30 June 2015
When I went through physical therapy back in 2012 after breaking my wrist and squishing a disc in my back, the therapist and my husband agreed I should strive for the strength and power to be able to complete rides in less than 12 hours.
Because, you know, more than 12 hours in the saddle isn't really good for anyone.
Enter 2015 Ride the Rockies. After a very snowy February and March. And then a very wet April, May and June. Following a year of not being able to pedal the full 60-mile commute to work due to construction.
Okay, so I can't quite pedal 100.01 miles in less than 14.5 hours yet. But I did pedal 100.01 miles!
I was too tired to write in my journal that night, and I had no signal on my iPhone. So my stored entry was short and not so sweet.
"That was hard."
I resisted the urge to type in all caps or with periods after each word. Actually, I was too tired to use the cap key on the phone; that would have doubled the key strokes. And I was too lazy to type two extra periods. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
Thanks to last year's "matcheypoo" debacle (unable to remember why I wrote the keyword when I finally took the time to sit down and write about it), I tried to keep better notes during Ride the Rockies. I wanted to remember every detail. I kept adding to Day 2 all week long as things popped into my head. Going back over my notes now brings back a swarm of sweet and grueling memories. It was quite the ride!
No Day 2 report would be complete without mentioning an unmentionable internationally known person who made worldwide headlines by pedaling the day's route alongside official RtR riders. The Lizard and I joked that perhaps that certain (in)famous person is jealous because his former lieutenant was affiliated with Ride the Rockies for several years.
Some riders were excited to learn they had ridden with a former pro. Some didn't care. I saw the jersey go by and wondered who would be wearing that specific jersey because many cyclists won't wear anything affiliated with that particular person anymore. But I was concentrating on my own climb and paid no heed. No regrets. I'd rather ride with The Lizard any day.
By the second day of Ride the Rockies, I was gaining a reputation as "The Rocking Sherpa" because of my stereo and my "loaded" backpack. I was not the only one with a portable stereo, but many riders told me I was the only one with good taste in music. A few other riders had backpacks, mostly for water, but most were riding medics. Ride the Rockies is a "supported" ride, so why on earth would you need a backpack? Plus, I guess road riders consider backpacks to be mountain bike equipment. It's not cool to tote any extra weight when you're on a road bike.
I'm slow, so why would I further burden myself by carrying a heavy pack?
I do try to keep it light. The Lizard stays on my case about this, too. He would prefer I didn't carry the pack at all, but he also understands my reasons and my determination.
The camera is the main reason I carry my pack. I need to have a safe place to stash it if the weather turns, which it did a few times during this tour. I carry the camera most of the time anyway, on or off the bike, so to me, that's not extra weight.
Unexpected changes in weather are another reason I carry a pack on most multi-day tours. We did not ride last year's Ride the Rockies, when Day 1 featured not only the rain, drizzle, hail, wind and chilly temperatures of this year's Day 2, but snow as well! Tour Director Chandler Smith does an awesome job of getting buses out to the riders when that happens, but there simply are not enough buses to quickly gather 2,000-plus riders strewn across 70 miles, often between two tiny towns, the instant Mother Nature decides to pull a fast one.
Many of last year's riders were caught off guard when the snow moved in, and most were not equipped for the extreme cold that seized control of the day. That's embarrassing if you live in Colorado and know you're going to be at 10,000 feet. These types of storms are a way of life here. "Be Prepared" doesn't apply just to Boy Scouts.
On Grand Mesa and Cottonwood Pass days this year, my pack included tights, arm warmers, my raincoat (which went along most days), ear warmers, full-fingered gloves and warm wool socks. On Grand Mesa day, everything but the warm wool socks came out of hiding. On Cottonwood Pass, I used my arm warmers only on the descent, so carrying all the other stuff wasn't necessary. But I'm more comfortable knowing I have it if I need it.
Ride the Rockies also seems to be getting away from the restaurant business and allowing outside vendors to handle the vast array of nutritional requirements of such a large tour.
When I participate in the MS-150, I can eat to my heart's content at each rest stop. Every rest stop has food for every preference: meat-eaters, diabetics, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, you name it. Rest stops are adopted by large teams, usually backed by corporate sponsorship, and there's a contest for the best rest stop. So lots of motivation to provide for every need and be fun, too. If the weather is warm, all I really need is my raincoat and my camera, so I can get by without a pack.
My dietary requirements and preferences don't quite match up with the fajita-laden menu of Ride the Rockies vendors. I also don't care for seven straight hard days of energy bars and gel. I can get by on nothing but energy bars and/or gel in a bind, but to fully enjoy a ride, I need real food. I am happy to have a safe way to carry perishable food in what can be uncomfortable heat. My raincoat makes a great insulation system for protein drinks and hard-boiled eggs.
