Riding the Rockies is really something special

In a cell phone photo, the beginning of the Black Canyon is shown on the way to Hotchkiss. Enlargephoto

Journal/Dale Shrull

In a cell phone photo, the beginning of the Black Canyon is shown on the way to Hotchkiss.

As we leisurely rolled out of Hotchkiss — a mere 380 or so miles to go — I couldn’t banish the feeling of dread that poked at me like a fourth-grade bully in search of lunch money.

Fortunately, I discovered that the bully was an Olympic-caliber bed-wetter, so I was able to keep my lunch money in exchange for my silence.

But as we passed a farmhouse to the welcoming call of a rooster, then the morning bellow of a herd of cows, this dread kept gnawing at me.

It was early, around 7, and a farmer was already out cutting hay. It was a splendid sight of pure rural Americana. I couldn’t help but think what these cyclists from big cities and foreign lands thought of these rural scenes and sounds.

I loved it. I’ve always loved riding on country roads. The smell of fresh cut hay sliced through the dread and left me smiling as I pedaled toward Paonia.

This morning’s dread was born from thoughts of McClure Pass and an arduous 3,000-foot climb over the last 4 miles.

It would hurt. Day 1 from Gunnison to Hotchkiss hurt, so I knew the steep climb would bring pain.

This is Ride the Rockies, a six-day bicycle tour through Colorado. By the time I hit McClure Pass, the incline tormented my thighs and lungs. It hurt. Everyone was hurting.

This is Ride the Rockies. People come from all over the country and other countries to “Ride the Rockies.”

This ain’t Kansas, Nebraska or Iowa. People come to ride in, up, down and through the Rocky Mountains.

Now in its 27th year, Ride the Rockies is a supported bike ride. Every morning, cyclists load their gear into large trucks, then hit the saddle and take off for the next destination.

It’s a marvel of logistics. Much like Pamela Anderson running in slow motion, it’s quite a sight to behold. As cyclists trek 60, 80 and 90 miles, support trucks pack up and head for the next town. Porta potties, shower trucks, vendors, bicycle support teams tear down and set up daily.

Who has the harder job?

At least some cyclists get to zip down mountain passes at more than 50 mph.

That is fun. That’s the reward that comes with the miles of pain.

After leaving the agriculture lands of Hotchkiss and Paonia, and going up and over McClure, I was pretty friggin McTired and my McNuggets were not all that happy with me.

Hours and hours in the saddle results in an inescapable reality of long-distance cycling: Unhappy McNuggets and a tender undercarriage.

The dread was now gone. But it would return in a few hours.

It was Day 3 and we left Carbondale heading for Aspen.

Another pleasant beginning filled with reflection as I rode toward Aspen. The contrast of landscapes, towns and scenery is what makes Ride the Rockies a gem. Is also what helps pummel the dread and soothe the sensitive bottom.

One day earlier, we rode past farms, hay fields, vineyards and talkative livestock. Now we were pedaling in the shadows of multi-million dollar homes and immaculately groomed gardens.

Contrast, splendid contrast.

Today’s dread was based on the more than 7,000 feet of uphills the day was to offer over 80 miles. The toughest day of the tour was daunting.

Over the six days, we’d scale more than 24,000 feet — 24,000 feet! Not an Everest-conquering feat, but a lot of uphill feet. There’s no denying, 24,000-feet of vertical climbing creates more dread than comes from an angry mother-in-law. With every pedal stroke, you know what looms ahead. A 12,000-foot pass into the Rocky Mountain sky.

All cyclists ride at their own pace. But I have a problem. I’m competitive — sometimes to a fault.

I’ve done the ride twice before, but now a couple of years beyond my 50th birthday, I should know better.

I’m a good climber. I ride hard. Half way up Independence Pass, my body — knees, back, lungs, shoulders, calves and other minor conspirators, were all reminding me of my age — and foolish arrogance.

Still I trudged. As I made the turn for the final climb, I was pedaling on E (Exhaustion, fatiguE, wEak and tuckErEd out).

But I made it to the top. The feeling of accomplishment is one of the mountainous reasons why people do Ride the Rockies. But as my body ached, I couldn’t help to ponder that if someone was interested in starting a used bicycle shop, they could find a few who would be more than happy to sell their bikes on top of this pass.

After a blazing 15-mile descent, more thrilling than giving a bed-wetting bully shock treatment, I still had more than 15 miles to go. Another 1,000 feet of climbing and about 10 miles of a headwind more unmerciful than a sleepover at the bed-wetting bully’s house.

Finally, we arrived in Leadville. Finally!

Tired? The word doesn’t come close to describing the state of my body.

And then a 94-mile ride. After this ride, my body and McNuggets and undercarriage were in full-blown retirement talks with me.

Including stops at the “aid stations,” I was on the road for more than seven hours on this day. The ride made longer from the infuriating task of changing a flat tire along the way.

One sunburned nose, two more days, 110 miles and one extremely tender undercarriage.

This is Ride the Rockies.

On Day 5, it was time to head into the clouds again. But Cloud 9 would have to wait until we climbed another 4,000 feet. The summit was at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park following a tree-lined, serpentined road.

The views from the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. were spectacular. Two rides in this tour arrived at summits over 12,000 feet. Even as a Colorado lifer, I was delighted to ride up these majestic climbs. Much more delighted when I arrived at the top.

Then another blazing downhill, arriving Estes Park where we were greeted by some grazing elk.

The final day was an easy 45 miles into Fort Collins. A hospitable butt breeze, made the ride fast and easy. Although the stiff northerly wind made the last leg of the ride a breeze, harsh winds are the evil nemesis of all firefighters, and my thoughts turned to the hundreds who have tragically lost homes to the High Park fire.

As I cruised under the Finish banner, I was tired but satisfied beyond words.

This is Ride the Rockies. There was beauty, contrast, pain, agony and pride.

For each rider, the ride brought something special. Everyone suffered at times but there was one constant with every mile.

These are the Rocky Mountains, and we indeed rode them.

Dread is long gone and all that remains is satisfaction.

A cyclist poses for a photo at the summit of Independence Pass on Tuesday, June 12. See more photos online at www.cortezjournal.com Enlargephoto

Journal/Dale Shrull

A cyclist poses for a photo at the summit of Independence Pass on Tuesday, June 12. See more photos online at www.cortezjournal.com

In this cell phone photo, the morning sun covers the mountains near Leadville as cyclists begin to break camp and hit the road. Enlargephoto

Journal/Dale Shrull

In this cell phone photo, the morning sun covers the mountains near Leadville as cyclists begin to break camp and hit the road.

The Flippin’ Flapjacks vendor, which provided all-you-can-eat pancakes, was a popular stop for cyclists on the tour. Enlargephoto

Journal/Dale Shrull

The Flippin’ Flapjacks vendor, which provided all-you-can-eat pancakes, was a popular stop for cyclists on the tour.

Journal/Dale Shrull
A group of cyclists pose for a photo at the finish line of the 2012 Ride the Rockies in Fort Collins on Friday, June 15. Enlargephoto

Journal/Dale Shrull A group of cyclists pose for a photo at the finish line of the 2012 Ride the Rockies in Fort Collins on Friday, June 15.

Hundreds of bags are loaded and unloaded daily. Following each ride, cyclists will locate their bag and set up camp or head ro motels. Enlargephoto

Hundreds of bags are loaded and unloaded daily. Following each ride, cyclists will locate their bag and set up camp or head ro motels.

A pair of cyclists pose at the Continental Divide sign on the way up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Enlargephoto

A pair of cyclists pose at the Continental Divide sign on the way up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.