Ride The Rockies Day 2: Redemption!
Course: 95 miles 4,213’ of climbing
Hotel in Winter Park: The Vintage Resort
Hotel in Steamboat Springs: Rabbit Ears Motel
Weather Report: Morning: mid 20’s to low 30’s warming up to high 50’s with chance of afternoon mountain shower
Our alarms went off at 6am. I had not slept well that night. No fault of the hotel or bed or anything – just the fact that I was trying to sleep at 9,000’ + elevation and worried about the accumulating snow and falling temperatures. The first thing I did was look out the window. There was no new snow and the sky was clear. There was still some snow on the ground but nothing that would stop or cancel the ride for the day (damn!). I ate a granola bar and drank a cold tea, packed up all the clothes we had hung to dry, got on our ride gear – EVERYTHING we owned, all clothes on deck! Put on the rain gear (it kept us warm) and shoe covers, dropped off the bags at the bag drop and got on the shuttle bus.
IT WAS COLD. 18 degrees. Yes. 18. No wind. Thank God. We had a 10 minute ride to base camp and a short walk to the bike corral. We quickly found our bikes and that is when I discovered my little problem.
My chain was frozen.
Well then. After I wiped off the layer of frost from my handlebars and saddle, we walked the bikes over to the mechanics with hopes that they could free up my chain. The line was long – very long. And we ended up waiting almost 40 minutes to have them look at my chain. I kept my bike in the sun in hopes that it would defrost a bit (and that I would not freeze!) but they needed to run the chain and lube it up to free up the chain. It was strange. That delay meant we didn’t start until around 8am. And while that wasn’t ideal (seeing as we basically had to go ride a century that day) it was a bit WARMER for us!
I should note that I was, again, wearing bib shorts. (It’s all I had that didn’t have holes in them from training!) These were my old “super favorite” Giordanna bib shorts. Well, let’s just say they are no longer super. Or favorite. But they sure are old. Great shorts for hot Hawaii. Not great shorts for 96 miles in Colorado the day after Epic Day 1.
After Day 1, our expectations, goals, and aspirations changed DRAMATICALLY. George Hincapie was scheduled to give a talk at 4:30pm in Steamboat and I knew there was no way in hell that we’d make it in time. We adjusted our effort accordingly and just focused on trying to get through 96 miles without quitting. Aid station to Aid station was our goal.
We were in the back of the pack this day due to the frozen chain and while we wanted to be more relaxed about the day, there was still some “must get moving – we are doing 96 miles today” fire fueling our pace.
The start of the ride was pleasant and mostly flat though green pasture and farmland. We dropped down a few hundred feet within the first few miles – which was cold – but it meant more oxygen! I don’t even remember Aid station #1 that day – pancakes! – and we apparently spent over 30 minutes there according to my Garmin. Probably because I was just too darn cold and tired. After we got out of the farm area the day was mostly spent on a 2 lane highway with about 5’ of shoulder. It was a busy road and that wore me down. I learned that on a ride like this (back to back long efforts) my usual 45 minute warm up time changed to be about a 2-3 HOUR warm up time. Which meant that the first few hours were…well…not pleasant. Things hurt…were achy…and all the alarms were going off in my head that just scream “TURN AROUND AND STOP! THIS SUCKS!” It takes a lot of mental effort to keep going in those sort of conditions.
When I trained for Ironman, I learned (rather quickly) that I work best with a stop every 30ish miles to re-lube certain parts (body, not bike!). This became even more important following Day 1 and with my Non-Favorite Bib shorts.
This 30 mile Jiffy-Lube stop happened at Aid 2 – which was at the Dari-Delite on the side of the road. I had seen the recon photos that RTR posted and I was very anxious to have some sort of ice cream something at that stop. But, as we were in the back of the pack, when we arrived at that stop the focus was on our Jiffy-Lube, bottle filling, snacks, and getting back on the road. We seemed to be hitting the aid stations just as the main pack was about to leave. So we needed to be quick.