If we participate in another Ride the Rockies, I plan to become an expert in mixing my own soy/whey drinks along the way. There were too many towns this year where Naked Juice and Odwalla were not available.
Speaking of, this year's Day 2 was the day I lost my whey. Twice.
I left for this long day of extended mileage and steep thin air climbing extra early to pick up hard-boiled eggs and a couple of protein drinks from the nearby grocery store. I'm accustomed to metro business hours. Grand Junction is not a metro. The grocery store didn't open until 5. (I had this same problem several days, although this day's experience primed me for what was to come.) So I waited, along with a few other riders and customers.
Once the doors were unlocked, I made a beeline to the protein drinks and then the eggs, having mapped out the shopping route the night before. I was first in line at the cash register. The checker couldn't get her register to operate, even after manual reboots. By this time, the line was four customers long. The store manager was outside somewhere, doing something unknown to the cashier but important, and he could not hear her paging him. After about another 15 to 20 minutes, the checker gave up, as did the customers.
I took off for the Grand Mesa with only the non-perishable food stash I'd packed. The bike path along the river is so picturesque, I'd like to go back again someday when I'm not trying to get over a mountain in a few hours. The sunrise on the water was particularly special.
The bike path ended, and I traveled along 29 Road until I saw an RtR sign pointing left into what looked like a big open field. I rode to the next intersecting street, which was clearly marked with a dead end sign, and there were no RtR signs to be found. So I went to the next intersection, and the next…
I ended up going about a mile looking for the turn before realizing, (a) I was not pedaling toward the Grand Mesa, and (b) any major intersections would have RtR signs. There were none, and I'd now been through two traffic lights.
I turned back, only to find a chain of cyclists following me. One was convinced I had been going the right direction; the others were willing to go back with me and look for the missed turn. By the time we found where the river path picked back up, in that very same big field I earlier passed, the volunteers were in place and directing riders which way to go. I'd now lost nearly a full hour. I wished I'd slept that extra hour.
One of the other riders exclaimed, "Well, I guess we'll get a century today without even trying.”
Upon leaving Palisade, the tour entered I-70 and traveled via the coned shoulder. The grade is slight, which slowed me down a bit. Most other riders are faster than me and don't want to be held back, particularly on a busy highway. During every cycling event, all riders want off major highways as soon as possible. I was passed again and again and again.
I was trying to ride as close to the edge of the shoulder as I could and hold my line, too. That means going straight, no wobbling or sightseeing. A long pace line (a string of cyclists following each other very, very closely to minimize wind resistance) went by me, and one of the cyclists suddenly opted to go around the cone on the highway side instead of on the shoulder side. The cyclist behind him didn't have time to react and went over the cone. And her handlebars.
I stopped as quickly as I could without causing another accident, leaned my bike against the rail and ran back to the injured cyclist, who had been picked up from off the pavement and who was now leaning against the rails, probably in shock. Our eyes met, and I broke into tears as I took in the hamburger on her elbows. (That means she left some skin on the street.) I told her how sorry I was, and she assured me it was not my fault. The rider who had changed direction suddenly also assured me is was not my fault. But I couldn't help but think it would never have happened had I not been delayed at the grocery store and with the wrong turn.
Back on my bike, I cried for the next ten minutes because I felt like the injured cyclist's hardest day of the week was ruined by me. Soon more cyclists were passing me, and I had to re-focus all my energy and attention onto holding my line so no one else would be placed in danger by me. Another cyclist hit a cone right alongside me, but he didn't go down. He kept riding, although he did look back and curse the cone.
I felt an overwhelming joy when we reached the next rest stop and the end of riding on the interstate.
Ever since I ran out of water on Wolf Creek in 2013 (which, by the way, turned out to be my second century ride ever), I worry about running out of water on climbs. I tried to ration my sips to make sure I could make it to Powderhorn Ski Area. Powderhorn isn't an official rest stop, but every time RtR has gone up the Grand Mesa, the folks at Powderhorn have been out in force to make sure we have enough water (and sometimes food) to climb the next seven miles.
I was pedaling along, trying to keep the beat of whatever music was playing on my stereo, when I noticed a truck in a pullout on the right side of the road. A young man was sitting on the folded-down tailgate with two huge cubes of water. I did a double-take.
"Are you giving out water?" I asked, unable to believe the story my eyes were telling me.
