30 June 2015

The Day I Lost My Whey

Palisade and the Grand Mesa from Mount Garfield

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!

Grand Mesa, Day 2, five years ago

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.

Grand Mesa in Winter

Grand Mesa in Autumn

Day 2, 2010 RtR

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.

Grand Mesa

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.”

The view west from Skyway, Grand Mesa, Colorado.

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.

Skyway, Grand Mesa, Colorado

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.

Stupid mosquitoes!!!

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.

up, up, up

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!

Climbing the Grand Mesa


  1. haha Armstrong trying to kiss arse after having lost the faith of everyone. Too funny that you were the leader in making a bunch go the wrong way, at least you lead them back hahaha probably not funny at the time though

    1. Anything to steal the spolight. No, going the wrong way definitely was not funny at the time. Now... well, I guess still not quite yet. But one day it will be a gut-buster, I'm sure!

  2. A great write-up. Your perseverance never ceases to amaze me. Yes, Chandlers Power-Ups coax a few colorful words out of a lot of us. You've now conquered the beast. There's a reason why that stretch of road isn't stuffed with bikers.

    1. Thank you, Lizard. I may not be powerful, but I do have the gumption to keep going. Most of the time, anyway. Not sure I want to write more about what followed on Day 5...

  3. What a great narrative - stupid Mosquitos!!! But wow - the scenery - just gorgeous. Question? How do you carry your camera? is it strapped to you, for quick use?

    1. Thanks, Alycia! Looking back (rested and saddle-sore healed), this was the most difficult tour I've ever done, and that was among the hardest climbs. But I'm so glad now I did it!

      I carry my little Nikon around my neck most of the time while I'm riding. I put it in my backpack when I'm climbing (because it bounces against my chest) or when the weather turns. I carry my iPhone in my jersey pocket and use that as a camera when I'm too tired to get the real camera out.

  4. Oh, Deb, what a truly gripping saga! Congratulations again on another century. You rock!!!

    I didn't follow the link to the headline but I can guess who the mystery rider was. All I have to say is: Isaiah 14:11-12. (And maybe verse 16 too.)

    Now on to the truly important topics.... You are NOT in any way responsible for those crashes. NOT. Those who pass must do so responsibly, with all due care for the riders around them. The burden is on them to watch what they're doing and where they're going, just as you were already doing. I'm so sorry that accident had to happen, but it was absolutely not your fault.

    The mosquito in the eye - ouch! And a pileup too - how horrible for you all. I had a huge bug fly into my eye on yesterday's ride - the impact was like a rock being thrown in my eye - and dang, it was a nasty experience. I can't imagine having a fall on top of it. So sorry you had to deal with that.

    The storms sound like every cyclist's nightmare. Ugh.

    On the bright side, you had enough water and you MADE IT! With a 0.1 mile bonus! Another century notch in your handlebar tape.... or do I mean helmet? You'll have to start planning a century quilt. :)

    1. Amen, Sistah! (Isaiah 14:11-12)

      I am really proud of the century now, but I think I'm finally beginning to get over my Century Fever. 70 is good. Three centuries is a good place to rest. I'm completely happy with what I've accomplished, and I think it should be fun from here on out. Not torture. :)


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