Back on the road and I really can’t say I have much to report. It was a LONG day. Warmer. Sunny. Nicer. But the busy road wasn’t fun and it was also the main road that all the equipment was getting hauled on. So as they tore down base camp in Winter Park, the big semi-trucks flew past us on the road towards Steamboat.
Our next Aid station was at mile 45 in the town park of Kremmling. We had a nice downhill heading into town and that’s when we saw the asshole. We were probably going 23-24mph downhill on the side of the road as big trucks and cars flew by us at 40+ mph. And as we approached town, the road opened up just a bit and that’s when a large dump truck passed us…and on his rear wheel was a Ride The Rockies cyclist – drafting. At well over 40 mph.
We all saw him and we all tisk-tisked, or made worse remarks. I’ll call it like it is – stupid, foolish, WRONG, and with more negative impacts on the cycling community than can be imagined. I AM a spandex wearing, time trial riding, group training, gear junky road cyclist and that move embarrassed and disgusted me. It wasn’t even half way into Day 2 and I thought “Is that the kind of cyclist that does Ride The Rockies? If it is, count me out.” The guy was and is an asshole for doing what he did and his actions directly effect every single cyclist on the road.
After quite a few signs on the side of the road promising “Fully loaded Baked Potatoes!” we rolled into Aid 3 hungry! (for a Fully Loaded Baked Potato!) The town park was a vast, open park with a few trees dotting the edges. The row of porta-potties were located clear across the lawn from the food trucks so we put our bikes down, took off our gear and layed it out on the bikes to air out and then got in line for food.
We needed to take the time to fuel up as we were half way through the day. I sought out the Fully Loaded Baked Potato truck only to discover they were Fully Sold Out. BOO!!!! So we got in line for the Turkey Wraps – which was a long line…as was the line for the fajitas…and 2 people before we could order, they ran out of Turkey wraps. Ugh. At this point I didn’t give a crap what I ate, got the pasta salad (which was fantastic) and a drink and sat down in the lush, mainland grass. (Mainland grass is very different from Hawaii grass…it’s almost like “luxury” grass. Really!)
We ate our food, chatted about the long lines, the food running out, the leap-frog we had been playing with a couple of pretty un-friendly riders (un-friendly in that we would say Hi when we passed them. And then they would pass us back in about 30 minutes, not say ANYTHING, get in front of us and stop peddaling…rinse and repeat), the mainland grass, the busy road, the lack of anything to really look at, and Rabbit Ears Pass. Our big climb of the day that happened to start at mile 64 – Muddy Pass, our next Aid station.
After our short rest/refuel, we got back on our bikes…(I hate you Giordanna bib shorts!)…and got back on the road. We started off with a guy on a tri bike in an extremely aggressive position…my hoo-haa hurt just looking at how low his handle bars were. Ouch dude. Ouch.
Breaking it down by Aid Stations makes this all sound SO easy on paper. But really, it wasn’t. Luckily the weather held out for us and didn’t get too hot or too cold at all. We made good time and Henrik pulled all the way. We held a strong pace and really felt like we were flying. We got to Muddy Pass, Jiffy-Lube time, quick PB&J, drink, banana, re-fill water bottles and off we went. Climb, climb, climb.
Finally! At Muddy Pass itself, we saw the official photographer. We had passed a guy in a black SUV on the side of the road about a mile from the top of Berthoud pass the previous day and we had wanted to stop and pay him $10 just to be able to sit in his warm car. Turns out that was the photographer that had just packed up due to the conditions/snow/cold. So while we don’t have a photo of our Day 1 ride, we do have a photo of our Day 2 ride and….it’s kinda crappy. It’s a shot of us on a busy road with a truck going by us. Nothing to write home about or pay money for. I think they could have had a better shot closer to Rabbit Ear’s pass.
And here is where things actually start to get pretty! We climbed and climbed and having learnt that it’s best to take a breather every few miles, we paused here and there during the 14 mile climb of 1500’.
Turns out the road over Rabbit Ears pass wasn’t that busy at that time of the day (late afternoon) so there was hardly any traffic noise which meant we got to listen to the little brook that flowed down along the side of the road as we climbed. My mood continued to improve as we climbed higher and higher and got closer and closer to the top of the pass.