"Come and get it!" he cheerfully replied. He soon had a long line of customers behind me. I thanked him and pedaled on, knowing I now would make it to the Powderhorn water stop, no matter what.
Powderhorn did not disappoint. Oh, my heavens! They also were serving not only hotdogs and brats, which I can't eat on a ride, but ICE water, too! The water lines were long, but there was enough water for riders to dump some on their heads and fill their bottles. I joined in the wethead party and once again filled both bottles.
Once my artificial cooling dried up, I began battling heat again. Plus, mosquitoes had detected my sweat trying to make up for what the ice water could no longer do. I just couldn't pedal fast enough to get away from them. They seemed to tease me by orbiting several times before diving in for the kill.
One went in my eye, and I went down trying to get it out. My bike hit the rider trying to pass me, and together, both bikes nearly took out the cyclist behind me.
I apologized over and over, feeling horrible for possibly messing up their bikes. Both riders thought I had heat exhaustion and insisted on checking my bike for damage. One insisted on riding alongside me for a while until he was sure I was okay.
A few miles later, the temperature was getting more manageable, and the mosquitoes apparently found another place to dine. We lose about 10 degrees every 1,000 feet we climb. Lots of riders were pulling over about every mile or half mile to rest for a minute, and I was no exception.
Dark clouds moved in, followed by lightning. Time to not stop anymore and get the heck off that mountain as quick as possible. Other riders were able to do that, but I got caught in one little downpour after another. And then, the rain turned to hail.
And I thought the mosquitoes were bad!
I finally reached the summit, totally drenched. Most of the vendors had already run out of food. I ate a little bit of fruit, downed a pickle, got challenged to a pickle juice shot and amazed the vendors when I gulped the fluid non-stop, took a pit stop, then quickly plowed down the mountain as fast as I safely could.
Rain chased me. Then, by golly, so did another hailstorm!
I pulled over beneath a couple of bushes for shelter, and two other women soon joined me. We waited out the storm cell, then slowly took off down the mountain again, trying to ride safely through the puddles on the highway.
At the base of the mountain, another rest stop awaited in the town of Cedaredge. If there had been a sag wagon there, I would have taken it. I was soaked. Not miserable. Just soaked.
I pedaled on and discovered what other riders are calling Chandler Bonus Miles. I think I prefer to call them Chandler Power-Ups. Chandler seems to favor nasty little steep climbs at the end of every big descent. The country roads I followed for the next few miles were like a roller coaster. After the last of the ups, I passed Chandler, who was checking on stragglers like me. I was among the last 100 riders on the road.
"Do you have enough water?" Chandler asked. "Are you doing okay? It's mostly downhill from here."
I started watching my odometer very closely, wondering how many extra miles I'd have to pedal to claim my century. I guess Chandler's Power-Ups worked. I was going for it, regardless of the 14.5 hours I'd been riding.
As I hit the town limits of Hotchkiss, I realized I wouldn't have to ride any extra miles at all. I might even go over.
The odometer read 100.01 when I parked in the bike corral a few minutes later. I had to stand in line again for water inside the school, but we had a charging station for our electronic devices this year! No more standing in line for plugs inside schools!
29 June 2015
Anemone, another name for the windflower, means daughter of the wind. Perhaps the wind connection is why I love today's flower so much. I have to Ride Like the Wind, with the wind, all the time!
Wind, wind, wind. Some days, that's all we get in Colorado!
Maybe one day the wind will stop blowin'... (The video I originally posted here has been marked private now and I can't even remember what it was, so here's one applicable to me.>
Other flower flakes in this series include:
Mother's Day Snowflake Motif
You may do whatever you'd like with flowers and/or snowflakes you make from this pattern, but you may not sell or republish the pattern. Thanks, and enjoy!
Finished Size: flower, 1.5 inches across; snowflake, 5.5 inches from point to point
Materials: Size 10 crochet thread in 3 to 5 colors, size 7 crochet hook, empty pizza box, wax paper or plastic wrap, cellophane tape, water soluble school glue or desired stiffener, water, glitter, small container for glue/water mixture, paintbrush, stick pins that won't be used later for sewing, clear thread or fishing line
With dark blue or purple or flower center color, make magic ring.
Round 1: 6 sc in ring. Do not join. Pull magic circle tight.
Round 2: 2 sc in every sc around for a total of 12 sc; do not join.
Rounds 3-5: 1 sc in each sc around; do not join. Mark starting sc of Round 4 if desired.
