Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Epic Colorado Mountain Ride - Part 1


If you’ve been following albertnet awhile, you may recall that I did a road trip with my family a year ago April to visit Boulder, my old hometown.  One goal of that trip was to do an epic ride with my friend Pete.  Alas, the drive out was marred by a massive blizzard that almost did us in, and all the mountain passes were closed throughout my visit.  Pete and I did a 40-mile flat ride among the snowfields but that was it.  I’ve vowed never again to drive to Boulder in the spring, and Pete and I hatched a scheme to do a 2-part, double-epic ride during August, when snow is much less likely.  Last week, we finally pulled it off.

Who is Pete?

The short answer is, Pete is a former professional bike racer whom I met in the 1985 Red Zinger Mini Classic, where—despite his costing me the overall victory—we became friends.  The long answer requires some background.  When I was a teenager my bedroom was an unfinished basement.  It was pretty dark down there, so I could sleep in good and late during the summer, at least in theory.  Unfortunately, Pete would invariably phone me up first thing in the morning.  I didn’t have an answering machine, nor would I pick up, so it became a battle of wills as I tried to fall back asleep while he let the phone ring and ring.  After like twenty minutes of this continuous ringing, I’d finally go upstairs, pick up the phone, and yell, “You bastard!”  He’d laugh, and then we’d go ride.  That tells you pretty much what you need to know about Pete.


My bike pals and I like to send around e-mail race reports, which sometimes end up on our club’s blog.  My race reports—and also my ride reports, since I almost never race—tend to focus on the food.  Why is this?  Well, food and bike racing are tightly intertwined.  Do we eat to ride, or ride to eat?  Both.  Without massive consumption of starchy food, we’d never be able to finish the super-long rides we like to do.  And without the super-long rides, we’d all be too overweight to get around on our skinny-tired, über -light racing bikes, and/or we’d be embarrassed to ride them.

So, yeah, food.  Pete and I ate big the evening before our big ride.  We went to the Gondolier restaurant, a Boulder institution since 1960. In our teens we used to eat there every week because they had a Tues/Wed Spaghetti Special:  all you can eat, brought to the table, for $1.99. I always ate at least five plates, my record being seven.  Here’s what a plate of Gondo pasta looks like:

My wife has pointed out that watching me eat such vast quantities would be a disgusting spectacle if I weren’t so skinny.  How true this is.  The joke would wear thin if I had to pay for my overindulgence.  During this Boulder road trip, I went to Squeeze In, a celebrated diner in Sparks, Nevada.  There was a wait, and I had to stand around because the bench in the waiting area—which would have accommodated at least five cyclists—was filled by this giant tattooed guy and his wife.  The guy was interrogating the hostess about whether this was the place featured on some TV show, and whether his burger would be like on the show, with the cheese oozing out past the bun onto the plate.  (He gestured very precisely to illustrate this.)  The hostess replied, “I’m not sure if the cheese will do that, but if it doesn’t, just send your burger back and have the cook add a few more slices of cheese.  Don’t worry, we’ll do whatever it takes to make you totally stuffed.  We’ll roll you out of here on a damn gurney if that’s what you want.”  (Did she really say this?  Of course not.  But I’ll bet she was thinking it.)

Anyway, at the Gondo I had some garlicky rolls, three plates of pasta, and four slices of my brother’s large everything pizza.  This was definitely less than I used to eat as a teen, but I do have some fat reserves now, and anyway I’d had a big lunch.

Six Dark Thirty

Our ride would be something like 100 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing.  That might not sound very hard, but Pete’s house in Golden is at about 6,000 feet elevation and we’d be climbing to an elevation of over 11,000 feet, twice, and finishing at around 9,000 feet.  That would give us a net elevation gain of about 3,000 feet.  We figured we’d better get an early start.  I set my alarm, which was a pity because I was crashing in Pete’s basement, which was nice and dark and would have been a great place to sleep in good and late, just to right an old wrong.

My alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, and I headed up the stairs, huffing and puffing because my sea-level lungs were ill equipped for the altitude.  There Pete was, slouching on the sofa, flipping me the bird.  He was ticked because his little daughter had climbed into bed with him at 1:30 a.m., following which he hadn’t slept well.  This came on top of several nights of very little sleep due to his occupation.  Of course none of this was my fault, but he could legitimately begrudge me all the sleep I’d been getting during my vacation.

Here we are, early in the ride, at the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  At least, I think that’s where we are in this photo.  To be honest, I know Pete said something about it but I wasn’t paying enough attention.

After Red Rocks we climbed Squaw Pass for like two hours straight.  We’d both had some knee trouble leading up to the ride but for now our knees (and legs) were behaving.  I clicked through the data screens on my bike computer and was thrilled to discover that we’d climbed for over 25 miles, meaning we must surely have broken the ride’s back … right? 

Well, not really.  I mentioned this impressive stat to Pete, who said, very casually, “I guess that means we’ve got about 30 more miles of climbing to go.”  Man, that really took the wind out of my sails.  I could almost hear my resolve hissing out of me, like air from a punctured raft.  Or was that my breathing?  Near the top of the pass we stopped for a breather.

 Pete is trying to smile, but you can see it’s faked.  Look in his eyes:  they tell the real story.  There is definitely suffering there.  You see, he forgot to train for this ride.  His longest ride of the year was 80 miles, his second-longest 50 miles.  And then there’s the sleep deprivation.

I wasn’t doing so hot either.  If you look closely you’ll see fear in my eyes, because I’d already drawn 100 miles worth of breaths in half that distance.