At first we came to Rabbit Ears pass East which is where we crossed the Continental Divide! Hurray! We had gained a friend or 2 on the ride up and had been having a great conversation with him. We paused at the pass, took the required “bike over your head at the Pass/Divide sign” and moved on. The temperature had gone down quite a bit as we climbed (we were now just over 9,500’) so we couldn’t hang around too long.
We had a short downhill before we did another bit of a climb to get to Rabbit Ears pass west. In between the two passes was the last aid station of the day and that’s when things got surreal.
I could hear music playing as we got closer…and sure enough, the 2nd most cliche song for this ride was blasting out of the aid station and echoing off the mountain – Thank God I’m a Country Boy by John Denver. (The winner for most cliche song is, of course, Rocky Mountain High) And I laughed a lot and almost cried just a bit as I sang that song out loud and rolled into Aid 4 and parked my bike next to the freaking PICKLE JAR with the last pickle in it. (If you know me, you know that I LOVE pickles, especially after exercise!) The smiles and laughter increased as I made my way down toward the music and saw that the entertainment guy was giving away the BEST event shirts in the history of anything! But you had to win one. And I said to Henrik – we aren’t leaving this mountain until I have one of those shirts!
So after a few rounds of random luck contest losing (“First person to bring me a purple water bottle wins a shirt!”) we got to roll some giant inflatable dice and that’s when Henrik got me my shirt! They only had a men’s medium left at that time but I didn’t care. I took it and we left happy and ready for the Longest Downhill in our History.
After a few miles of easy climbing (oh how quickly we adjust….climbing a pass at 9,600’ and I think it was easy!) we got to start the downhill. Now remember, weather had denied us the downhill ‘reward’ of Day 1 so this was our first EVER downhill that was longer than 5 miles long. And the killer about this downhill was that it was freaking STEEP! Look at the map! It’s nearly 10 miles of dropping like a stone for about 3,000’! That, my friends, is insane.
AND AWESOME! Oh my thank you disc brakes! THANK YOU THANK YOU! We blew past folks on rim breaks (99.9999% of the riders) easily. I always gave them a ton of room, took the lane when clear to give them all the space they needed, and called out “on your left.” We were able to rocket down the hill – in total control – due to the disc brakes.
Our hands didn’t fatigue at all and the brakes were extremely responsive to just the lightest touch. Even at speeds around 40mph, our brakes were fantastic. And we had the biggest grins on our faces as we flew down that mountain.
Hell…I even got a little sick of it!
It got SUPER hot (almost 70 degrees!) once we got down to 7000’ and we had a few miles of easy rollers to get to town.
I had done my course recon and decided that we would ride our bikes to the hotel in downtown Steamboat, rest, relax, refuel. And as our Day 3 was a rare rest day, we’d ride the bikes to base camp on Day 3.
I’m glad we did that because we got to ride a very nice bike path along the river into town. It was really pretty. Flooded in parts, washed out in others. But the detour was clearly marked and we rolled into our freakishly retro hotel quite easily. Our bags were at the door (not too many others left by this time), check-in was super quick and easy and our room was a double king on the second floor right on the river. It was PERFECT.
We had been out on the road for 10 hours. It was 6pm.
We cleaned up quick and walked down the road just a bit for a decent dinner. I’m not a soda drinker, but after that day I guzzled 3 large glasses of Coke so fast that I didn’t remember drinking them. I don’t remember what I ate, but it was good and I inhaled it. I even had cheese cake for dessert. Totally guilt free 100%.
That night, after I wrote my blog post for RTR, we were in bed by 8pm and asleep by 9. We couldn’t stop talking about how fantastic the day was and how we wanted to do this ride again next year. What a difference a day makes.
We did not set our alarms for the next morning!
Actual Ride data on Strava:
Elapsed Time: 10:08:38
Moving Time: 7:00:48
Total Distance: 96.6 miles
Total Climbing: 4,711 feet
Average Speed: 13.8 mph
Max Speed: 41.4mph
Suffer Score: 175 = EXTREME