Round 6: Working with light purple, light blue or petal color and flower center color, holding 2 strands together, sl st around marked or 1st sc of Round 4, * ch 3; sl st in next Round 4 sc; repeat from * around 10 times; 1 sc in next Round 5 sc with only light purple or petal color. Cut dark blue or flower center color; tie a knot with the two thread ends, if desired. Weave in ends.
Round 7: Continuing with light purple, light blue or petal color, 3 dc in next sc, * 1 sc in next sc, 3 dc in next sc; repeat from * around 4 times for a total of 6 petals.
Round 8: * 1 sc in next sc, 7 dc in middle dc of next 3/dc group; repeat from * around 5 times; sl st in starting sc. End here if making flower. Continue if making snowflake.
If you're not reading this pattern on Snowcatcher, you're not reading the designer's blog. Please go here to see the original.
Round 9: Working on back side of motif, with white (or green if making leaves), * 1 dc in bottom loops of middle dc of any Round 7 3/dc group (or middle dc of next 3/dc group in repeats, ch 5; repeat from * around 5 times, omitting last 3 ch of final repeat; 1 tr in starting dc to form 6th ch 5 sp of Round.
Round 10: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 1 dc over post of tr directly below, 2 hdc in same sp, 1 sc in same sp, * 1 sc in next ch 5 sp, 2 hdc in same sp, 2 dc in same sp, ch 3, 2 dc in same sp, 2 hdc in same sp; 1 sc in same sp; repeat from * around 4 times; 1 sc in next ch 5 sp, 2 hdc in same sp, 2 dc in same sp, ch 1, 1 dc in 2nd ch of starting ch 2 to form 6th ch 3 sp of Round. (If making leaves, bind off green here and work remainder of Rounds in white.)
Round 11: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 1 dc over post of dc directly below, * ch 3, 1 dc in gap between next 2 sc, ch 3, 2 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 3, 2 dc in same tip; repeat from * around 4 times; ch 3, 1 dc in gap between next 2 sc, ch 3, 2 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 1, 1 dc in 2nd ch of starting ch 2 to form 6th ch 3 tip of Round.
If you're not reading this pattern on Snowcatcher, you're not reading the designer's blog. Please go here to see the original.
Round 12: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 2 dc over post of dc directly below, * ch 3, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 3 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 3, 3 dc in same tip; repeat from * around 4 times; ch 3, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 3 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 1, 1 dc in 2nd ch of starting ch 2 to form 6th ch 3 tip of Round.
Round 13: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 3 dc over post of dc directly below, * ch 3, [1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5] 2 times, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 4 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 3, 4 dc in same tip; repeat from * around 4 times; ch 3, [1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5] 2 times, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 4 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 1, 1 dc in 2nd ch of starting ch 2 to form 6th ch 3 tip of Round.
Round 14: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 4 dc over post of dc directly below, * ch 3, [1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5] 3 times, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 5 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 3, sl st in 3rd ch from hook (picot made), 5 dc in same tip; repeat from * around 4 times; ch 3, [1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 5] 3 times, 1 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 3, 5 dc in next ch 3 tip, ch 3, sl st in 3rd ch from hook (picot made), sl st in 2nd ch of starting ch 2; bind off. Weave in ends.
Finish: Tape wax paper or plastic wrap to top of empty pizza box. Pin snowflake to box on top of wax paper or plastic wrap.
If using glue, mix a few drops of water with a teaspoon of glue in small washable container. Paint snowflake with glue mixture or desired stiffener. Sprinkle lightly with glitter. Wash paintbrush and container thoroughly. Allow snowflake to dry at least 24 hours. Remove pins. Gently peel snowflake from wax paper or plastic wrap. Attach 10-inch clear thread to one spoke, weaving in end. Wrap fishing line around tree branch (or tape to ceiling or any overhead surface) and watch the snowflake twirl freely whenever you walk by! Snowflake also may be taped to window or tied to doorknob or cabinet handle.
27 June 2015
Canon City to Westcliffe
4,281-foot elevation gain
Song of the Day: The Mountains by Haik Naltchayan
Boy, does the tiny town of Westcliffe know how to party! I am still in awe of what those people pulled off for us!
I've now done 6 Ride the Rockies tours, 11 Elephant Rocks, 14 MS-150s, 1 Tour de Lavender, 1 Santa Fe Century and a handful of other organized rides, and never in my life have I personally experienced a bicycle homecoming so intensely overwhelming and enthusiasm-charged. What a way to end the 30th anniversary of Ride the Rockies! Westcliffe (and Sliver Cliff) have set the bar high. I'm not sure any other venue will ever top what this little town full of big hearts did! They raised $30,000 in less than eight months to pull off this incredible show!
