but it’s lovely, absolutely lovely, with pines, streams running every which way, wonderful scents of fir and spruce, wildflowers, and the view of where we’ve come and where we’ve yet to go. It seems like the whole Ride is passing me, but I go at my pace and focus on the beauty and on staying steady—at times the road narrows to one lane and below the guard rail is a drop far down to valley floor and boulders, while to my left are cyclists and occasionally police-escorted lines of cars.
The road switches back and curves and we can see the last cliff we must ride up. My husband has long since gone ahead, finding my slow pace drives him crazy, and even the fat, the elderly, and the mountain bikes are passing me. I stop caring.
I make my own rest stops, picking safe places where I can re-clip into my pedals and accelerate without running into anyone, and that’s how I take the mountain, a bit at a time. My husband comes back down to see how I’m doing and to accompany me past the photographers positioned near the top of the pass, so we can have our photo taken together. He’s already had his own single photo taken, with his hands held high over his head, a big smile on his face. The photo that’s taken of the two of us shows him with his arm across my back as we pedal, a big grin on his face. My eyes are closed in what looks to be pain. It’s cold and snowy at the top but the sun is shining. I’m worried about the big storm clouds gathering, terrified of having to descend on wet pavement.
We eat a pasta salad, take more photos, and head down. The descent has had me worried for days as I heard people talking about how steep it is and the many switchbacks. But I take it at my speed, a little faster than usual as my hands are starting to numb up from the cold and I want to get down to lower altitude before I lose all feeling and can’t brake. My husband takes a great video of our descent and later sets it to music.
Soon the aid station appears on the flats near Twin Lakes. It’s warm out. We thaw, eat, meet up with a friend. But the ride’s not over, oh no, not at all. Now we have to get to Leadville. We cross windy valleys around lakes and head northward as a rainstorm stings us with pellets. I feel a sense of panic, wondering if I’ll be hit by lightning or by a truck roaring out of control on the wet pavement. The only answer is to keep moving, as there is no cover. Near Leadville, I’m exhausted. My husband goes on ahead to set up the tent and by the time I crawl into Leadville, the skies are lifting, the tent is up, and really, things aren’t that bad. I lie down gratefully in the tent, then muster the energy to head for the shower truck.
Later, we have time to ride the RTR shuttle buses several times through Leadville and end up at a Subway where we devour 12 inch subs. Then we do a little shopping at the Safeway, then it’s back to our tent to read and enjoy the sunset and view of mountain peaks. I’ve nearly forgotten the day’s pain and the ride is nearly over. If I can just get over the last segment of the day's ride.
BalticTiger's Comments: We take a detour around Turquoise Lake. The map made it appear as though it were a simple flat path around the shore, but instead, we climb hills high above the deep blue lake. It’s gorgeous, but by the time we end up on the north end of Leadville again, I’m exhausted and wondering if I can do any more. And what is left? Why... Fremont Pass.
I crawl up the pass while my husband, again, goes on ahead. The aid station is at the top, at the gates to the Climax Molybdenum mine. He has a bowl of pasta waiting for me and we perch on a stone wall and watch the others crawl up the pass. The deejay who accompanies the ride cranks up the music, and everyone is smiling and laughing.
We descend past a strange, brown lake—probably some awful runoff from the mine--and though the winds pressure us so that I have to pedal to go downhill, we’re near the homestretch, I can feel it. We head onto a bike path that parallels I-70 and a beautiful sparkling river, and we cruise downhill all the way to Frisco, where crowds of people stand in the hot sun to cheer us on to the finish line. The tour director, Paul Balaguer, happens to be standing with many others at the finish line and I get a high five from him as we pass.
And then suddenly the ride has ended. We’re surrounded by sweaty bicyclists, vendor tents, smells of food, and sounds of a live band. We’ve completed Ride the Rockies 2007!
...And now it's time for the Official 2007 Ride The Rockies Video as filmed, edited, and dolly gripped by Howard (presented without French subtitles this year):