We descended to the Mount Evans visitor center at Echo Lake, which is about halfway up Mount Evans.  If we’d been real men we’d have taken a left and ridden to the summit, which at over 14,000 feet is the highest paved road in North America.  But since we know we aren’t real men—this is made embarrassingly evident by our compact cranksets—we had nothing to prove and stopped at the visitor center for Cokes and to get out of the rain, which had just started up in earnest.

We were in the visitor’s center awhile.  It was pouring rain and I went two rounds in the restroom.  I was tired enough that I found the noise of the high-powered hand dryer almost intolerably oppressive.  In the gift shop were all kinds of bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other stuff saying things like “I made it – Mount Evans, 14000 feet!”  I guess some people consider that making it all the way up there in a car is a pretty big deal.

Out on the porch I saw a middle-aged motorcyclist putting on waterproof rain pants.  To make conversation, I said, “I wish I had some of those.”  She retorted, “You should have brought some.  It rains all the time up here.  Are you from out of town or something?”  I allowed that I’d lived in California for a couple decades, and she snorted, “That’s what the weather report is for.”  I could have pointed out that any weather report that didn’t forecast possible thunderstorms at this altitude would be delusional, so actually the forecast was immaterial.  But that wasn’t the point. 

The point is, bike racer types don’t have saddlebags to carry all that gear, and we’re prepared to suffer accordingly.  I’ve been caught in plenty of rainstorms, and even snowstorms, without sissy waterproof pants.  I could have pointed out that I’m made of better stuff than she, that I don’t need a gasoline engine, and that what she might consider hazardous—e.g., a cold rain—is to me just a nuisance.  “At least your jacket is orange,” she said.  “Yep, it’s pretty visible,” I replied.  “No, that’s not what I meant,” she continued.  “I mean it’s orange like the Denver Broncos.”  Maybe my parents were right all along:  I shouldn’t talk to strangers.

The weather gods, as if to mock this motorcyclist, shone on Pete and me:  the rain stopped at the exact moment we climbed back on our bikes.  We had a sweet descent to Idaho Springs, getting a bit cold and wet before becoming warm and dry again, and then began our second long grind, this time up Berthoud Pass.  As we regained the higher elevations, the sky darkened again and we heard thunder.  We were getting close to the tree line, aka timberline, which (as you can see in this photo) looks a bit like male pattern baldness.

By the way, in addition to energy drink and gels, I ate a lot of Lara bars during this ride.  Not only are they yummy (or did they just seem yummy because I needed them so bad?), they pack more calories for their size and weight than other energy bars.  No, I’m not a weight freak, but when your jersey pockets are overstuffed, and you have like four bars in there, every bit helps.  (I am not sponsored by Lara bars or I’d be forbidden to tout them like this.)

I forgot to wear my Road ID bracelet, which was unfortunate because it seemed like any moment Pete might just ride away from me, leaving me for dead.  So I reminded him that his best protection against being struck by lightning would be to crouch low over his bike and ride right next to me, so I’d be the tallest object around.  People do get struck by lightning up here, so maybe I shouldn’t joke about it, and perhaps I should take the threat more seriously.  But compared to the threat of being run over, how serious is the lightning threat, really?  And what are we supposed to do, skip the ride entirely?  Stay home and ride the trainer?

I was breathing good and hard all the way up the climb, but at least it was that delicious-smelling air that you get before and after a rainstorm.  I was hit by about half a dozen raindrops before we made the summit of Berthoud Pass.  A friendly motorcyclist, who found it in herself not to chide us for our foolish lack of raingear, snapped this photo.

I would like to point out that Pete’s bike doesn’t actually have a giant sheepskin-covered saddle.  That’s just a rock in the background.  It’s also not the case that we deliberately set up the photo so as to be on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, as my wife had thought.  We’re not nearly that clever, especially when our brains are deprived of oxygen.

The point of this next photo is the sky, but it didn’t come out right.  I forgot my camera on this ride and had only my smartphone.  That’s why there are so few action shots:  it’s hard to handle the phone while riding and I’d hate to drop it.

So, yeah, we did finally get really rained on during our descent to Winter Park, but I didn’t mind.  After all, we’d defied the odds all day; we could have just as easily been rained on for hours.  Besides, we knew we’d have a hot shower waiting for us at the end.

Food, revisited

We chilled out in the condo for awhile.  (Actually, we warmed up.)  Outside, it rained steadily up until it was time to walk into town for dinner, at which point the rain stopped.  At a little brewpub Pete knew, we started our feast with nachos, which were terrible because of vulcanized faux-cheese goo, but it didn’t matter because we subsequently hit upon the pure genius of ordering both sliders and burgers. 

For a place with such crappy nachos, the sliders and burgers were delicious.  I ate all my fries and most of Pete’s.  And I broke my vow of temperance (undertaken to prepare for the upcoming Everest Challenge) because beer does such a nice job of relaxing tired muscles.  After all, this had been just a warm-up ride, to get us fit for the real ride two days later.  Visit albertnet again soon, because I’ll be posting that story next.  Here’s a little teaser though:  Pete showed me the Strava-generated Day 2 route on his phone beforehand, saying casually, “I think it’ll actually be a bit less than 170 miles.”

Update:  you can read about the Day 2 ride right here!

Stats and maps

Since I’m not on Strava and you wouldn’t be following me if I were, here are some statistics and a couple maps of our ride.  Most of these stats are from my bike computer, which understates the climbing due to its dependence on barometric pressure measurement, which isn’t very accurate when the weather is spotty. 
  • 97.3 miles
  • 6:18:40 ride time
  • 15.0 mph average speed
  • 73 rpm average cadence
  • 10,581 feet cumulative elevation gain
  • 49.6 miles total climbing
  • 7,153 feet cumulative elevation drop
  • 39.3 miles total descending

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