I knew this would be a hot day with lots of climbing, and I don't climb well in heat. The Lizard had me a little intimidated with his 2013 description of Hardscrabble Pass. I didn't get to ride it that year because of the smoke from rampant forest fires.
Yesterday, trying to calm my fears, he'd told me Hardscrabble isn't more difficult than the Grand Mesa. I asked him if it was like going up Deer Creek Canyon twice.
"Not that hard," he said.
That did it. That's all I needed. I knew I could do it.
I took off into the twilight and missed a three-way highway/frontage road/railroad tracks turn. I realized after not being passed by other cyclists and passing through several un-RtR-marked intersections I must have missed a turn and looped back, not knowing where I'd gone wrong, not knowing how I would find the right path in the dark without going back to the start. Soon I spied twinkling tail lights, which helped me get back on the right road.
Unfortunately, the two cyclists I followed missed another turn just a couple of blocks further. One of them told me that's what we get for leaving so early in the morning, before the volunteers are on the course to help us find the way.
Once again on the right path, a service station came into view. I stopped and bought a bottle of apple juice and a bottle of orange juice to help fuel me up the Pass.
Off I pedaled again, this time alone, and no one else passed me until the sun began peeking over a great rock formation. I pulled over to snap a photo, but my phone began ringing. I was shocked! I couldn't believe I had signal!
It was The Lizard, convinced I must have taken a wrong turn because he hadn't passed me yet. I told him I had indeed taken two wrong turns, as well as stopping at three different stores (two not yet open) for juice. We both assumed he was miles ahead of me, and he offered to wait for me at the summit. I assured him I'd be fine and encouraged him to not wait for me anywhere along the course, to just have the ride of his life.
I had totally missed the sunrise moment, but I got to witness it. I began pedaling again, this time being passed by waves of riders. Ten minutes later, The Lizard caught me and pedaled along with me to the next rest stop, where we enjoyed hotcakes together. He kept offering to ride with me the whole day, but I knew my turtle pace would be miserable for him.
We both look forward to these rides because we enjoy everything about each ride... the exercise, the wildflowers, the climbs, the scenery, the trickling, or in this year's case, crashing of rivers, leaves rustling in the breeze, birds chirping, cows mooing. I wanted his ride to be enjoyable. So once again I urged him to go his own speed. He instructed me to call him before I reached the finish line (assuming I'd have signal), and he'd ride through the finish line again with me. We've done that several times in the past, and the official photos have been worth buying, so that was good enough for me.
Little did I know this finish line was one I wish I'd been able to video in its entirety. Oh, my heavens! But I'm getting way ahead of myself.
As I began climbing after the tiny village of Florence, I wondered if this was the route we'd taken when we drove in the dark to Westcliffe in 2008 after work on an autumn Friday to climb Humboldt with the very same friends who would be taking us home after we cross the finish line today. We returned home after our climb of Humboldt in twilight, so I didn't have any visual memories from that trip.
As I rolled through the gorgeous rock formations towering above the road, I remembered another trip to this same destination on this very same road, and tears began streaming down my cheeks.
In 1993, I drove this very same road, way back before I knew the Sangre de Cristos existed, way before I knew any of the 14ers in this part of the state. I drove with my adopted son to Silver Cliff to pick up a 7-year-old Wednesday's Child from her foster grandmother.
That little girl went on to become my adopted daughter a year later. Yes, indeed, I had been this way before.
The grade became steeper as the temperature climbed faster than my bike. Soon I was stopping every quarter mile or so, or whenever I could find a spot of shade. Hundreds of cyclists were passing me, but some were joining me in every shady spot, too.
I was trying to mentally keep notes about the ride as I climbed, and I thought my opening paragraph would be about the wildflowers (which, by the way, were sensational): From henceforth and forever shall this road be known as Sunflower Boulevard, a nod to the wild sunflowers growing in nearly every pavement crack along the shoulder.
I didn't pull my camera out of my pack to take pictures of two varieties of wildflowers I'd never seen before. I mistakenly thought we might be able to find them again on the way home, when I was clean and refreshed, and I didn't want to get out of the saddle because it was too painful to get back in when done. After we got home, I looked them up on wildflowersofcolorado.com and discovered one is simple campion (valerian... I'm going to need to plant some in my garden), and the other, which I'm determined to turn into a flower flake, is western spiderwort. It's blue!!! My garden definitely needs some of that!
Climb, climb, climb. The uphill seemed endless, even though it wasn't as difficult as the Grand Mesa.
The favorite view of a slow cyclist just might be distant cyclists disappearing beneath the horizon ahead, from the bottom up, like the setting sun. That means a downhill is due. Oh, those downhills were heavenly!
Occasionally I would see the tip of Humboldt and the Crestones or the summit of Kit Carson peek over the green meadows of Hardscrabble, but reaching the extensive flat top of the Pass brought the entire Sangre de Cristo Range into glorious view. A blanket of white covered with crystal blue and rooted in lush, verdant green formed the backdrop for the finish line far below.
I dismounted at the rest stop, filled my water bottles and checked my phone to find, astonishingly, I did indeed have signal! Unbelievable!
I called The Lizard and told him I was atop the Pass. He said I still had a good 15 to 20 minutes to go, but that if I'd call him again once I got through the town to the emergency lights and barriers, he'd ride out and cross the finish line with me.
I calculated how many miles were left to go; about ten to eleven. I chuckled as I shook my head, knowing there was no way I could match his descent speed. He can ride 40 mph down a mountain with skill and ease. Not me! I'm not comfortable with much over 27 mph. It would take me a bit longer.
He'd told me to relax for a bit and to try to win a commemorative T-shirt, as I'd done atop Independence Pass in 2012. I was standing near the DJ, so I decided to wait for the next contest. The only one I'd heard yesterday had no appeal whatsoever... anyone willing to do a raw egg shampoo. No T-shirt is worth that in 93-degree heat with a big climb to come!
I pulled out my credit card and driver's license, just in case. At the end of the song, the DJ announced it was time for another math contest. Pull out your dollar bills, and be the first to bring him a dollar with serial number digits adding up to 40. I got on my bike and pedaled away. If you think I can do math after five hours of climbing in high 80s heat, you don't know me very well! Sometimes I can't even count crochet stitches in calm, cool and comfortable settings!
Down, down, down. Oh, did that breeze feel awesome! I was chilling out, and I was feeling better by the mile. Moments later, I had to pull over so abruptly, other cyclists thought I had a mechanical problem. When they saw me aiming my camera across the highway at a bicycle built of hay bales, they did double-takes and stared at the artistic creation in awe. They'd have missed it had I not stopped.
Next thing I knew, there were lawn chairs full of farmers and ranchers at every driveway along the highway. Everyone had come out to the highway to clap, cheer and ring cowbells as we passed by. Riders likely had been cruising by for three hours, and these people were still cheering! For miles, I was cheered every mile or so. I've never experienced anything like that on any of my rides, and it was amazing and so motivating!
As I got close to town, I noticed first a decorated bicycle along a fence here or hanging from a sign there, one after another. As I crossed into Silver Cliff, it was a parade of bicycles on both sides of the street, decorating the road nearly completely lined with residents of all ages, cheering, clapping and ringing cowbells. Tears were running down my cheeks again. I'd almost finished the hardest tour I've ever done, and everyone was cheering for me! (For each and every rider, but when you're riding solo, and there are no other cyclists immediately ahead of or behind you, this feels so personal and so rewarding!)
I reached the intersection where the streets had been closed off to all traffic to make room and safe passage for the cyclists. Sporadic LOUD cheers I'd been hearing from at least two blocks away erupted once again as I passed through the barriers and over the neon chalk welcome covering the entire street. People were yelling directly at me. "Good job!" "Way to go!" "You did it!" "Welcome to Westcliffe!" "Congratulations!"
I couldn't stop crying. I was glad I had sunglasses on; I didn't want them to think I was sad. I had to pull over to call The Lizard, and I couldn't even hear if the phone was ringing. As the cheers died down, I found his voice, then immediately I lost it again as the crowd began cheering the next rider, then another, and then a group. I couldn’t hear a thing The Lizard was saying.
"I can't hear anything you're saying," I said into the phone. "I hope you can hear where I am. I'm going to ride on through. I hope I can find you."
I hung up and put the phone back in my jersey pocket, then began slowly drifting through the crowd toward the real finish line two blocks away. Before I passed the first intersection, The Lizard came right up to me on his bike, and together we rode beneath the finish line banner and got our photo snapped by the official photographer. I was immediately surrounded by neon orange T-shirt-clad volunteers hugging me and congratulating me. One handed me my official pin.
Then I saw our friends Mike and Kim, who had made the pilgrimage to Westcliffe to bring us home. More hugs and tears; then a call for everyone to move out of the way to make room for incoming cyclists.
We stashed our bikes in the corral, found our baggage, pulled out the shower accoutrements and the clothes I planned to change into, then found the shower trucks, which had lines of male cyclists at least 25 individuals long and only two female cyclists. I jumped into the first women's truck shower room posthaste.
Within two minutes, the stalls were filled, and a line of about 15 women had formed. I was done in about 10 minutes, and by that time, the shower truck owners were directing women in the second truck shower room, now also full with a short line of waiting women, to hurry if already showering or move to the first shower room if waiting so the second women's shower room could be converted to a men's shower.
This had happened to me three times during the week. I'd been in the "hurry" room they wanted to convert, so my speedy showers had to be even speedier. I was so thankful I hadn't chosen the conversion shower this time! I still had to hurry so others could get their own showers; some cyclists have buses and planes to catch the day Ride the Rockies finishes, so it's no time to doddle if you have time to doddle.
And doddle we did; the party tents were bigger than any I'd seen at any previous cycling events except the lunch tents during the MS-150. Flash Cadillac was playing in the dining tent, and cyclists who weren't in a hurry to catch their ride home were dancing to good old rock and roll in their cycling kits, sweaty and all.
The food tent was filled with the most amazing selection of homemade offerings... homemade pies, ice cream, cookies and brownies, homemade pastabalaya (jambalaya with a cyclist twist), homemade quinoa salad (which was sold out by the time I got there), homemade burgers with grass-fed beef, homemade toppings for fully loaded baked potatoes, and homemade Navajo fry bread, billed there as Fry Bread Tacos. Being from the southwest, this menu item particularly appealed to me, especially since they offered a veggie option. But I started out with the loaded veggie baked potato to get some carbs into my depleted system right away.
Following a relaxed and shady lunch in the grass, I ordered a Navajo fry bread platter, and we began making our way to the car. After loading up our bikes, we hit the road. I ate my fry bread covered with brown and black beans, tomatoes, black olives, lettuce, cheese and sour cream in the car as we drove back up across Hardscrabble Pass. The backlit sun angle now didn't make for appealing Sangre de Cristo range photos, and I hadn't taken any scenic photos during the ride because I was afraid of getting out of the saddle. So, no photos of the amazing views.
Westcliffe wanted to put itself on the map and tempt riders and their families into return trips.
I've most definitely been snagged. I will be back. And I will have photos to prove it next time.
UPDATE: Check out this sweet story in the Wet Mountain Tribute (Westcliffe's newspaper).
26 June 2015
Salida to Canon City
3,087-foot elevation gain
Boy, is it ever hot!
We tried to sleep indoors last night in Salida, thinking we might get more sleep. Worked fine until the lights came on at about midnight, then went off while we were trying to pack to leave in the dark. Grrr!
No song of the day today because The Lizard rode with me almost the entire day. I'm writing this entry in my paper journal just past dusk, and that likely will affect everything I write, as well as my penmanship. Which reminds me, yesterday one in a group of men passing me on Cottonwood Pass was telling the others, "Never trust anything I say between 10,051 feet and 12,051 feet."
I thought that was classic, but I was too tired to write it last night. Probably a lot of things I was too tired to write last night.
We had about 45 miles of mostly downhill until we hit "The Wall," the south entrance to Royal Gorge Bridge. Some say sections of "The Wall" are nearly 15%. It's definitely steep. I sent The Lizard ahead at his own pace because he's a great climber, and it would be excellent training for him.
Today was special for me because I didn't get to ride across Royal Gorge the last time the MS-150 traversed it. The Lizard and I, on our way to our overnight accommodations, were the first on the scene of a motor vehicle/pedestrian fatality. We stayed to help and give statements, and I just couldn't ride after that harrowing experience.
Then I didn't get to ride across two years ago during Ride the Rockies because forest fires closed the park.
Third time's a charm!
At the base of The Wall, I stopped to hydrate well. An older man pulled up behind me and asked with a strong accent if I could spare any water. He'd lost one water bottle, and his second was empty. I could tell he was absolutely parched.
I'd stashed a protein drink in my pack the night before, hoping the fast descent would prevent it from spoiling before I needed it. I'd sipped half of one water bottle since the last rest stop, and my second water bottle was full.
The Wall is about two miles of continual climb. I took a chance I might have enough fluids between the half-full bottle and the protein drink to get up the hill. I poured all the water in my second bottle into the man's empty bottle. He thanked me and immediately began guzzling. I took off, praying both of us would have enough water to get us to the next rest stop on top.
The steep section was indeed steep, the kind of steep that takes your breath away. Literally. Some riders launched and tried to get as far up as they could without stopping. Some, including me, took it slow and easy. Some got off their bikes and walked.
By the first half of the first steep, many were walking. I was not one of them.
I had to stop many times, but I rode my bike all the way up The Wall. I wove back and forth when I could, and I just climbed straight up when that was the only option. Each time I stopped, I'd take a swig from the protein drink and then a swallow of water.
I did not walk at all.
When I got to the top of the first steep, five or six guys who had just pedaled all the way up it, straight up, and who had stopped to breathe, clapped for me. All I could do was collapse over my handlebars and gasp for air.
A little more than halfway up The Wall, one of the volunteers was stationed with a water buffalo, a huge water tank in the back of a truck. I had run completely out of water and was rationing sips of the protein drink. I joyously filled both water bottles and continued onward and upward. The older man later passed me, his water bottle filled again. I knew we'd both make it to the top.
The Lizard met me at the top with a huge smile. He said he'd had to stop three times on The Wall. We finished off the protein drink together, and then we pedaled across the bridge together, stopping along the way to take pictures for us as well as for others. I got to use several iPhone 6s along the way!
We'd planned to eat lunch together on the other side of the bridge, but there was no food except for the rest stop fruit, pretzels and animal crackers. Both of us were famished after the climb, so we ate my last foil packet of spicy tuna. Then we headed down for Canon City.
When I saw the string of riders climbing up, up, up steep Skyline Drive, all I could gasp was, "Holy crap! I can't do that!"
The Lizard insisted I could and took off. I went to the conveniently located sag wagon at the base of the climb and told the driver, "I can't do that."
"You don't have to," she replied. "You can go down on the highway. There is an alternate route, and you can do whichever you like, although they say Skyline has great views and a significant drop off on both sides, sort of like the Great Wall of China."
I looked up at the road again and felt faint. It was very hot, probably the high of 93 that had been predicted. (Some riders said it was even hotter than that, but I didn't look at my phone to see the real temperature.) It took about two seconds to decide I could not go up that hill. I decided to take the alternate route.
I knew there was no way I could ever catch The Lizard to let him know not to wait for me at the top, so I called (and yes, I had signal!) but had to leave a message. I worried he might not have signal as I headed down the highway behind the group of riders who also opted for the alternate route.
As it turned out, he did get the message but didn't answer his phone while he was climbing.
Neither of us had signal in Canon City proper. Go figure.
I beat The Lizard into town by about 15 minutes, and I rode 1.5 more miles than he did. I waited for him at the bike corral. I wasn't sure I had enough time to go buy an icy cold pop for him like I did last time we were here two years ago. I thought it would be more fun to go to Dairy Queen together anyway.
Once he arrived, we didn't go find our bags. We didn't shower or put our phones in the charging station. We went directly to Dairy Queen. We did not pass Go; we didn't collect $200. The Lizard got an Oreo Blizzard, and I got a premium mango pineapple smoothie with a banana. Aaahhh!
We set up our tent on the concrete slab between two buildings, same place as two years ago, completely separated from all other campers. I showered first, then I watched a small segment of the cycling seminar, featuring Chris Carmichael, while The Lizard showered. It was the only seminar I got to take in all week.
When The Lizard returned, I went into the air-conditioned band building (other buildings on the campus are in economy mode during the summer) to make use of the facilities. The yoga class was in progress.
The teacher, who'd asked me earlier in the week which years I'd ridden because she thought I looked familiar, teased that I'd have to join the class, now that I was in the building. I slipped off my shoes and did some of the stretches she was leading. After a few minutes, I was glad I did. I actually felt better!
I'd forgotten how good yoga can feel after a hard day.
The teacher later apologized for putting me on the spot. She said she'd only been teasing and that I didn't have to join the class. I told her I was thankful I had because her class was a healthy reminder to take care of my body.
The Lizard and I took the shuttle to Centennial Park, right along the overflowing Arkansas River, where many riders were dipping their feet into the rushing water. A band was playing, and food choices were quite impressive.
We both wanted the brick-oven pizza, but the wait was about an hour. All the garden salads and quinoa salads were sold out. So we had barbecue beans and pasta salad. The Lizard also had pulled pork.
We returned to camp much earlier than most of the other riders, and we were out cold but uncomfortably hot within minutes. Nevertheless, we both got some sleep for the first time in three nights. A police officer walked through the campus in the middle of the night. It was good to know someone was watching over all the riders.
The coffee truck around the corner of the building from our tent came loudly on at about 3 a.m. and woke up just about everyone in the tent city. I'd set my alarm for 4 so we could hit the road by 5 and hopefully avoid too much heat. I didn't get back to sleep until right before the alarm went off.
Even though it was another short night, I was ready to ride again. I was nervous about the climb, but this would be our last night in a tent. We'd be back in our own bed after dark!
Steve Connolly's Skyline Drive